SPCA of York County achieves 95% save rate

Anthony Maenza
York Dispatch

Cooper, a mid-sized brown and white mixed-breed dog, maneuvered around the newly renovated lobby of the SPCA of York County. 

He visited with folks Friday as if to thank them for coming and perhaps for helping save his life. 

Marty Jones, Cooper’s mom and an SPCA volunteer, said that vibrant, energetic 70-pound dog wasn’t always that way. 

“When Cooper arrived at the SPCA rescue shelter in 2021, he was only 30 pounds. He was a skeleton,” Jones said. “He was severely malnourished.” 

The work of volunteers and the veterinary team at the SPCA of York County brought him back to life.  

His life journey, highlighted on the occasion of the SPCA reopening their lobby to the public, was another milestone. The shelter for the first time in its 97-year history has a 95% save rate, which means that the majority of the animals that come into the shelter leave alive. 

SPCA of York County Executive Director Steven Martinez said it took about 3½ years to achieve the goal to become what is essentially a no-kill shelter. 

In order to be considered a no-kill shelter, Martinez said the save rate for animals brought into the shelter has to be 90% or above. 

“The other piece of it is you would only euthanize an animal for two reasons — one is for behavioral euthanasia, which rarely happens, and the other reason is for health,” Martinez said. 

Cooper, a former shelter pup, sleeping during the press conference at the SPCA in York on Friday, March 24, 2023.

Martinez said a better way to define what the SPCA of York County has become is by the save rate, which is the percentage of animals brought into the shelter that are kept from being euthanized. 

When Martinez started as executive director in 2019, the shelter had only a 53% save rate. 

“We started to put together our plan, which we ended up calling our best practices transformation,” he said. “At the beginning, what I did was I went to other communities and visited other shelters around Pennsylvania and around the country.” 

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Martinez did so to connect with other executive directors to test out their ideas. He said many were skeptical of the ideas put forth to make York County’s save-rate 90% or better. Today, the majority of those executive directors are not with their organizations anymore because they either met resistance from the community when they tried to implement change or got run out of town. 

“The stuff that we tried is pretty progressive,” he said. “If you don’t take time to understand it and think about why we’re doing what we are doing, it doesn’t make sense. It can feel counterintuitive.” 

Community support for what the SPCA of York County was trying to do, Martinez said, helped them achieve the 95% save rate where others failed. 

“It’s our community. That is actually what makes us different,” he said. “I’m not exaggerating. I’m not kidding. I’m not trying to make you feel different. I’m letting you know that’s what it is. We tried progressive things and our donors continued to show up for us each year.” 

He also said county leaders and SPCA board members also showed up and showed support through the change. 

“Rather than get scared and say let’s stop doing this, they leaned in and said let’s keep going,” Martinez said.  

Steven Martinez, SPCA York Executive Director, at the press conference at the SPCA in York on Friday, March 24, 2023.

It’s because of that support, he said, that the SPCA of York County has become one of the leading shelters in the country. 

The numbers bear that out. The shelter has provided more than 73,000 spay and neuter surgeries over the past 10 years. Of that number, 43,000 were for community cats, which are outdoor, unowned, free-roaming cats. 

Last year, the clinic’s veterinary staff performed more that 10,000 surgeries; more than 6,000 of those were for community cats.  

“An aggressive spay and neuter program is the only practical, affordable and proven way to decrease animal populations making sure that these animals don’t end up in the shelter,” York County Commissioner Doug Hoke said. 

Doug Hoke, York County Commissioner, at the press conference at the SPCA in York on Friday, March 24, 2023.

Hoke also said that the shelter’s clinic administered more than 8,000 rabies vaccinations last year.  

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler also highlighted the SPCA’s Human Services Programs, which are aimed to keep pet owners together with their pets when times get tough. 

“The goal of these programs is to ensure that surrendering a pet to the shelter is a measure of last resort,” Wheeler said. 

The SPCA’s aim, she said, is to connect the community to as many of these resources as possible.  

Wheeler said many times families surrender pets because they can’t afford surgeries their pet needs, so they surrender them to the shelter to get that medical help. The SPCA’s CARMA (Companion Animals Requiring Medical Assistance) Program helped 186 low-income families last year keep their pets instead of surrendering them. 

Julie Wheeler, York County Commissioner, at the press conference at the SPCA in York on Friday, March 24, 2023.

The SPCA’s Pet Food Pantry Program, which provides free pet food to anyone who makes a request, donated more than 25,000 pounds of food in 2022 so that families who couldn’t afford to feed their pet had a path to do so. 

“It’s important because many families are good pet owners who occasionally needed support to get through difficult moments in their lives,” Wheeler said. “Keeping pets with their families and out of the shelter creates space and capacity for animals who have nowhere else to go.” 

The announcement of the high save rate highlighted the dedication of the SPCA’s newly renovated lobby and conference room. Seth Noll, vice president of Kinsley Property Management, who was charge of the renovation, said changes to the lobby include improved lighting, new wall finishes and paint, windows and doors in the lobby, new cat condos and a new customer service desk. It took a little over 3½ months to complete a more welcoming space for visitors. 

The lobby will officially reopen to the public for browsing on April 4.