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Putting pizzazz into pet adoption

Adopt & Shop flips the somber animal shelter into a snazzy pet boutique.

By Staff Writer / June 22, 2011

Aimee Gilbreath, executive director of Found Animals, which recently opened Adopt & Shop, an animal shelter with a friendly retail pet sore approach. 'We find that the animals in the shelter are fantastic, and if you can just get people to come and see them, they get adopted,' she says.

Courtesy of Found Aniimals Foundation


Some 5 million to 7 million dogs and cats arrive at animal shelters across the United States each year. Roughly two-thirds of them never leave alive, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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The problem is supply and demand: too many unwanted pets and not enough people willing to adopt.

A nonprofit group in southern California is trying to apply some innovative solutions to both challenges.

Idea No. 1: Employ a little marketing magic.

In April, the Found Animals Foundation opened what it hopes will be the first of many Adopt & Shop pet stores. Located in the Lakewood Center Mall in middle-class Lakewood, Calif. – near Costco, Target, Nordstrom, and a movie theater – it's an animal shelter disguised as an upscale "pet-adoption center and pet supply boutique," says Aimee Gilbreath, executive director of Found Animals.

"A lot of folks think, sometimes accurately and sometimes inaccurately, that a shelter is going to be an intimidating or sad place. So they don't go visit," she says. "We find that the animals in the shelter are fantastic, and if you can just get people to come and see them, they get adopted."

While upscaling shelters into pet stores isn't entirely new, "we put our own spin on it," she says. Adoption counselors work with each customer to find the perfect pet. Each animal has been spayed or neutered, has received all needed shots, and has an RFID chip inserted under the skin, which acts as a permanent "ID collar" to identify it should it become lost.

Cats and kittens can be adopted for $60 to $75 and puppies and dogs for $100 to $125, which Ms. Gilbreath calls "incredibly reasonable prices."

In just over two months, the store has placed about 160 animals into adoption. The hope is that it will be a model for others.

"We are going to start scouting locations for store No. 2 probably in July, with the goal of having it open for the holidays," she says. "We'd really like to do our programs in a way that is cost effective and scalable so that you can do it in lots of places without a huge investment. And we are happy to teach folks how to do what we've done and what's worked and what hasn't. We're in the process right now of writing up [reports on] a lot of our programs to present them at animal conferences."

Contrary to popular belief, shelter animals aren't all mutts and strays. Some 25 to 30 percent of the dogs, for example, are purebreds.

"Pets end up in shelters not because of a problem with the pet but because of a people problem," Gilbreath says. "Folks lose their homes, they have allergies, they can't afford the pet, maybe the pet was a gift from a fiancee who cheated and they want to get rid of it."


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