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NORTHEAST OHIO -- Two Northeast Ohio shelters have qualified for the final round of a nationwide competition that could greatly benefit their communities.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has partnered with celebrity chef Rachael Ray to award $500,000 in prizes to animal shelters this fall.

Two local shelters are in the running: The Medina County SPCA (ranked 7th in the nation) and the Ashtabula County Animal Protective League(ranked 24th).

The contest began with community campaigns to generate online votes for local shelters.Out ofmore than100 participants, the top 25 will now spend the summer for an adoption marathon that will begin in August.

From August 1 through October 31, shelters must adopt out at least 300 animals.

Those that achieve that goal will then be in competition against themselves: How their numbers compare to the same time last year.

The shelter that makes the most difference will receive $100,000, with smaller prize money awarded to other finalists.

"The biggest reason we are doing this is because it is more lives saved, and that's what this is all about," says Stephanie Moore, executive director of the Medina County SPCA.

Moore says the SPCA would use the prize money to build a new, state-of-the-art facility.

The no-kill shelter is both the law enforcement partner for abuse and neglect cases and the community shelter for the county.

The number of dogs needing the SPCA's care is rising --while donations are not.

Moore says the prize money is more than they could dream of. The SPCA will launch an online campaign in time for August, starring the shelter's mascot, a Pomeranian named Starbuck.

"We just say, 'save one more life.' That's what we're trying to do," Moore said.

East of Cleveland, the Ashtabula County APL is also preparing an adoption campaign to kick off the contest in August.

Ashtabula has fewer residents, but volunteers are motivatedby the large voter turnout that helped them qualify.

The APL is coming up with innovative adoption promotions to be competitive.

If Ashtabula wins, the shelter would like to build an ICU to treat sick or injured animals.

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