This Challenge is funded by Maddie’s Fund® and Michelson Found Animals Foundation and in collaboration with, Adoptimize, American Pets Alive!, ASPCA, The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, BISSELL Pet Foundation, Best Friends Animal Society, Companions and Animals for Reform and Equity (CARE), HeARTS Speak, Humane Society of the United States, National Animal Care and Control Association, Petco Love, Petfinder Foundation, and PetSmart Charities.

Would you like to improve your community relationships?

You’re invited to join the Open Arms Challenge! This Challenge is all about opening our hearts and minds to more accessible and inclusive practices. For six weeks, starting November 22, 2021 and ending January 3, 2022, we are encouraging animal shelters and rescue organizations to pilot new approaches that open doors to new adopters and volunteers and welcome your entire community.

Not only do we hope to see adoptions, foster recruitment and volunteer interest go through the roof, but there’s also $200,000 in grants available!

The goal of this Challenge is to increase inclusivity and provide a welcoming environment for all community members. What that looks like is different for every organization. It can be as simple as providing literature in multiple languages or returning voicemails in a timely manner to completely redoing the adoption application, undertaking bias training or focusing on neighborhoods where adoption events were not previously held.

Registration is Closed

To help prepare for this Challenge, we have loads of resources available and will host collaborative Huddles, in which experts will focus on each welcoming practice and how they implemented them at their own organization.

This challenge will invite shelter and rescue organizations to embrace welcoming practices as follows:

  1. Processes are equitable and inclusive
  2. Customer success is ensured through customer service
  3. Marketing and communications are directed towards entire community
  4. Organization embraces an open and welcoming culture
  5. Organization creates partnerships with other organizations
  6. Other – not listed above

Most importantly, the practices 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.

We are SO excited about this Challenge, and we cannot wait to see what you come up with!

Challenge Details:

The Challenge is open to U.S.-based government animal shelters or 501c3 shelter or rescue organizations focused on dogs and/or cats who want to increase inclusivity and provide a welcoming environment for all community members. Welcoming practices that will be considered are those that actively make your organization’s culture more open, equitable and inclusive for your community.

Important Dates:

  • Registration Period: Monday, August 23, 2021 – Monday, August 30, 2021 (Apply through our grants portal until 5pm PST on August 30, 2021.)
  • Prep Period: October 1 – November 21, 2021. This is your chance to prepare for your new welcoming practices (update policies/procedures, attend Huddles, train staff, etc.)
  • Challenge Period: November 22, 2021 – January 3, 2022. During this time, you will pilot your new practices.
  • Participation Reports Due: Friday, January 21, 2022 (find a sample of that report here)
  • Final Report (via Zoom Huddle) for Award Winners: Late March 2022 (find sample questions here)

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

  • Be a U.S.-based government animal shelter or 501c3 shelter or rescue organization focused on dogs and/or cats.
  • Be an active participant in Shelter Animals Count. (If you’re awarded a grant prize from this Challenge, you agree to join the Maddie’s Fund Coalition in Shelter Animals Count.)
  • Be current on all grant reporting for any prior Maddie’s Fund grants.
  • Register for the Challenge by submitting a complete application through the Maddie’s Fund Grants Portal. You’ll be notified by September 30, 2021 if you meet the eligibility requirements to participate in the Challenge.
  • Recommended but not required: participation in Petco Love Lost and Million Cat Challenge.

To be considered for an AWARD from this Challenge, your organization must:

  • Meet the requirements above.
  • Submit the Participation Report (due Friday, January 21, 2022 by 5pm PST). Find a sample of this report here. Please note, this sample is provided for reference only and questions are subject to change.

Additionally, if you are selected as an award winner from this Challenge, there’s a final report via Zoom to be scheduled for late March 2022. Find a sample of this report here. Please note, this sample is provided for reference only and questions are subject to change.


Prizes will be determined based on the participation reports that we receive.

Maddie’s Fund and Michelson Found Animal Foundation

  • $200,000 in grant prizes. Each participating organization will be eligible for up to $10,000 in grants.


  • Free app access for every participating organization for 6 months.
  • For EVERY grant-winning shelter in the Open Arms Challenge, Adoptimize will make and ship custom pet portrait mugs to your shelter's new adopters for one month for free.

    The mugs will include your shelter's logo and Adoptimize will also provide a donation module for your organization to raise additional funds at checkout and at receipt of gift. 100% of funds raised will go to your organization. See details.

The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement

Bissell Pet Foundation

  • One shelter to be chosen to receive $1,000 in spay-neuter vouchers.

National Animal Care and Control Association (NACA)

  • Scholarship funds for the online ACO Certification
  • One year - Agency Membership for an agency
  • One agency/organization selected will be featured in the Spring 2022 NACA Animal Care and Control News Magazine – both on the cover and in the feature article!


Browse our growing Welcoming Practices resources from Challenge partners, organized by category.


Starting October 5 - November 11, every Tuesday and Thursday at 10am PT/1pm ET (with a day off for Election Day, 11/2/21), there will be a 40-minute Zoom Huddle. Each Zoom Huddle will consist of two 10-minute presentations from peers who have implemented that topic at their animal shelter or rescue organization, respectively, followed by a 20-minute Q&A. The topics coincide with the welcoming practices. See the schedule.

You only have to register once to sign up for all of the huddles. Weekly email reminders will be sent out with that week’s discussions.

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!

Challenge Partners