Prospects are improving for cats and dogs at the Lafayette Animal Shelter, where more than 2,500 animals were euthanized in 2015.

Only one in four animals brought to the shelter last year made it out alive, according to figures from city-parish government.

But changes implemented in recent months have begun to turn those numbers around, and city-parish officials have set their sights on bringing the euthanasia numbers as close to zero as possible.

The shelter's "save rate" — the percentage of animals that leave the shelter alive — was only 25 percent for 2015.

That rate, though, has begin ticking up and reached 56 percent for the three-month period from September to November, according to figures from the shelter.

The plan is to push the save rate to at least 90 percent and become what's known as a "no-kill" shelter, euthanizing only dangerous or terminally-ill animals.

City-Parish Mayor-President Joel Robideaux made the "no-kill" shelter an early priority soon after taking office in January and said he is keeping an open mind about any strategy that might work.

"Whatever that takes and whatever it means," he said.

The effort is getting support from the national animal welfare group Target Zero, which earlier this year began offering training and resources to help Lafayette's shelter transition to "no-kill."

"Euthanasia as population control is no longer acceptable in the United States," said Target Zero Program Director Sara Pizano.

Target Zero recommends a comprehensive approach that focuses on keeping animals out of the shelter and on spay/neuter programs to keep pet populations in check.

Strategies include subsidized spay/neuter services and assistance to overwhelmed pet owners who might need animal behavior training, low-cost veterinary care, discounted pet food or other help.

"We need to make sure that this (the shelter) is not your first stop. This should be your last option," Pizano said.

For animals that seem to have no alternative but the shelter, city-parish government is nurturing a closer relationship with local animal welfare groups that work to find good homes for the pets.

Robideaux said he believes the early reductions in euthanasia rates this year are attributable to letting nonprofit groups take animals for adoption without paying the standard fee, which is $80 for cats and $100 for dogs.

"If they are coming to the shelter and leaving alive, that's a success," Robideaux said.

The shelter also has extended the times residents can come to adopt a pet, staying open later than usual one Tuesday a month and opening one Saturday a month.

Robideaux said the next major step in the initiative is a change in policy to drastically reduce the number of cats kept at the shelter by returning cats to the areas they were found after vaccinating and sterilizing the animals.

It's becoming an increasingly common practice and is a more effective strategy for population control than euthanasia, Pizano said.

Returning unclaimed cats to the neighborhoods where they were captured will likely require a change in local law, which prohibits the release of animals without owners, Robideaux said.

Robideaux said he hopes to achieve "no-kill" status at the shelter by 2020, a goal Pizano said is realistic if Lafayette stays on track.

"Inside of two years, you should be there, or sooner if all the stars are aligned," she said.

Follow Richard Burgess on Twitter, @rbb100.​