A pet adoption center inside a PetSmart in southwest Fort Worth is saving the city money, increasing business and, most importantly, bringing hundreds of homeless dogs and cats to new loving families. The Fort Worth Adoption center, believed to be the first of its kind in the country, opened last April 25 along South Hulen Street. Since then, not one rejected pet has been put down in the city, according to Brandon Bennett, director of the Code Compliance Department. About 4,500 homeless pets end up in the city pound every year. 2,500 pets were put down in the local animal shelter when their time ran out, until now. 300 pets have been adopted since the center opened, a 100 percent increase from a year ago, says Bennett. In fact, he added, demand has been so high that pets from other cities’ shelters have been brought in.
What spelled success for this adoption center was definitely its location and setting, not to mention its being open 24/7. The city shelter is in an isolated area, and its atmosphere is not even inviting. Hence, pet lovers are usually found at the pet store, says Bennett. In contrast, the pet adoption center has clean open areas where people can easily interact with the animals. A similar facility in an attractive location would cost around $2 to $4 million and probably wouldn’t attract as many people compared to an adjacent pet store, added Bennett. The facility has been such a success, he said, that there have been talks about opening another center in north Fort Worth. They have been getting so many calls about this from all over the country. And the great thing about it is that everybody wins, not one government dollar has been spent, Bennett said. The groups supporting this cause, PetSmart and PetSmart Charities are similarly happy with the partnership.
The store is housed in a 1,800 square foot space and the nonprofit group donated $150,000 for the whole building. The structure has in-house kennels with “visiting rooms” – grooming areas for about 10 dogs and 10 cats. The center is a successful model for PetSmart Charities and for other communities as well, says Kim Noetzel, communications manager for the nonprofit group. People who want to rescue an animal in a pet shelter are usually intimidated because of the setting, which can be emotionally overwhelming, she added. Because of this, it has proved to be a very effective way to increase people’s interest in adopting a homeless pet. Noetzel said that even if the venture has become a great advertisement to both the business and the partnership, they did it purely for the love of the animals. The unsung heroes for this project are Bill Boecker and his wife Toni, who worked for months to make everything happen, Bennett said. Boecker co-founded the Fort Worth Pet Adoption Partners which funds the center.
According to Boecker, the charity needs $200,000 a year to pay for supplies, a vehicle, advertising and the employees who work in the center. The group had raised $215,000 including $31,000 from 900 people who responded to an advertisement enclosed in their water bills. Boecker said that the wealthier people in the community helped out immediately but it was even more inspiring to note that 900 people answered their mailer.
The strong support from the community is necessary to the center’s survival, said Bennett. The city has made a 2 year commitment to the in-store center, after which, it will depend mostly on the level of donations. The center started out great, and the real challenge is on how to sustain it, Boecker said. All the pets in the center are checked for their temperament, spayed or neutered, examined by a veterinarian, vaccinated and licensed, and they even have microchip implants for identification, Bennett said.
The increase in the number of adoptions has even lowered the total cost of adopting a pet from $80 to $39.Along with this, new owners get a pet toy and food and a free obedience class lesson. Blake Ovard, a technician in the animal center, said that the animals seem to know that they are being auditioned for a new home. The pets tend to quiet down when people get there and understand when someone is considering them, said Ovard, a dog trainer. Volunteers often come in to interact and even read to the animals. Noetzel said that it is not easy to pull off this partnership and is not realistic for every community. Aside from an agency dedicated to saving the lives of animals in their care, a great partner agency is also needed. Along with this, there must also be a store with some available space. The most important ingredient though is the support of the community. Noetzel said that Fort Worth was an ideal place to start off since it has all the necessary elements for a successful pet center. The implementation of the idea was complicated, said Boecker, but the objective was very simple, a shelter where no animal will be put down.
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