Lisa LaFontaine, center, at a news conference announcing the merger of the District’s Humane Rescue Alliance and St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center of Madison, N.J. LaFontaine will serve as president of the combined group. (Sarah Weiss/St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center)

Washington’s largest animal rescue organization has merged with a center based in New Jersey to create the country’s first multistate animal welfare group. The union announced this week is designed to consolidate resources and address a growing need for a regional approach to animal welfare, the groups’ leaders said Thursday.

By joining forces with St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center of Madison, N.J., officials said, the District’s Humane Rescue Alliance will significantly expand its ability to take in more unwanted animals from the across the country and place them with owners who have the resources to care for them.

The combined organization will be able to cut overhead costs, share fundraising efforts and more easily transport animals from overcrowded shelters to ones that have space, said Lisa LaFontaine, the president and chief executive of the merged group. Before the merger, LaFontaine was the president of the Alliance.

“This is really unprecedented for two powerhouse organizations to merge in this way, across state lines. It’s an incredible win for the animals,” said Kitty Block, the president of the Humane Society of the United States.

Though advocacy groups such as the Humane Society have worked on a regional and national level for years, animal welfare organizations that operate shelters and offer adoption services have largely remained localized.

LaFontaine said the union is driven in part by the success of the merger that created the Alliance. In 2016, the Washington Humane Society and the Washington Animal Rescue League combined their operations, producing $1 million in cost savings and reducing the average time an animal spends in their facilities from more than 20 days to nine.

Punky, a seven-year-old mix, was among the dogs rescued from Hurricane Florence in Norfolk, Va., and taken to the Humane Rescue Alliance last year. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

“There’s a lot of fragmentation between animal welfare groups,” LaFontaine said. “There’s a lot of infighting and competitiveness, especially when it comes to fundraising. I’d like this merger to put a stake in the ground that collaboration is the best way to achieve our mission.”

Heather Cammisa, the former president of St. Hubert’s, which has several campuses that are also the product of mergers, agreed. “It’s something we see as important for the field overall,” she said.

Block noted that in the past five years, partnerships between animal welfare organizations have significantly increased.

Established in 1939, St. Hubert’s operates two shelters and a training center in Morris County. It also runs the Sister Shelter WayStation Program, which helps to move animals from overburdened shelters to similar facilities with more capacity.

In wealthy cities across the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest, more people are seeking to house rescue animals, even as effective spay and neuter programs have led to a drop in animal populations in these areas, experts say.

Ellis, a two-year-old hound mix, also ended up at the Humane Rescue Alliance after Hurricane Florence in 2018. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

The WayStation program allows animals from other parts of the country, where the number of rescues is greater, to travel where there is demand and resources to treat them.

With five adoption shelters under its portfolio, the Alliance will be better prepared to absorb the overflow of rescue animals from the southwestern United States, Block said.

Under the terms of the merger, departments such as human resources and finance will be combined, though on-the-ground shelters and operations such as spay and neuter services will not be visibly affected.

St. Hubert’s is transferring its assets and intellectual property to the Alliance, while the Alliance is filing to do business in New Jersey under the St. Hubert’s brand.

LaFontaine will oversee a combined budget of $20 million and 300 staff members. No layoffs are expected.