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City Partners With For-Profit Business to Find Homes for Kittens

March 31, 2012

The New York Times

'A lot of people, for whatever reason, they won’t go to a shelter.'

Spring has sprung — in all its rainy glory in the Bay Area — but animal shelters are steeling themselves for the beginning of a dreaded annual event: kitten season.

This year, however, the city of San Francisco’s Department of Animal Care and Control has joined with Pet Food Express, a Northern California pet food and supply chain with 41 locations, to help place abandoned cats in loving homes.

It is the first time the city agency has collaborated with a for-profit business for this purpose, and already cat adoption rates have increased significantly.

Last fall, Pet Food Express installed an adoption center in its flagship Market Street location as an experiment.

“They knew it was a challenge for us to get pets adopted out of the shelter,” said Rebecca Katz, head of the agency. “It’s been incredible. We can barely keep it stocked with cats.”

“A lot of people, for whatever reason, they won’t go to a shelter,” said Mike Murray, director of community outreach for Pet Food Express. “They just feel like there’s bad things happening there.”

Cat adoptions are up over all. The city said 536 cats had been adopted out of shelters since last fall, plus 146 from the Pet Food Express site. Over the same period last year, only 349 cats found homes.

Pet Food Express operates similar in-store adoption sites in cooperation with other agencies in three other stores around the Bay Area. In total, they say that around 1,000 cats and kittens have been adopted from their stores.

Collaborations between pet stores and animal shelters are not new; adoption days happen regularly at both chain and independent stores. But Katz said that her department had been careful to form partnerships with pet stores that do not traffic in animals, because that would conflict with Animal Care and Control’s policy. Pet Food Express, a business that got its start in San Francisco, is firm in its commitment to sell only pet products.

But that does not mean that opening the cat adoption center is “100 percent altruistic,” Katz said.

“People are right there to buy food and bedding and treats,” she added. “So of course it’s a win for them.”

Murray echoed the observation. He said his store had not tracked growth in its customer base since adding centers but believed it was generally good for business.

While studies have shown that pets bought from pet stores are more likely to be abandoned or brought to shelters than those attained through other means, Katz said that very few cats acquired at Pet Food Express had been returned. In fact, she said the agency was increasingly using its Pet Food Express location to find homes for adult cats and harder-to-place animals.

“We brought over some kittens with a neurological disorder that doesn’t affect life span or health but the kittens look like they are walking drunk,” Katz said. “At the shelter, it would have taken months and months to adopt them out. In the store, it took a couple of weeks.”


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