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Partnership will work to save lives of homeless, at-risk pets

A partnership between local animal welfare groups and a national advocacy organization hopes to save the lives of more homeless and at-risk pets in Mecklenburg County.

At a “Pet Rally” Tuesday morning in Charlotte, area animal advocates, volunteers and a few adoptable pets met for the announcement that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will partner with the Humane Society of Charlotte and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Animal Care and Control Division for the next five years.

The national ASPCA Partner Community initiative will provide local partners with resources that include training, annual strategy planning and grant opportunities in order to decrease the number of homeless pets in Mecklenburg County.

After an assessment of the resources and challenges available to local partners, the program will also help focus efforts on goals that are measurable, sustainable and collaborative, officials said.

Shelly Moore, president of the Humane Society of Charlotte, called the partnership “transformational” for animals in Charlotte, helping pave the way for what she described as “a city where ultimately every healthy animal has a chance at life.”

“Having the support and expertise of the ASPCA, and their knowledge of proven strategies that have worked in other communities, is invaluable,” Moore said.

Charlotte is one of five cities nationally that have been selected to join the ASPCA Partnership program since it started in 2007. During that time, nearly 1 million animals have been returned to their owners, adopted or spayed/neutered, said ASPCA president and CEO Matt Bershadker.

Roughly 16,000 animals entered Mecklenburg’s shelter system in 2013, officials said. Animal Care and Control reported that during the 2013 fiscal year, about 56 percent of the animals taken in were euthanized. The rest were adopted, transferred to another facility or reclaimed by their owners.

Bershadker said in addition to increased spay/neuter services, Charlotte needs “a more innovative and aggressive adoption (program).”

Specific goals for Charlotte-Mecklenburg in 2014 include increasing the overall “live release rate” from community shelter partners, increasing the adoption rate, targeting spay/neuter services in the community and improving the number of lost animals returned to their owners, according to the partnership.

Some of the issues surrounding homeless animals in Mecklenburg County – overcrowded shelters, owners relinquishing their pets, lost pets remaining unclaimed – are faced in other similarly sized communities, according to the partnership. The solutions that Charlotte finds can be a model for many other communities.

Mark Balestra, director of Animal Care and Control, said the next five years working with ASCPA will be a journey, but one that will “have a remarkably profound (impact) on animals in our community.”