S.F. cat adoption center opens inside pet store

August 21, 2011

Justin Berton, San Francisco Chronicle

At the Pet Food Express on Market Street Saturday, the harsh realities of a down-turned economy met the fuzzy truth of cats in need of a home.

San Francisco Animal Care and Control opened it first-ever cat adoption center located inside a privately owned retail store. The ribbon cutting turned into a ribbon pouncing by the playful feline afforded the honor.

The new center, which drew an appearance from Mayor Ed Lee and earned an official proclamation from the city, is a novel attempt to deal with San Francisco's increasing number of cats put up for adoption, and the flatlining of the number of people willing to adopt them.

The trouble is a well-documented ripple effect of the recession, said Animal Care and Control Director Rebecca Katz. From 2008 to 2009, the first year of the economic funk, the city's pet shelter population jumped 18 percent, a sudden increase of about 425 animals that were considered "owner surrenders" - folks who couldn't afford the vet bills or even the pet food.

"We had one woman in our lobby crying as she gave up her cat," Katz said. "She told her, 'I have to live in my car; it's not fair that you have to.' "

Even as lost jobs and foreclosures have increased the shelter's pet numbers, the hard times also have made it less likely people will take on a new pet, Katz said.

For the first time in recent memory, Katz said, the shelter went two weeks in August without adopting out a single adult cat.

Mike Murray, director of community relations for Pet Express, said it could be that potential adopters suffer from "shelter fear" - the undesirable thought of heading into a city shelter, where desperate stray dogs and cats bark and screech for attention.

"In times like these, shelters bear the brunt of the load," Murray said. "It's where they get the surrenders, the strays. It's kind of the final stop."

The idea of opening an adoption center in the Market Street outlet - the company's highest-traffic spot in the Bay Area - was an attempt to bring the animals to the people, Katz said.

On Saturday afternoon, the shiny center was stocked with 12 cats, and interest was strong.

Customer Yolanda Curtis, a Diamond Heights resident, was shopping for dog food and gave the center a good look and a quick walkthrough.

"I'm a dog person myself," she said. "But my sister - she could use a companion. ... Maybe I'll send her here."


 
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