LEWISTON — After three months of wacky adoption events, special promotions and social media campaigns, the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society has found homes for 1,303 animals.
And has won $20,000.
The Lewiston animal shelter learned Wednesday that it placed third in the country in the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' $100K Challenge, a national competition to increase the number of cats and dogs adopted or returned to their owners. It placed first in the Northeast.
"You've made things change," said David Betournay, community initiatives director for the ASPCA, as he presented the shelter with a surprise check. "You have officially raised the bar."
The Lewiston shelter won a spot in the contest earlier this year when 5,300 voters supported its entry. Fifty animal shelters began the competition, many larger and with greater funding than the Lewiston shelter. The Greater Androscoggin Humane Society was the only one in Maine to participate.
With help from a 24-hour adoption event, fee-free adoptions and near-constant Facebook and Twitter messages, the shelter found homes for 629 more cats and dogs than it did during the same period last year.
The first-place shelter, Austin Pets Alive! in Texas, found homes for 850 more animals than it did last year, earning it the $100,000 grand prize. The Humane Society of South Mississippi found homes for 835 more animals than the year before, earning it second place and $25,000.
The ASPCA kept Lewiston's win a surprise until it revealed the check Wednesday at the shelter, to the gasps and applause of dozens of shelter workers, volunteers and adoptive families.
Executive Director Steve Dostie said the shelter likely would spend the money on its low-price spay/neuter program, which costs the humane society about $50,000 a year. The award money will allow the shelter to expand the program and possibly focus on pit bulls, the dog breed that arrives most often at the shelter.
Although shelter supporters had hoped it would win the $100,000 grand prize, they were pleased with what it got, and with the number of animals it saved.
"Everybody's worked so hard here," said Laurie Marcotte, a volunteer who fosters shelter dogs.
Dostie said the shelter would continue some of the promotions and events that have proven popular over the past three months. It also plans to help other Maine shelters that want advice on increasing adoptions.
The ASPCA hoped for that kind of inspiration and shelter-to-shelter cooperation when it began the $100K Challenge last year, Betournay said.
"Other shelters in Maine will follow," he said.
Early in the contest, the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society won $5,000 for finding homes for more than 400 cats and dogs within the competition's first month.