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Putting pizzazz into pet adoption

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

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Found Animals is trying some other marketing ploys to boost pet adoptions. On June 18 it held a one-day Adopt-a-Thon, at which 475 to 500 pets were adopted. "To my knowledge [that] makes it one of the biggest, if not the biggest, single-day shelter adoptions in the country," Gilbreath says.

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All summer long Found Animals is sponsoring the Cat Days of Summer. Customers can adopt two cats or kittens for the price of one. Cats enjoy each others company and "do great in pairs," she says, and "it's also good for the owners sanity," especially if they're adopting active kittens.

The "cat days" are in response to a greater need to place cats. "In the L.A. area only 1 out of every 4 cats that enters a shelter will leave alive, whereas 2 out of every 3 dogs will leave alive," she says.

The foundation's other big effort is the Michelson Prize & Grants, which includes a $25 million award to anyone who develops a low-cost, nonsurgical method of cat and dog sterilization to reduce the number of unwanted animals that have to be killed at shelters.

Retail spaying and neutering at a veterinarian's office can cost as much as $500 to $700, though many nonprofit groups offer greatly reduced rates. Found Animals funds a program at Clinico, a low-cost spay and neuter organization, that will neuter male cats for $15 and spay females for $25. Even so, the animals must undergo surgery and must be taken to an animal clinic or hospital for the procedure, which together with the cost means many pet owners won't get it done.

Michelson started accepting proposals in early 2009 and have had about 150 applications. "We have about a dozen projects that have been approved for funding," Gilbreath says, and though any answer is still many years away there are some "very hopeful signs."Another $50 million in grants has been set aside for preliminary research projects, to try to get the effort under way.

Gilbreath took a winding road to her post.

"I always had a huge menagerie of pets growing up. My first aspiration was to be a veterinarian. That didn't happen," she says. After getting a biology degree at the University of Arizona, she worked for Motorola in life sciences, went to business school at Stanford University, and then took a post in the health care field for the Boston Consulting Group.

In 2008, she became Found Animals' first full-time employee. "We're at about 35 employees now," she says.

Her dog is in the office with her. "His name is Rufus. He's a pit bull." She's more than aware of their gangster reputation, which she says is something new. "Historically. They were known for being really great with people," she says. "The majority of pit bulls out there are fantastic dogs ... they do get a bad rap."

While groups like Found Animals have emphasized saving the lives of shelter animals, there's another side to the story of pet adoption: its effects on people.

An older gentleman who'd never married or had children came into the Adopt & Shop recently. He'd never had a pet and wasn't sure he wanted one, Gilbreath says. An adoption counselor talked with him. "He ended up taking home this little terrier mutt dog and absolutely falling in love with her," she says.


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