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Power in Partnerships: Ready Support, Pet Food Express Style

May 30, 2014

Pet Product News International

Bulletproof vests, permanent shelter cat housing in stores and photo campaigns are just a few of the many ways these stores boost pet groups in Northern California.

Walk into any of the 50 Pet Food Express stores in California and you will be greeted by larger-than-life-sized posters of happy dogs, cats, bunnies and, yes, even the occasional pet rooster or spider.

It’s all part of the popular My Mutt program in which Pet Food Express customers earmark donations of $250 or more to a favorite nonprofit pet rescue or shelter and the pet retailer dispatches a professional photographer to do a photo shoot of their pets. The best photo is then displayed in one of the Pet Food Express stores. In 2013, the My Mutt program raised about $305,000 for pet charities.

What is not known is that each photo costs Pet Food Express about $400, but you won’t find co-owners Michael Levy and Mark Witriol grumbling, because both know that they are making priceless investments in bettering the lives of companion animals.

"I would rather invest $400 each time and raise money for the various rescue and shelter groups,” Levy said. "We love decorating our stores with these large pet photos. Many of the donations go to independent rescues fostering out of their homes and struggling to exist on shoestring budgets. Walking into our stores and seeing these photos gets people more focused on the needs of shelters, foster groups and other pet groups. The My Mutt program truly gets the whole community involved.”

K-9 Eddie flanked by his handler and a young fan. 
Since Levy opened his first Pet Food Express in 1980 and partnered with Witriol in 1992, giving back to the community has always been a priority over profits.

Last year alone, the Oakland, Calif.-based pet retailer donated more than $1.7 million to more than 50 police K-9 departments, 100 pet shelters and rescues groups, and more than 100 schools in Northern California.

For their continuous commitment to the pet community in Northern California, Pet Product News International has selected Pet Food Express as this month’s spotlighted pet retailer for the Power in Partnerships series sponsored by Halo, Purely for Pets.

Police K-9 units in the San Francisco Bay Area clean up each summer—literally—thanks to the annual dog washes sponsored by Pet Food Express.

And K-9 officers can wash their furry partners for free year-round at any Pet Food Express store.

This year’s fundraiser takes place July 12 and 13; all proceeds from dog washes done at the stores’ wash stations will go to the Cover Your K-9 Programs to help police departments purchase bulletproof K-9 vests, trauma kits and heat-alerting car alarms, and provide medical care for retired police dogs. The hope is to surpass last year’s $124,000.

Former Oakland K-9 police officer Alex Jose, now chairman of the Cover Your K-9 Foundation, was teamed with K-9 Cuda in 2009 when Pet Food Express first began this fundraiser.

"At the time, K-9 Cuda, who was trained for both patrol work and narcotics detection, had no bulletproof vest,” said Jose, now a police officer with Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Francisco. "Pet Food Express has been a great partner and enabled our hardworking K-9 officers to go out on the streets with the protection that they deserve. We hope that other companies see this as a model for the awesome things that can be done when a true partnership is created to do good for the community.”

Pet Food Express is a major supporter of cats, too, taking feline adoption one step further than weekend adoptions.

Just ask Rebecca Katz and Glenn Howell, a pair of shelter directors in the Bay Area who have permanent state-of-the-art cat adoption housing centers inside of the Pet Food Express stores.

"We are a stretched-thin agency, taking in 10,000 animals last year on just a $4 million budget,” said Katz, executive director of San Francisco Animal Care and Control. "In August 2011, we opened a cat adoption center inside the Pet Food Express store on Market Street, and we have adopted more than 500 cats since then.

"Thanks to Pet Food Express, our cat adoptions have gone up as our cat population has gone down. The staff knows our cats, and they talk to their customers about the different personalities and recommend food and litter. They are very knowledgeable.”

"I have known Michael Levy for decades,” said Howell, executive director of the Contra Costa County Animal Services Department in Martinez, Calif. "What sets Pet Food Express stores apart from some other pet supply companies is that from the very beginning they have made an effort to work with animal shelters and pet rescue groups. They offer us another place to showcase our cats and to find them homes.

"Not everyone will go to an animal shelter to adopt a pet, but everyone who comes into a Pet Food Express store is usually in a good mood, and many are drawn to our cats available for adoption.”

Today, Pet Food Express, twice named Pet Product News International Retailer of the Year (1997 and 2007), now has 50 stores in Northern California with plans to open six more, including four in Southern California, by the end of this year. The stores average about 7,000 square feet, and all but two offer pet wash centers.

But from the very beginning, the bottom line has never been the highest priority.

"We believe in trust and have been transparent with our customers, employees and manufacturers since day one,” said Levy. "We want our customers to have the best possible shopping experience, so we invest an enormous amount of training in our staff.

"Yes, we have offered a low-price guarantee for 20 years, but we are really not about price. We believe in having top-quality products, a well-educated staff and giving back to pets in our community.”

By Arden Moore

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