By MOCH N. KURNIAWAN
While the recession has been bad for pet owners—creating an abundance of unwanted pets—adoptions are up more than 16 percent, according to figures from the Mission District’s adoption center.
Nevertheless, their adoption record failed to win over critics at FixSanFrancisco.org who lambasted the center for its less rigid adoption process, its “store approach,” and its recent inclination to take in highly adoptable pets from other shelters in order to boost its adoption rate.
“From January to December 2008, we adopted out a record of more than 4,200 pets,” Dori Villalon, vice president of the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), said during Saturday’s open house celebration at Leanne B. Roberts Animal Care Center. “Cat adoptions rose amazingly more than 80 percent.”
The SPCA’s 4,200 dog and cat adoptions in 2008 marked a surge from 3,602 the previous year, and 3,160 in 2006, according to the SPCA, which concentrates all pet adoptions at Maddie’s Pet Adoption Center on 16th and Florida streets.
Villalon attributed last year’s high adoption rate to the center’s effective marketing and promotions, fast adoption process, and the recession. The latter, she said, probably changed consumer buying habits.
She said, for example, the SPCA decision to close Maddie’s second floor to the public about a year ago, allowing customers to choose only pets available on the first floor, was effective in accelerating adoptions.
Based on Mission Local’s latest check, Maddie’s second floor now consists of five hallways, 18 cat rooms, two offices, and one meeting room. Each cat room is occupied by one cat being treated for a disease or behavior problem, but sometimes a room is empty as the cat undergoes medical treatment in another location.
“Think like [you are an owner of] a store. If you give buyers too many choices, they will be confused and decide not to buy. But if you narrow their choices, it will speed up your sales,” Villalon said.
“So we give the public an access to pets in the first floor, and when the pets get adopted, we transfer our pets in the second to the first floor. The pets are still all there, we just change the flow.”
Promotions such as Holiday Windows at Macy’s, a TV talk show at KOFY, and radio talk shows also brought in more consumers in 2008. Holiday Windows attracted 277 adoptions over the 2007-2008 holiday season, compared to 200 the previous year.
“We have many promotions which are pretty effective,” Maddie’s adoption director Holly Stempien-Fink said.
Villalon added that the current adoption process, which consists of fewer questionnaires and an in-depth interview, was made to speed up adoption and ensure the pets match with their adopters.
“There is no reason to keep animals too long in our adoption center, but we must make sure they could find new and loving homes,” she said.
Stempien-Fink said the spike in pet adoptions looked similar to the trend after 9/11 when the U.S. economy began to deteriorate.
“It is logical that people in recession consider adopting pets from our adoption center,” Villalon said.” They can get a good price (compared to a pure breeder) without a complicated adoption process, and the pets are not below the standard.”
The 27,000-square-foot Maddie’s in 1998. It was named after a late dog that belonged to Cheryl and Dave Duffield, the president of Peoplesoft, Inc. and a donor to the SPCA.
Maddie’s accommodates dogs and cats in spacious and homey apartments and replaces the previous SPCA adoption department, which put pets in cages.
At Maddie’s, some 200 homeless dogs and cats that come primarily from the San Francisco Animal Care and Control (ACC) and other shelters in San Francisco Bay Area live in one of 18 dog apartments and 67 cat lofts while they await adoption.
Meanwhile, the SPCA critic FixSanFrancisco.org said the pet adoption increase in the SPCA is ironic as the center now tends to avoid taking care of animals with behavior issues.
“The SPCA increasingly takes in healthy pets from out-of-county shelters,” said Julene Johnson, a spokesperson for the pet organization.
“They are easier to adopt out than pets with behavior issues, and furthermore the SPCA takes in more and more pets from other counties when a lot of pets in San Francisco still need help.”
Johnson, who also volunteers at the ACC, added that in sharp contrast, low-financial pet rescue groups had accepted from the ACC more dogs than the high-financial SPCA.
However, Villalon said the SPCA had continuously maintained to mix healthy and sick pets taken from other shelters.
“We try to make a good composition among the healthy and sick animals,” the SPCA vice president said.
Johnson also characterized the SPCA’s current adoption process as less strict, which could result in an increase of pet returns from adopters.
Earlier, SPCA President Jan McHugh-Smith was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle saying pet returns have increased 1 percent in 2007.
Johnson went on to say the SPCA should not carry out “a store approach” by displaying selected animals to the public, as pets were living creatures, not products.
“Adopters will not be confused to choose because they are usually passionate about pets,” she said.
The latest complaint followed the previous one raised last year by other groups such as Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue, Rocket Dog Rescue, and Grateful Dogs Rescue.
Such a controversy did not dissuade adopter Olivia Green. She drove with her son 30 miles from her home in Hayward to search for her second puppy at the SPCA.
“I think the SPCA turnover is high,” she said. “I came here quite often and saw many new different dogs.”
Green, who started going to the SPCA after a dog she purchased from a breeder died of cancer, said the SPCA was easy, affordable and offered a variety of pups.
“Two months ago I went to the SPCA, filled in its questionnaire, paid a pretty low fee, and got the dog on the same day,” she said. “Besides, the SPCA has a better pet collection than an adoption center near my home which mostly offers bulldogs.”
The SPCA charges a fee between $85 and $225 to adopt a dog, and from $60 to $100 for a cat. The fee varies, with puppies and kittens costing more.
Despite the reasonable fees, Stempien-Fink reminded adopters that pets need a financially secure home.
She estimated that a dog costs an average of $100 a month, but the cost could skyrocket to $170 a month if a dog gets sick. Cats cost an average of $50 a month to maintain, she said.
“The cost would mainly go to food, water and veterinary care,” she said. “I have a dog myself, and I spent $10,000 for five years.”
The costs also failed to change Green’s mind. “It’s for our happiness,” she said, “for my son too.”