By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor

In its 25 years of operation, a Gilbert shelter has saved more than 10,000 stray cats and dogs from a life on the streets.

Next weekend, Friends for Life Animal Rescue is holding its 20th annual BARKtoberfest fundraiser to continue its mission of adopting out these homeless animals.

The group’s major fundraiser of the year generally brings in $20,000 to $25,000, according to Barb Savoy, spokeswoman for the no-kill shelter.

“The money is used primarily for medical care for the animals,” Savoy said. “We focus on rescuing stray animals, and oftentimes they come to us with medical issues, and most need spaying or neutering and sometimes it’s dental cleaning or no vaccinations. Some have more major problems. The largest expense for us is medical.”

Other expenses include about $18,000 per month to run the adoption center, according to the shelter.

The nonprofit shelter also will take in owner-surrendered pets but focuses on strays.

“We focus on strays because most often they are not spayed or neutered, so they continue to add to the overpopulation problem,” Savoy said. “Once we get them into a home, they no longer are contributing to litters of puppies and kittens.”

Once adopted, the shelter keeps its ties with the dog or cat, living up to its name Friends for Life.

Each animal is microchipped with the shelter as the primary point of contact.

“If for any reason they are not able to keep the animal, they are required to return it to us,” Savoy said. “And if they are returned to another facility, we make the arrangements to transport. We’ve made arrangements to transport from as far as Alaska and Florida when they’ve been turned in to a traditional, euthanasia facility.”

Savoy said the shelter’s return rate is not high, probably 5 percent.

“We do a very diligent job trying to match the right animal with the right family,” she said. “We ask a lot of questions of the adoptive family.”

According to the shelter, only 1 in 10 animals remain with the same family for the duration of their life, which is why a proper match is so important.

The nonprofit has steadily grown from a network of volunteer foster homes in 1993 to three leased buildings in downtown Gilbert three years later and then to a new building in February on Melody Avenue near Baseline and Cooper roads.

The group’s major fundraising event also has grown over the years.

In 1998, the event was held in the front yard of the nonprofit’s original shelter building with a handful of vendors, a few games and an alumni parade.

Today, between 7,000 and 10,000 people attend the fundraiser, which features over 65 vendors booths, Savoy said.

The event also includes food trucks, Lure course and agility courses, a DogVinci Dog artistry booth, dog wash, emcee and DJ Rowan Pickering of The Event Team, contests for best costume, best trick, best smooch; Friends for Life adoptee alumni parade, demonstrations by the Gilbert Police Department K-9 unit and raffle prizes.