There are dozens of animal welfare organizations across the country working to secure "forever homes" for dogs and cats of all ages. And while there's a general camaraderie amongst them, stemming from their common cause, what's a little friendly competition among peers?
For the past few years, the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has sponsored a nationwide contest to challenge shelters to see how many more animals they could adopt between June and August beyond the total the year before.
The idea was to "spur innovation, increase public support, empower staff and, most importantly, save more lives," said Bert Troughton, ASPCA's vice president and a leader of what has become the ASPCA/Rachael Ray $100K challenge.
The organizations that adopt the most animals above its total from June to August the year before wins not only in terms of putting cats and dogs in loving, happy homes, but a sizeable chunk of change to carry them forward to save even more.
"We know that the contest can help save more lives in the long-term too, because all of the added attention and support contestants earn during the contest can be harnessed for continued life-saving," Troughton said.
ASPCA started the challenge in 2010, and in 2012, TV personality and animal lover Rachael Ray joined up with the organization, as she did again this year, allowing the organization to offer more than $600,000 in prize grants to shelters that win in each of four categories:
A $100,000 grand prize grant will be awarded to the organization that reports the largest increase in adoptions over the total from the year before.
A $25,000 "community engagement award" will be given to the organization that saves at least 300 more cats and dogs of all ages and "demonstrates the best job of getting its community involved in its life-saving efforts."
Additional $25,000 grants will be awarded to the organizations in each division that reports the biggest increase in adoptions over the previous year. Troughton pointed out that the big winner will be considered the best in its division, but will not be awarded the $25,000 in addition to the $100,000 grant. There will be a total of four Best in Division prizes.
Division one is for organizations that bring in between 1,500 and 2,500 animals per year; division two is for organizations that bring in between 2,501 and 4,000 animals per year; division three is for agencies that bring in between 4,001 and 7,000 animals per year; division four is organizations that take in between 7,001 and 11,000 animals annually; and division five is any organization that takes in more than 11,001 animals annually.
And there will be $15,000 in second-place grants awarded in each division, for those organizations that report the second-greatest increase in adoptions from June 1 through Aug. 31 over the same time last year.
The winners will be notified by the end of September, and there will be "several celebration events taking place across the country" to honor those groups, Troughton said.
The challenge is open to any non-profit or government-sponsored animal welfare organization that brought in at least 1,500 dogs and cats and spays or neuters all animals prior to adoption, according to the official rules posted on ASPCA's website, http://challenge.aspcapro.org/2013-challenge-rules.
"Shelter staff and volunteers use training from the ASPCA and their own ingenuity to come up with ways to increase community involvement, increase dog and cat adoptions, increase the number of lost animals returned to their owners, and, in some cases, increase the number of animals transferred to other adoption agencies," Troughton said. "It's a whole lot of work and a whole to of fun because every single life saved is a victory — regardless of who wins the grant prizes for the biggest increases."
This year, a total of 49 organizations in 30 states are competing for the grants, he said. To see the Challenge Leaderboard, visit http://challenge.aspcapro.org/contestants.