Pet Helpers selected for ASPCA $100K Challenge

Puppies enjoy an afternoon play date with children at the Pet Helpers Leslie McCravy Memorial 5K Walk/Run in early May.

The first pitch of another kind of season comes Sunday as Pet Helpers and the Charleston RiverDogs team up to start the fifth annual ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge.

During the summerlong event running through Aug. 30, Pet Helpers and 49 other animal shelters - selected by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals - will compete for prizes, ranging from $1,000 professional development grants to a $100,000 grand prize.

The latter will go to the shelter that achieves the largest increase in the number of lives saved beyond its established baseline. The total purse of prizes granted will amount to $600,000 this year.

Pet Helpers has a goal of finding permanent homes for 1,000 dogs and cats this summer, or double what it did last summer.

"Summertime is one of the slowest periods for pet adoption across the board primarily because people are traveling," said Anna Will, outreach manager for Pet Helpers.

Sunday's kickoff will start at 3:30 p.m. with the 1,000 Steps for 1,000 Lives walk. Individuals and families are invited to bring their dogs for a short walk from the south end of Brittlebank Park to Joseph P. Riley Stadium. Participants will get a number which they can present at the box office for $2 off the price of admission to the RiverDogs "Dog Days" game with the Asheville Tourists.

Beyond Sunday, Pet Helpers is hoping to enlist "Angels in the Outfield," members of the community who will personally advocate for one or more of the animals to find their "forever home."

Those who commit to being an angel will get a photograph and description of one animal who needs a home and be asked to use his or her network of friends, family and colleagues via social media and email lists to find it. Pet Helpers will amplify those pitches by reposting on Facebook, Twitter and via email blasts.

Will says that they hope the "buzz" created by one individual's advocacy for each pet will result in finding the right home.

The ASPCA's $100K Challenge has paid off in the past four years.

In the first year of the competition, competing shelters achieved an impressive increase of 7,362 more lives saved than same time/prior year. Since then, the numbers have been even better: 8,977 in 2011, 14,376 in 2012, and 12,050 in 2013. Increases for individual shelters range from a few animals to well over 1,000 more lives saved, with 40 shelters increasing lives saved by 300 or more in the last two contests.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.