Two kitties (top left corner) live in a luxurious room in the SPCA while waiting for adoption. (M.N.K)
Two kitties (top left corner) live in a luxurious room in the SPCA while awaiting adoption. (M.N.K)

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 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.”

A dog in the SPCA seeking new home (M.N.K)
A dog in the SPCA seeks a new home. (M.N.K)

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 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.

The SPCA client care manager Suzanne Hollis looks at a cat in the SPCA second floor, which is controversially closed to the public. (M.N.K.)
Suzanne Hollis, the SPCA client care manager, looks at a cat on the SPCA second floor, which is controversially closed to the public. (M.N.K.)

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.”

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  1. In addition to the above comment, also not covered is that the SF SPCA is taking out of county animals and not taking care of their own backyard. Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue is an excellent organization and should be commended on all of their efforts. I adopted a beautiful loving cat from them, of course, a daily occurrence, my loving cat was rejected by the SPCA for are your ready for this ” behavioral issues” and was on death row at ACC. This is farther from the truth, as my cat has absolutely no issues. We need to change the way these animals are evaluated and support the local rescue groups which are underfunded and which the burden of the last resort for these animals falls on their shoulders. Thank you Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue for all that you do and for standing up and being the voice and saving grace for these cats. I hope all San Francisco residents provide with you the well deserved donations that you desperately need to continue your rescue efforts.

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  2. There will be a cover story in Northside that blows the lid off the SPCA and
    it’s failure to the animals of SF. Not to mention
    the struggling rescues who do their
    work for them, the over-budget hospital fiasco,
    and the overpaid, incompetent management. Comes
    out Sept. 3. Meanwhile, check our site for a three
    part series on who is REALLY saving dogs at ACC…Rocket
    Dog Rescue and other groups. I have spent time
    undercover and I think supporters of the SPCA
    will be shocked to read what is going on.

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  3. oops, I hit the submit button too soon…

    The new program has been effective in helping people find a cat that’s best-suited to the things they value in an animal companion, and can help us manage their expectations if they are interested in a cat that falls outside their preferred Feline-ality.

    I wouldn’t characterize the newer adoption process as “less strict.” Rather, I would stress that at it’s core, we treat potential adopters as adults who are capable of making informed decisions about their pet care. The tone is conversational, rather than adversarial. Sure,there are returns – there are always returns, but we learn more about the cat through this process, and the next adopter is even better empowered to take on a cat’s particular issues.

    I’m glad to say that people don’t need to drive to our shelter each time they want to see who’s there – they can simply go to our website: and see who’s currently available for adoption.

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  4. I’m a current volunteer at the SPCA. Just a note of correction – there are only four hallways upstairs. I can’t possibly imagine where another one would fit.

    While the choice to close the upstairs to the public took a while to adjust to, I have to say that it works. Our cats are going so fast it’s been hard to even get to know many of them. Really, that isn’t a bad thing. In our old system, many cats stayed for weeks, even months. Sure, we got to know them well and got quite attached to them, but long-term stays in our shelter were not in their best interest.

    About the adoption process: the SF SPCA adopted the Meet-Your-Match program, which was developed by Dr. Emily Weiss of the ASPCA

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  5. What a terrible decision to close Maddie’s second floor to the public. I implore the SPECA to let people see ALL of the animals available for adoption. People are capable of making a decision, even when there are quite a few choices. In fact, I believe I make BETTER decisions, when I am given a full complement of choices.

    It is a disservice to the animals and to the public for the SPCA to conceal some of the animals up on the second floor, when people have come in adopt. People may leave without adopting, but if they could have seen all of the animals, perhaps they would have adopted.

    The way the SPCA has arranged it, people would have to keep coming back in order to see animals that were there in the first place (BAD carbon footprint), or would have to go to other shelters to find an animal, when they might have found one at the SPCA, had it not been concealed on the second floor.

    I think it is an insult to say: ““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” .

    Boy, does the SPCA think little of those trying to adopt pets. How patronizing!

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