The Little Shelter That Could Save Thousands of Lives


Okay, this isn’t strictly a cat story, so I hope you’ll forgive me for that. But it is the story of a humane society that saved more than 3,500 animals last year — 2,039 of which were cats.

Not only have this shelter’s efforts saved lives, they’ve brought national attention — and a big prize.

Last year, the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston, Maine, decided it would participate in the ASPCA’s $100K Challenge. To increase their adoption numbers, GAHS launched Facebook and Twitter campaigns and began posting videos of animals available for adoption on its YouTube channel.

Staff hosted adopt-a-thons, inviting other animal shelters to participate, helping animal rescues across the state of Maine to save lives and find loving homes for the cats (and dogs) in their care.

Because GAHS has done such extraordinary work to adopt out the animals in its care, the shelter has plenty of empty cages, so it brings dogs and cats from shelters in other parts of Maine, and even from other states.

In the past, the humane society has had 120 cats or more waiting for homes. “Right now, we’re down to three cats for adoption,” GAHS operations manager Zachary Black said last week in an interview with the Lewiston Sun-Journal. “We’ve never seen that.”

People literally wait for hours outside the shelter’s doors in Maine’s frigid winter weather to adopt the pets they want.

Although some of the shelter’s marketing efforts included waiving adoption fees for senior cats and drastically reducing fees for other animals, the humane society hasn’t slacked off on its adoption policies and guidelines. People who want to bring a cat or dog home still have to fill out an application and have their references checked.

The result? GAHS triumphed in the $100K Challenge. It won first place in the Northeast and third in the entire nation, and got a grant of $20,000 from the ASPCA.

Winning the first-place rank in the Northeast is a huge deal, considering that this shelter, serving a population of about 107,000 in a largely rural county of almost 500 square miles, was up against competitors like the Animal Rescue League of Boston; the Animal Rescue League and Washington Humane Society in Washington, D.C.; and two animal shelters in Philadelphia.

It really is amazing what creative use of social media and working with other shelters can do to bring safety and love to homeless pets.

I work for a nonprofit myself, and a good part of my job involves social media outreach. GAHS’s success with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube can teach all of us a thing or two (or three, or more) about how to achieve goals that may have seemed unreachable through the creative use of the social web.

Just when I think there’s not a whole lot to celebrate here in Maine, a story like this makes me proud to be a Mainer. The shelter’s staff and volunteers exemplify the hard work, dedication, compassion, and ingenuity that makes Maine a wonderful place to live.

Check out this video of one of the GAHS cats that is — er, was — up for adoption. Sumi (now named Sumo) has found a loving forever home. And when you see her in action, you’ll know why.

(In a reader? Watch the video here.)

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