Placer SPCA, El Dorado animal shelters join Front Street in offering free animals

You can drop $29 for a hanging cat hammock or $46 for a personalized collar this holiday season. The cat herself? She can be taken home for free, thanks to promotions that reflect a dramatic shift in philosophy about giveaways of wayward animals that wind up in shelters.

At least three animal shelters in the Sacramento region are offering free pet adoptions through December this year, thanks to sponsors who have committed tens of thousands of dollars toward emptying facilities overrun with cats and dogs that might otherwise linger in kennels or face death.

The city’s Front Street shelter created a national buzz last month when it announced that a local Realtor had agreed to fund all adoptions through the end of the year, a commitment of at least $10,000. Shelter director Gina Knepp said her facility has literally run out of animals several times, with lines of potential adopters forming each day before the downtown building opens.

Similar promotions have started this week in El Dorado and Placer counties. TravelLite RV Rentals in Placerville has agreed to cover the costs of all adoptions this month from shelters in Diamond Springs and South Lake Tahoe. In Roseville, a Bay Area couple committed to funding every adoption at the Placer SPCA from Thursday through the end of the year.

Across the country in recent years, shelters annually have “Home for the Holidays” or “Black Friday” campaigns offering animals at deep discounts.

The trend represents a change in thinking among animal welfare advocates, who in the past believed that adoption fees reflected an animal’s worth to its new owners, and that waiving or discounting them sent the wrong message.

“In the past, these things would not even have been considered an option,” said Leilani Fratis, Placer SPCA’s chief executive officer. But “legitimate scientific studies,” she said, have demonstrated that adoption fees have nothing to do with whether animals are retained by their owners, or receive good care. At the same time, she said, shelters have faced increased public pressure to reduce euthanasia of healthy animals.

The Humane Society of the United States, among other national organizations, now supports waiving or reducing adoption fees in an effort to get more animals out of shelters.

“We have questioned how we have operated in the past.,” said Fratis. “We’ve looked at what options exist, and we have become more flexible.” The Placer SPCA now offers adjustable adoption fees, based on such factors as demand for certain breeds or whether an animal suffers from a medical condition that might require costly veterinary care, said Fratis.

“When I first started here in 2002, the feeling was that every animal had the same value,” she said. “Now, we have adoption fees ranging from zero to $300 or $400.”

Many organizations, including Front Street and the Placer SPCA, now feature pet food banks, behavior clinics and discounted veterinary care for animals adopted from their organizations. The idea, said Knepp and Fratis, is to find homes for as many animals as possible and to give people every opportunity to retain their animals even during stressful times. Shelters involved in all of the current promotions include spaying or neutering, vaccinations and microchips that identify their owners.

To achieve those goals and remain financially viable, shelters rely heavily on donations. The Placer SPCA is a private, nonprofit organization, and Sacramento’s Front Street has a nonprofit arm that helps raise funds.

This month’s promotions are unusual in that each is being funded by a single, large sponsor, shelter managers said.

Front Street’s sponsor, Kim Pacini-Hauch, is a longtime animal advocate who adopted her first dog from the city shelter. Elizabeth Laverty and Kevin Williamson, who are sponsoring the Placer SPCA effort, are recent Silicon Valley transplants who volunteer at the Roseville facility.

Fratis said her shelter, moved by the response to the Front Street promotion, recently asked its supporters in an electronic newsletter whether a similar donor might be available to fund adoptions at the Placer SPCA. Within two hours of that request, Laverty and Williamson, who are retired from the accounting business, stepped forward.

“I was reading it as we were driving to the SPCA for our volunteer shift,” said Laverty. “I turned to Kevin and I said, ‘This is something we can do!’ 

Placer SPCA, which opens at 2 p.m. Thursday, hopes that potential adopters will line up for its animals, the way they have at Front Street in Sacramento. “We have myriad great dogs,” said Fratis. “I saw a beautiful German shepherd puppy today, and a Great Pyrenees,” along with chihuahuas and various mixed breeds including small “scruffies.”

“We have kittens and adult cats, and lots of rabbits,” she added.

Although the SPCA would welcome crowds like Front Street’s, “this is not about shelters competing to get animals adopted,” said Fratis. “It’s an opportunity for all of us to have a huge impact in the community. We all want to do what’s right for the animals.”

Cynthia Hubert: 916-321-1082, @Cynthia_Hubert