Originally published at ASPCA.org.
Renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead once famously said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Mead was talking about improving the world for humans, but it's just as relevant -- and accurate -- when we talk about improving the world for animals.
Across the country, animal welfare advocates and shelters are uniting to defy the idea that we can't do more to significantly reduce the need for euthanasia. The truth is we can do better, inspire more, and increase the number of lives we save year in and year out. We must, given the millions of lives still at stake, and so many people who care.
Nowhere is that truth more obvious than in the results of our ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge, which ends a remarkable five-year run this year. Since 2010, hundreds of Challenge contestants have dedicated themselves during June, July, and August to increase their adoption numbers over the previous year. They saved thousands of lives through hard work, creativity, collaboration, and a complete dedication to not only achieving success, but to redefining what's possible.
This summer alone, 50 competing shelters saved 16,789 more lives than they did last summer, which is more than twice the increases we saw when we started in 2010. The overall results are even more staggering. From 2010 to 2014, Challengers saved more than 282,000 lives -- an increase of nearly 60,000 cats and dogs, with dozens of animal shelters increasing their adoptions by 100 percent or more compared to previous years.
Saving lives is the most critical part of this program, but the positive effects of community dedication go beyond that. In these engaged cities and towns, local adopters are honored, and animal adoption is celebrated. Effective adoption tactics are shared widely, so that shelters from coast to coast -- be they well-resourced or struggling to handle intake -- can benefit. In the end, success is not restricted to a single moment for one community or shelter. Instead, seeds are planted well into the future for longstanding commitment across the country.
This is our hope, and this is our expectation. Because if we've learned anything from the Rachael Ray Challenge -- and the nearly 300,000 families who opened their hearts and homes to cats and dogs -- it's that thoughtful, committed shelters and engaged communities can indeed transform the world.
Matthew Bershadker is President & CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Learn more about the ASPCA's mission and programs at ASPCA.org.