Pet adoption mega-event coming up in Pleasanton
By Lou Fancher
At the Annual Bay Area Pet Fair, it’ll be difficult to distinguish rescued from rescuer.
The two-day event Sept. 16-17 boasts of being “the largest pet adoption event in California.” Since 2011, some 4,731 pets have been adopted. At last year’s fair 1,178 pets were placed in new homes. Pet Food Express donates $50 to participating organizations for each adoption. More than $200,000 has been directed to shelters and rescue operations.
But the roughly 1,500 kittens, puppies, cats, dogs, birds, rabbits and other small animals provided by nearly 80 rescue organizations and animal shelters in 2017 will also adopt the hopes, habits and dreams of companionship of their soon-to-be human caretakers. In a very real sense, rescued animals offer rescue from loneliness or poor health, provide purpose for individual owners or, perhaps, strengthen bonds and empathy within families.
Valley Humane Society Executive Director Melanie Sadek says her childhood included — in addition to her identical twin sister — two cats and a dog named Cleo.
“He used to play hide-and-seek with us,” she recalls. Today, she and her husband have four pets with San Francisco Giants-based names: dogs Hunter and Buster, cat Posey and a leopard gecko, Pence.
As the founder and former owner of Pleasanton-based pet store Murphy’s Paw, Sadek has broad perspective on the retail as well as the nonprofit animal rescue industry.
“Adoption has become like a badge of honor,” she said. “There has been a push to be more open, to help people adopt. There’s less judging people; less checking people’s houses to see if the fence is high enough, that the food they’d feed an animal is good enough. The industry is more trusting.”
At animal conferences she attends, Sadek said research proves with hard data that although people often adopt on a whim, animals are well-treated and overall not at risk.
“Our fears (about animal adoption) weren’t justified when you look at the facts. It’s made the process a lot more compassionate and comfortable,” she said.
Even so, the number of animals entering public shelters remains high. Valley Humane receives tremendous community support but always lacks space. “We have offsite storage, but in terms of animal space here, we’ve maxed out,” she admits.
That means they aim to be more proactive. Instead of reacting to overwhelming needs, their new Internet-based programs like “Come to Home” connect owners of animals in need of re-homing directly to people looking to adopt. “We’re trying to eliminate that step where animals have to be put into a shelter. It’s an opportunity to stop the cycle before it starts,” she said.
Pet Food Express Director of Community Outreach Mike Murray said response to the fair grows stronger every year. Seven years ago, 15 rescue groups participated: in 2017, that number has more than quadrupled. Taking a long-term view, he says, “The pet industry from the ’70s to today — people are seeing pets as a family member, an integral part. We see a trend from $100 million dollars in the industry to billions of dollars. For the company (Pet Food Express), the reward we get from the fair comes from the wonderful animals available.”
Booths and equipment for the organizations, many of whom waive adoption fees at the fair, are supported by sponsors and provided without charge. Admission and parking are free and family entertainment extensive: K9 and stunt dogs demos, live music, a kid zone with inflatables and more.
A “Just Food For Dogs” contest introduces a new line of human-grade dog food carried by Pet Food Express. “It’s made with quinoa, whole-meat chicken and veggies, and people eat the food with their dogs to see who can eat faster,” says Murray. Winners receive a $100 gift card.
For all the wild fun, the fair reserves a measure of caution: Some rescue and shelter organizations allow one week to complete the adoption process.
“Those groups sometimes like to do home visits,” said Murray — “A week for people to think about adoptions and make solid decisions.”
Murray’s concern arises from personal as well as professional interest in animal well-being.
“I started working with Pet Food Express after they helped me with a pet rescue startup. Now I volunteer with Second Chance German Shepherd Rescue,” he said. Murray and his wife have three German Shepherds and three foster dogs. During their 16-year marriage, they have fostered 2,400 dogs.
There have been more than 500 dogs flown from Texas and Florida to the Bay Area, all of which were in the shelters before Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit. These homeless dogs were evacuated to free up space at the shelters for new displaced dogs in Texas and Florida. Pet Food Express expects to have hundreds of these “hurricane” dogs at the fair this weekend.