09/12/2012 05:27 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2012

ASPCA and Community Partners Team Up to Save Lives

Oliver the kitten didn't have the most auspicious start in life: An animal control officer from the Tallahassee Leon County Animal Service Center rescued the orange tabby from a flooded sewer drain and took him to the shelter, where Oliver hissed at everyone who passed by his cage until the cat foster coordinator for the Leon County Humane Society (LCHS) pulled him from the shelter. She worked with Oliver until he was purring and even playing with dogs.

When LCHS learned that a woman's dying wish was to hold a kitten and watch him play, they knew that Oliver was the perfect cat for the role. Oliver loved the dying woman until she passed away with him curled up next to her. He was adopted by the woman's granddaughter who today can't imagine life without him.

Oliver never would have made it out of that storm drain to comfort a dying woman and to be placed into a loving home had it not been for dedicated people from different organizations working together to save animals. Tallahassee is one of the ASPCA's partner communities, and Oliver's story is testament to the work being done there by animal welfare agencies teaming up to get animals out of shelters and into homes.

Collaboration is an integral element in the ASPCA's formula for saving homeless dogs and cats. We talk about the importance of collaboration so much that it has become our mantra. Communities are listening, and as a result more dogs and cats are being saved. The ASPCA has built a collaborative life-saving model that we are replicating in various partner communities throughout the country.

The ASPCA invests human and financial resources in each partner community in order to save animals and prevent animal cruelty, thereby creating humane communities. Each partner community has challenges, whether they are economic, political or otherwise, and the ASPCA endeavors to find creative solutions to problems they may confront.

Our work with our partner communities is data-driven so that we can track what works and where we can improve. Hundreds of thousands of animals have been saved since we started our partner community program in 2007, and in some cases the results have been spectacular. For example, when we began our partnership in Austin, Texas, that community had a baseline "live release rate" of 55%. The live release rate is the sum of animals returned to owner, adopted, returned to field, and transferred outside the partners to agencies where adoption is guaranteed, and that total is divided by the intake of animals by all of the partner agencies in that community. By the time Austin graduated from the ASPCA's partner community program in 2011, it had improved its live release rate to nearly 90%.

Not every community has had the trajectory Austin has, but each of the ASPCA's community partners is making significant strides according to our latest data comparing the first half of 2012 to the same period in 2011:

• In Charleston, euthanasia decreased by 34%, and the live release rate for dogs jumped 15 percentage points;
• In Cleveland, the number of live releases increased by 17%, and 323 more cats were adopted, largely as a result of drastically reduced adoption fees for kittens;
• Our Miami-Dade County partners increased their number of live releases by 1,721 animals, or 24%;
• Oklahoma City's live release number increased by 21%;
• Sacramento's live release rate increased by 8.3 percentage points;
• In Shelby County, Ala., the number of live releases increased by 20%, or 230 animals;
• In Spokane, the feline live release rate jumped nearly 16 percentage points;
• In Tallahassee, there was a 7% increase in live releases; and
• In Buncombe County, N.C., adoptions increased by 11%.

This data provides the ASPCA, our partners and other interested groups information on what worked and where we need to improve.

The ASPCA works with approximately 10 partner communities at a time, and each consists of several agencies -- usually an open-admission or municipal animal shelter, a limited-admission shelter, and a spay/neuter group. There are far more communities that need help than we can fully devote ourselves to at any one time, especially since we work so closely with the organizations in these communities. That's why when we select a new partner community, we make sure that the animal agencies we would partner with already have a history of working well together. We recently named Louisville, Kentucky as our newest partner community, and we are excited about working with them to save lives.

Our goal is an ambitious one -- to end the killing of healthy or treatable dogs and cats in animal shelters. We don't pretend this is easy, but we are always mindful that animals like Oliver need our help.