In 2008, Best Friends Animal Society seized an opportunity to help stop the killing of cats in Duval County, Florida. Feral cats, or community cats as we call them, are routinely rounded up and killed in municipalities across the country, where trap/neuter/return has yet to be embraced. But Duval County wasn’t just any municipality. The county is home to Jacksonville — the city that boasts one of the most progressive animal welfare organizations around, First Coast No More Homeless Pets, headed up by the affable and savvy Rick DuCharme.
To know Rick is to love Rick. Rick came from the world of sales — heavy equipment sales to be exact. Rick, with his gravely voice and disarming nature, turns on the charm and sells the vision that Jacksonville is so very close to its mission of no more homeless pets. My colleague Nikki Sharp got the sales call from Rick back in 2008 when he asked us to sign on with the Feral Freedom program. By that time, Rick had already knitted together a solid public/private partnership with the city of Jacksonville and Jacksonville Humane Society. The idea was simple — free-roaming cats are part of the fabric of the community and should not be rounded up and given a one-way ticket to death in the city shelter. Instead, we should trap them, neuter them, and return them to their habitat, saving thousands of lives and controlling the community cat population at the same time. Sometimes the simplest solutions are right in front of us.
Since launching the Feral Freedom program, the community cats of Jacksonville have benefitted from the private/public partnership that is the cornerstone of the program. The collaboration between Best Friends Animal Society, the city of Jacksonville, First Coast No More Homeless Pets, and the Jacksonville Humane Society has completely paid off. Death rates are down, owner surrenders are down, and adoptions are up. When the community works together, the lifesaving results speak for themselves. In 2002, over 23,000 animals were killed in Jacksonville; in 2011, the number was 7,912.
Building on that momentum for 2012, we’re very happy to share that Best Friends has given First Coast No More Homeless Pets a grant of $340,000 to help further reduce the number of homeless pets being killed in Jacksonville. This go-around we’re focused on adoptions in the form of a new adoption center — the First Coast No More Homeless Pets Adoption Center, sponsored by Best Friends Animal Society, to be exact.
Joining the team this year with his support is Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown. Mayor Brown shared in today’s check presentation and festivities at the adoption center. He definitely shares our enthusiasm for helping save animals who are finding their way into his city’s shelters, and we welcome Jacksonville’s no-kill effort from the top office. It’s a rather new precedent around the country, but a very welcome one. Once again, we’re seeing a city leader like Mayor Brown take a progressive stand for the animals and own the mission of no more homeless pets.
Our animal advocacy ally and First Coast No More Homeless Pets founder, Rick DuCharme, says the grant will help them cut the number of shelter deaths by just about half. The money will be used to help operate the First Coast No More Homeless Pets Adoption Center, sponsored by Best Friends Animal Society, and fund a team of First Coast No More Homeless Pets staff members working at Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services. An estimated 2,700 dogs and cats who are waiting to be adopted in Jacksonville will be given new-found hope for getting out the of the shelter system and into loving homes, thanks to all of us working together with a strategic focus.
A decade in the making
Founded in 2001, First Coast No More Homeless Pets started with developing spay/neuter programs targeted to decrease the number of dogs and cats entering local shelters. To that end, they offer free spay/neuter surgeries for pit-bull-type dogs and community cats. Their initial strategy was a winner — they were able to reduce overall shelter admissions by over 25 percent. Then they spearheaded the Feral Freedom program, which brought together private and public partnerships all working towards a common goal, and instantly saw results. Now we’re down to the final no-kill strategies to help Rick realize his dream of making Jacksonville a model no more homeless pets community.
Beyond our work at the Sanctuary in Kanab, helping communities hone their lifesaving strategies is mission central. Our supporters know that we will do everything we can to help stop the killing of innocent lives from coast to coast. From our lifesaving partnerships in Los Angeles to this lifesaving endeavor in Jacksonville, Best Friends Animal Society is committed to no more homeless pets through adoption, spay/neuter, and other collaborative community programs.
Rick acknowledges that the road to no more homeless pets in Jacksonville is still a few years away, but he continues to put the animals first and sell his lifesaving solutions to his fair community of Jacksonville. As far as we can tell, they are sold!
For more information on how you can help the homeless pets of Jacksonville, visit the First Coast No More Homeless Pets website.
Senior Director, Communications