POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – New efforts to save animals’ lives in Polk County lead to improvements in 2019, but more work is still left to be done in the new year.

Polk County has Florida’s highest animal kill rate and ranks in the top 10 across the nation.

SPCA Florida, a no-kill shelter, made it its mission in 2019 to change that ranking.

According to executive director Shelley Thayer, 1,500 more animals were saved and the county improved its kill rating by seven points through the month of November.

That means more animals were saved than were killed. Thayer is waiting on numbers from December to be able to fully analyze the progress.

Still, she said, that doesn’t change Polk County’s ranking as the top county for euthanizing animals.

“We’ll still be in that position with that target on our back but in 2020 everything that we’re learned from 2019 is going to be applied,” she said.

Through a collaborative effort between SPCA Florida, the Humane Society, Polk County Animal Control, Lakeland Fire Department, Lakeland Police Department and local veterinarians, a focus was placed on saving animals, rather than euthanizing them.

As part of a new initiative, SPCA Florida transported 300 kittens, which are the most vulnerable, to northern states.

“Spring and fall, when they’re not producing in the north or they didn’t make it through the harsh winters, we’re now transporting with our vehicles up to those states, like Maine and Vermont, Chicago, Minneapolis,” explained Thayer.

The coalition also worked to spay and neuter more animals and find foster homes.

“I can predict, we’re going to hit some milestones this year. We’re really going change our numbers here in Polk County, moving towards that no kill equation in 5 years,” said Thayer.

The first transport of kittens is set for next week. A team will be taking some kittens to Maine, possibly using a private plane rather than the SPCA vehicle.