Saving Lives Statewide

Common Bonds Plans to Increase Oklahoma’s Shelter Save Rate to 90%

By Heide Brandes

Can Oklahoma animal shelters achieve a save rate of 90%, reduce the number of animals entering shelters and increase public engagement to help save the lives of animals?

One group believes so and is taking bold measures to help the state reach the goal of a 90% save rate.

Common Bonds, a group of organizations and individuals concerned about the well-being of Oklahoma’s companion animals, announced its plans to increase Oklahoma’s shelter save rate to 90% during a news conference in January.

“Common Bonds is seeking to reach a 90% save rate for cats and dogs in Oklahoma animal shelters by 2025,” said Kelly Burley, the coalition’s director. “To realize this goal, we are approaching our work through three distinct priorities: promoting methods to reduce the number of animals entering shelters, increasing community engagement and improving data collection.”

In 2018, more than 93,300 dogs and cats were in Oklahoma animal shelters, according to data from Best Friends Animal Society. Of those animals, 76% were either reunited with owners or found new forever homes. Brent Toellner, Best Friends senior director of national programs, thinks the state can do better.

“This is a 10-percentage point increase from previous years. With this impressive growth in the live outcomes for dogs and cats in the state’s shelters, we know the collaborative effort of Common Bonds can help Oklahoma achieve no-kill by 2025,” he said.


Toellner says he absolutely believes Oklahoma can reach the goal of 90% saved, and he added that his organization’s goal is to have the nation reach a 90% save rate overall.

“Oklahoma as a state currently has a 76% save rate. The national average is 77%. The state is 16th in save rate, so the state in terms of lives that are in the gap is on the higher end. But I think there is a strong likelihood that Oklahoma will get there,” Toellner said. “It’s certainly achievable with these partners coming together.”

Common Bonds has several key priorities they plan to institute to reach that 90% goal. One of the priorities is to promote the affordable and accessible spaying and neutering of dogs and cats. The group will also form a grassroots network of statewide volunteers to build relationships at a local level.

These volunteers will work and communicate with law enforcement, government officials, shelters and the public to help educate about the connection between animal well-being and the overall well-being of communities. To kickstart this effort, Common Bonds is hosting a series of community visits over the next two years, which began Feb. 11 in Enid.

“One of the challenges we’ve seen is that when a problem is hidden from the public, it makes it hard for the public to become more aware. However, when the public is aware, across the nation, the public steps up to help shelters,” Toellner said. “It’s important to raise awareness so people can get involved.”

The coalition is also prioritizing efforts to encourage more Oklahoma shelters to report their data. Currently, fewer than half of the state’s 128 animal shelters report intake, release and euthanasia numbers, so it’s impossible to know the entire scope of the issue in the state.

“It’s about saving the life of every cat and dog that can be saved,” Burley said. “Overall, the number of pets who are suffering from irremediable medical or behavioral issues is typically no more than 10% of all pets entering the shelter system.”

Jamee Suarez-Howard, founder and president of the Tulsa-based Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, said her organization supports Common Bond’s work to bring attention to this issue.

“Citizens and policy leaders should know and understand that animal welfare issues are community issues,” Suarez-Howard said. “It is important to raise awareness about the connection between animal well-being and the overall well-being of communities.”

Jon Gary, animal welfare superintendent for the City of Oklahoma City, said the initiative will help shelters in their ongoing efforts to educate the public and policymakers. But, he stressed, it is a community effort, and the public needs to become involved as well.

“The public does need to know that thousands of animals are being euthanized each year, and they don’t have to be,” Gary said. “About 11,000 animals statewide lose their lives each year. It’s important that we understand that. Our shelter takes in 20,000 dogs and cats from around the state each year. Of the 11,000 animals that are euthanized, 4,000 were euthanized right here in Oklahoma City. While we’ve made a lot of progress, there are still thousands of animals being euthanized that don’t need to be.”

Gary said the work of Common Bonds will help to raise the public’s awareness but will also encourage shelters throughout Oklahoma to work and support each other, share resources and ideas, and help reach out to their communities.

“We are trying to reach the rural areas and smaller shelters, many of which are undermanned and underfunded,” Gary said. “The big thing is to bring attention to the subject and how many animals lose their lives each year.”


Common Bonds is the next phase in the collaborative effort originally known as “Save Lives. Unite Oklahoma.”

“There are many ways people can get involved … through volunteer efforts and financial efforts,” said Toellner. “Reach out to local shelters to see what they need, which is usually volunteer or financial support. Support community programs like catch and release for feral cats. Find coalitions that help animals near you. We are starting to see coalitions like Oklahoma’s pop up everywhere.”

Coalition partners include American Humane, Bella SPCA, Best Friends Animal Society, Best Friends of Pets, Enid SPCA, Friends of the Mustang Animal Shelter, City of Norman Animal Welfare, City of Oklahoma City Animal Welfare, City of Tulsa Animal Welfare, Cherokee Nation Businesses, Connected to Place, Humane Society of the United States (Oklahoma Chapter), Kirkpatrick Foundation, Lab Rescue OK, Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, Oklahoma Humane Society, OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association, OU Institute for Quality Communities, Peaceful Animal Adoption Shelter (PAAS), SpayFirst!, SpayXperts, St. Francis Animal Resource Center, University of Central Oklahoma, and Well-Being International.

For more information, visit commonbondsok.com.


OKC Pets Magazine and its companion website OkcPetsMagazine.com provide Oklahoma City pet owners with the perspectives of a bi-monthly magazine, the interactive, up-to-the-minute insights of a local news source, and the humane conscience and social media involvement of the Oklahoma City pet community. Only here will you find a one-step resource for local pet products, services and events as well as adoption and pet care information. All of it is sprinkled with lots of pictures of local pets!