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SPCA adoptions soar, thanks to exposure at PETCO

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WATERTOWN — The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Jefferson County has taken some well-advised risks in the past year.

Despite initial staff and board-member reluctance, the nonprofit animal shelter formed a partnership with Petco to open an SPCA adoption center in the pet store at 21851 Towne Center Drive.

The move has paid off for the agency. Since its January 2013 opening, the local SPCA has seen an increase of 400 adoptions, for a total of about 1,500.

“If you don’t take risks, you don’t grow,” SPCA executive director Douglas J. Marlow said. “That was the ultimate decision of the board, to take that risk. It turned out to be more positive than we originally anticipated.”

Petco Corp. and the Petco Foundation contributed $380,000 to cover construction costs. The SPCA pays $1 per year to rent the space.

The agency shouldered expense for Internet, extra staffing, supplies, medical expenses and more. Expenses hovered around $50,000 for the first year, Mr. Marlow said. But revenue from the 400 extra adoptions — many of which stemmed from animals at the Petco location — came to $61,000.

Mr. Marlow said more Petco shoppers saw the adoption center and grew curious about the SPCA and its cats, dogs, small animals and birds at its main Water Street shelter.

“Because of that foot traffic at Petco, and the Heather Freeman Foundation purchasing two iPad minis, we’re able to use FaceTime and show them (the animals) we have down here,” he said. “We’re in a good position having Petco. We can’t afford the kind of exposure Petco’s given us.”

With agency volunteers and paid staffers at the Petco adoption center, the agency can do more work outside of adoptions. Mr. Marlow said the center has given the agency an avenue to speak directly with the community about prevention of cruelty to animals.

Meanwhile, the agency has entered into its busy season of receiving animals. Between April and July, he said, “we have a tremendous influx of kittens.” The agency currently has one litter of nine kittens, and a couple dozen other kittens.

While now also is the season for puppies, Mr. Marlow said puppies spend a lot less time at the shelter. More people come in looking for young dogs than they do cats of any age, he said.

The average length of stay for a dog is 12 days, versus three weeks for a cat. The main shelter has been home to Khloe, a 5-year-old female Jack Russell terrier, since February. There were only eight dogs at the shelter Wednesday, but there were dozens of cats. Loretta, a 2-year-old domestic long-haired cat, also has been there since February.

In a perfect world, Mr. Marlow said, there wouldn’t be a need for animal shelters in communities because there wouldn’t be unwanted pets if animals were spayed or neutered. Since that scenario won’t play out anytime soon, he said the agency plans on using a $224,545 bequest from Richard M. Banister, who died in November 2012 after serving in the Watertown Police Department for decades, toward facility improvements to accommodate increasing adoptions.

Plans have yet to be finalized, but the SPCA would like to re-configure the shelter so the main entrance is relocated so it could be handicapped-accessible. Other renovation ideas include construction of a meet and greet area, and improvements to the surgical area, among other re-configuration improvements.

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