In 2006, despite valiant efforts by Portland-area rescue organizations, 39% of animals entering local shelters that year were euthanized. That same year, representatives from 10 local animal organizations created ASAP, the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland. A decade later, shelter intake has dropped 30%, and the live release rate is at an astonishing 94%.
ASAP — which handles 90% of shelter animals in a four-county area of 2 million citizens — is based on collaboration. The coalition’s Guiding Principles state: “We recognize that all stakeholders in the animal welfare community have a passion for and are dedicated to saving animals’ lives. We are committed to the belief that . . . we need one another, and that the only true solution is to work together.”
Collaboration of this scale signaled a cultural shift. Multnomah County Animal Services Shelter Manager Ann Potter says, “Collaboration takes a ‘shelter’ problem and makes it a community problem. Each partner in the coalition has strengths they can share, and weaknesses that other agencies can help bolster.”
Two years in, the coalition invited community input on terms like “adoptable,” “healthy,” and “treatable” to help standardize definitions for recordkeeping and grant applications. A grant from Maddie’s Fund enabled the group to collect and analyze shelter data that revealed that the greatest impact in saving lives would be made by helping cats, who had a 49% live release rate at that time.
ASAP determined it would need to spay/neuter an additional 10,000 cats annually to significantly and sustainably decrease the number of cats entering local shelters. To achieve this, Spay & Save was formed — a program primarily funded by PetSmart Charities — providing subsidized spay/neuter services to low-income cat guardians and those feeding feral or stray cats. The reason for this, says Cat Adoption Team Executive Director Karen Green, is “the majority of the animals dying in our shelters were cats and offspring of unowned or community cats, or who had low-income owners.”
A tremendous success, Spay & Save has expanded to offer surgery, basic veterinary care, licensing and microchipping, plus special transport through volunteers and Petco events. Karen Kraus, executive director of Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, says ASAP’s purposeful inclusion of feral cat issues “spread the word to a much wider audience about the importance of spaying/neutering pet cats, along with feral and stray.”
More than 61,000 cats have been fixed through Spay & Save since 2010. Program Coordinator Kayte Wolf says, “Even if someone who calls does not qualify for our program, nine times out of 10 we can refer them to another affordable option.” In 2012, the coalition launched the Neighborhood Pet Project, a one-year ASPCA campaign providing free veterinary and behavioral care to eligible cat and Pit Bull owners. ASAP shelters have seen a 50% decrease in cat intake since the program started.
Transport is another important element, both between coalition members and outside rescues/shelters. Bonnie Hays Small Animal Shelter Manager Deborah Wood says, “The question we ask every day is, ‘who can help us save the most animals and help them find the perfect homes?’” In 2015, more than 1,500 animals moved between partner organizations — 958 were transferred to outside organizations, and 8,200 came to coalition shelters from outside groups. Transfers save lives because each organization has unique veterinary and behavior resources, and adopters’ preferences vary by area. According to Lisa Feder of Humane Society for SW Washington, “When you realize you have the entire coalition as a resource it makes it much easier to find a solution to a particular animal’s needs.”
What holds everything together is a constant supportive relationship between ASAP partners. Several committees meet regularly, including the Lifesaving Committee, comprised of operations managers. Monthly meetings foster connection and friendship, shared information, discussion of trends, and brainstorming. Feder says, “It gives us an opportunity to meet face to face and get to know our partner managers a bit better. It makes it easy to pick up the phone and ask questions or for help.”
Through these connections, Cat Adoption Team’s ‘Fostering 4 Rock Stars’ program — which created quality foster homes for thousands of cats — was modeled at three local shelters. In 2015, CAT Director of Operations Kristi Brooks and Potter of MCAS co-presented the concept to a national audience at the HSUS Animal Care Expo.
As Wood says, “...the relationship among our shelters is unique nationally. The organizations and staff put their egos aside to work as one for the sake of the animals. We work as a group, and each shelter also has raised the bar to do exceptional work on its own. We see each other as friends and colleagues. It reflects on the kind of place the Metro area is, and on the individual integrity of the shelter leadership. This is something people in our community should take a great deal of pride in.”
Learn more about ASAP at asapmetro.org. Also worth a look: http://asapmetro.org/statistics/live-release-or-save-rate/ and an exciting new community movement, PetopiaPDX. Check it out at petopiapdx.org.
“What I like about Spay and Save is knowing the reasonable cost makes it possible for responsible people to take care of their animals and prevent the birth of animals who would not have the chance of a loving home.”
— S&S volunteer
“I had no idea what an impact Spay & Save would make. And how quickly. What a success it has been for all the shelters involved … and cats.
— S&S volunteer
What has impressed me is realizing that people from ALL walks of life love their animals and want to do the right thing.”
— S&S volunteer
“One client named Joyce had a pregnant mama cat who stumbled into her life and changed it for the better. Joyce is agoraphobic and never leaves her apartment. After the cat arrived gave birth to kittens, Joyce didn’t know what to do because she couldn’t afford to spay the mama and care for the kittens. She also had no way to transport them anywhere. We sent a volunteer to her apartment (after many reassurances) to pick up the mama cat for her spay surgery, and take the kittens for surrender to OHS so they could get fixed, vaccinated, and adopted to loving families of their own.”
When the mama cat was returned to her, Joyce was so impressed with the way that we had gone that extra mile to help her. She was so grateful, and since her situation was unique, it is something I will never forget. I am so happy that we can help more people like Joyce.”
— Kayte Wolf, S&S
Daniela Iancu, founder of Animal Community Talks, has worked and volunteered with veterinary practices and animal welfare organizations in the Portland area for the last decade. Her happy home includes a wonderfully supportive husband and two senior felines.