This Challenge is funded by Adopt a Pet, California for All Animals, Life of Riley, Maddie’s Fund® and Michelson Found Animals Foundation and in collaboration with American Pets Alive!, ASPCA, The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, Best Friends Animal Society, BISSELL Pet Foundation, The Community Cats Podcast, Companions and Animals for Reform and Equity (CARE), Cuddly, Greater Good Charities, HeARTS Speak, Humane Society of the United States, JVR Shelter Strategies, Maddie's® Million Pet Challenge, National Animal Care and Control Association, Petco Love, Petfinder Foundation, PetSmart Charities and Shelter Animals Count.

Would you like to improve your community relationships?

Join us for the all-inclusive 2024 Open Arms Challenge! This grant Challenge is like no other. For the entire month of April 2024, animal shelters, foster-based organizations and public charities are encouraged to create a new program or expand an existing one focused on keeping pets and people together. Beginning in 2024, there will only be one Challenge per year.

The Challenge is all about opening our hearts and minds to more accessible and inclusive practices, helping to keep pets with their people and animals in their communities through Return to Home and Foster programs and so much more. Not only do we all hope to see innovative ways to increase community engagement with adoptions, foster recruitment, volunteer interest and safety net programs - there’s also $510,000 in grant prizes available!

Registration for the Challenge has Closed

What is the Open Arms Challenge?

The Open Arms Challenge is an opportunity for organizations to pilot a new practice or expand upon a current program that has already been started.

The goal of this Challenge is to increase inclusivity and provide a welcoming environment for all staff (paid and unpaid) and community members; and keeping pets with people and animals in their communities when possible. What that looks like is different for every organization. It could be returning voicemails in a timely manner, providing literature in multiple languages or completely rewriting or doing away with the adoption application, to undertaking bias training or choosing new neighborhoods for adoption events. The Open Arms Challenge can be applied to any of your organization’s programs and services.

How does it work?

Your organization applies to participate in the Open Arms Challenge once the application period is open. If accepted, your organization implements the new or expanded activity you’ve chosen for the Challenge month. You document what was done, what was learned and what resulted from this Challenge. You then submit a participation report to be considered to win a grant from the funding partners. There are prizes designated by some of the collaborating partners as well.

Who can participate?

This Challenge will invite animal shelters, foster-based organizations and public charities focused on keeping pets and people together and animals in their communities to create or expand programs in any of the following areas:

  1. Processes are equitable and inclusive
  2. Customer success is ensured through customer service
  3. Marketing is inclusive of all areas of your community
  4. Organization embraces an open and welcoming culture
  5. Organization creates partnerships with other organizations
  6. Other - an open and welcoming practice you’re already doing that’s not listed above

Most importantly, the practice(s) each organization decides to undertake should reflect a desire to intentionally connect with all areas of the community and a willingness to listen to what their community wants and needs.

To be considered to PARTICIPATE in this Challenge, your organization must be:

  • A U.S.-based government agency or 501c3 public charity
  • A shelter, foster-based organization or other animal welfare organization focused on keeping pets and people together or animals in their communities
  • Focused on dogs and/or cats
  • An active participant in Shelter Animals Count
  • Current on all grant reporting for any prior Maddie's Fund grants

Challenge Details

The Challenge is open to animal shelters, foster-based organizations, and public charities focused on keeping pets and people together and animals in their communities who want to increase inclusivity and provide a welcoming environment for all community members.

To be considered for an award from this Challenge, your organization must submit a Participation Report to Maddie’s Fund at the end of the Challenge Period (April 1 – 30, 2024). This report will be due Wednesday, May 15, 2024 by 5pm PT.

  • In order to qualify for a grant from Adopt a Pet, organizations must be actively listing pets on Adopt a Pet and send all required attachments (signed W-9 form, contact form, etc.) to Adopt a Pet prior to receiving payment. If you have any questions, please email
  • In order to qualify for a grant from California for All Animals, your organization must be a shelter located in California that houses animals in a brick and mortar facility and is open to the public a minimum of fifteen hours per week for adoptions and/or return to home (includes municipal shelters or private shelters with or without municipal contracts). Animal control agencies that provide field services and/or animal control functions are also eligible to apply, even if they do not perform sheltering services. Organizations must submit all required forms (W-9 form, annual intake and euthanasia data for the last five years [2019 - 2023] and subsequent years through 2026 for cats and dogs, and a Shelter Services Agreement) to California for All Animals prior to receiving a payment.

When and how do we register?

Registration is now closed.

Should we prepare?

Yes! Now is the time to start your planning. What new program would you like to pilot? How can you expand your existing programs to be more inclusive and community focused?

To start the ideas flowing for this Challenge, there are loads of resources available. There are recordings of speakers from previous years sharing how they implemented new and updated programs and policies at their own organizations. Additionally, there are materials, samples, applications and reports.

Additionally, the February Weekly Community Conversations are slated to be all about these practices. Specifically: disability inclusion, community services impact and people with lived experiences. Register now for more detailed call information

Applicants can also take the CARE REDI Bronze Course for a discounted price of $25!

  • CARE’s mission is in the interest of Human and Animal Well-being, to prioritize and amplify BIPOC and other Marginalized Voices using Narratives, Research, and Community-Centered Investments. In honor of the Open Arms Challenge and their belief in its mission, CARE would like to offer all applicants their REDI Bronze course for $25 a person. This applies to anyone in your organization.
  • NOTE: You or someone from your organization must apply for the Open Arms Challenge (February 26 - March 6) in order to receive the course at this price. This opportunity will open on February 26, 2024 and close on April 30, 2024. You will receive instructions and the discount code via email once our grants team has reviewed your application. If you have not received your code by March 12, please reach out to

Anything else we should know?


In addition to up to $500,000 in grant prizes, the below prizes will also be offered:

  • The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement will award 5 participating organizations a $250 credit towards professional development or annual membership.
  • The Community Cats Podcast will award access to a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) Certification Workshop.
  • Cuddly will award $2000 in cash and a $2,000 wish list haul.
  • The Humane Society of the United States will award two registrations to the 2025 Animal Care Expo to be held in Las Vegas, NV from April 15 - 18. Registration includes a daylong learning lab as well as the regular conference. In addition, $1,500 in grant funding.
  • Maddie’s® Million Pet Challenge will award 5 Hard Copies of the Best Practice Playbook for Animal Shelters and Choice between: Scholarship worth $299 for our Open the Door to Veterinary Care online certificate program that focuses on providing solutions to cost as a barrier to care; or $250 and support for setting up a program through Uber to provide transportation for people to get their pets to the vet. They would get access to an Uber specialist and training to show them how to set up a program and $250 to get it started.
  • The National Care and Control Association will award three scholarships to Animal Control Officer training, and three Agency Memberships.

Join the Open Arms Challenge group on Maddie’s® Pet Forum

Here you will connect with other challenge participants to brainstorm and share your success stories and tips. The end goal is to implement more welcoming policies, so let’s help each other out!

Join Now!

Get Social!

Please feel free to share the Open Arms Challenge through your organization's communication channels. To save, right-click the image and 'save image as' to your computer. Follow and use #OpenArmsChallenge with your posts so we can see and share your amazing work!

Open Arms Challenge graphic showing a young smiling lady hugging with a little pug dog
Open Arms Challenge graphic showing male couple on beach holding dog
Open Arms Challenge Graphic showing elderly woman with tea kissing large dog

Open Arms Challenge graphic showing young woman on bad petting cat
Open Arms Challenge Graphic showing young couple outside holding and petting cat
Open Arms Challenge Graphic showing young male laying on couch petting cat

Challenge Partners

Adopt a Pet
California for All Animals
Life of Riley
Maddie's Fund
Michelson Found Animals
The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement
Best Friends Animal Society
BISSELL Pet Foundation
Community Cats Podcast
Companions and Animals for Reform and Equity (CARE)
Greater Good Charities
Humane Society of the United States
JVR Shelter Strategies
Maddie's Million Pet Challenge
National Animal Care and Control Association
Petco Love
Petfinder Foundation
Petsmart Charities
Shelter Animals Count