Do you know the top cause of death of dogs and cats in the United States? Cancer? Heart disease? Accidents? It's none of the above.
Homelessness is the leading cause of death for dogs and cats, and while far fewer animals are being killed in animal shelters today than there were years ago, the fact that millions of dogs and cats are still dying in shelters is tragic.
Saving large numbers of animals from being killed in animal shelters takes collaboration, community involvement, resources, commitment and creativity. The ASPCA has melded all of those elements into a contest that challenges animal shelters across the country to come up with innovative ways to engage their communities and get more homeless cats and dogs into loving homes.
This year, we are very excited to be teaming up with television personality, bestselling author and philanthropist Rachael Ray to save animals through the ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge. We will be awarding more than $500,000 in prize grants to help shelters save more homeless cats and dogs.
During this contest, 50 animal shelters across the country will compete to save at least 300 more animals -- during the months of August, September, and October 2012 -- than they did over the same three-month period in 2011. The ASPCA and Rachael Ray will award a $100,000 grand prize to the shelter contestant that achieves the greatest increase in lives saved during this three-month period. A second place prize of $25,000 will be awarded to the shelter with the second greatest increase in lives saved, and the contestant that does the best job of engaging the members of their communities in animal life-saving efforts will win $25,000. Those organizations that do the best in their divisions will be eligible for between $5,000 and $40,000 in additional grants.
In addition to rewarding the most successful and innovative shelters in the ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge, we will again offer our expertise and resources to contestants to help them implement new strategies for increasing adoptions, improve return-to-owner rates, engage the community, and increase awareness through the media and other channels.
With the added support from Rachael Ray, we know the contest will gain even more visibility. All her life, Rachael has been an advocate for dogs and cats. Through her charitable dog food line Nutrish, she has made a personal commitment to helping shelter animals who are in need of second chances at new homes and better lives. To date, she has donated more than $3 million in proceeds from the sale of her pet food line to organizations that help animals in need.
When we launched the first-ever $100K Challenge back in 2010, we had one simple goal: to save more lives. And the results -- a remarkable 101,263 lives saved during the contest periods in just the first two years -- have been absolutely remarkable.
While we're thrilled with those life-saving results in the short-term, we are equally excited that the $100K Challenge is helping contestants build support for their organizations, which means the increase in life-saving will continue well beyond the contest period. Contestants have realized increases in volunteer hours, social media engagement and donors. For example, in 2010, the number of the New Orleans-based Louisiana SPCA's Facebook fans increased from 1,700 to 4,000 during the course of the contest, while the number of active volunteers at N.O.A.H. (Northwest Organization for Animal Help) in Stanwood, Wash. increased more than 20 percent. Shelters noticed that people who had never stepped foot in a shelter before the Challenge were enthusiastic about animal adoption after getting caught up in the community's excitement about the contest.
Guinn Friedman of the Humane Society for Greater Savannah in Savannah, Ga., 2011 Community Engagement Prize winner, describes her group's experience in last year's contest:
"Our staff was kind of dazed and sitting around the lobby one afternoon. I asked if they had nothing to do. They looked at me and said, 'We have no more animals.' It was the most amazing moment in our organization's history. We all sat down together and wept -- and this time they were tears of joy."
We hope that in its third year, our perception of what shelters across the country are capable of will be shattered again, and that the nationwide support to help shelters save more lives will continue to grow.
To learn more about this year's ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge, please visit www.aspca.org/100kchallenge.