How visibility and thinking outside the box is creating forever homes for homeless pups
Adopt-a-dog events in unexpected venues—hotels, coffee shops—are not only a smash hit, they’re incredibly successful in finding forever homes for homeless pups.
At a boutique hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, guests are treated to a little something extra during their nightly happy hour: canine companionship. As part of its adopt-a-pet program, people checking into the Aloft hotel there are greeted by an adoptable dog in the lobby wearing an “Adopt Me” vest. The dog has a playpen next to the reception desk, and guests are welcome to take the pup to the bar, lounge or third-floor dog run for some play time.
Taylor Johnson says she and her husband fell in love at first sight when they spotted Bubbles, a Beagle/Dachshund cross, in the lobby.
“She was wearing a little sweater that said 'Adopt Me' and hopped right into our arms. She was just so relaxed and cuddly. We just knew she was the perfect fit for our family,” she said.
Johnson had previously visited animal shelters in search of their newest four-legged family member, but found the experience stressful and chaotic compared to meeting Bubbles, now named Sister, while hanging out in the hotel.
“There weren't a ton of dogs barking. The staff had been around her for days and could answer questions about her mannerisms and we could walk her around the hotel and see how she interacted with our other dog,” she said. “It was calm. It was easy.”
Of course, interested parties can't leave right away with their new dog. Charlie's Angels Animal Rescue, which hand picks which dogs go to the Aloft’s adopt-a-pup program, also oversees the adoptions, including the application, reference check, and home visit. If the potential adopter is from another state, the group will work with a local humane society to do the visit.
Kim Smith, President of Charlie’s Angels Animal Rescue, says getting dogs out from behind kennel bars and into a social setting is a key element to adoption success by allowing people to visualize that animal living in their home.
“Dogs in shelters aren't themselves. They're terrified and scared and you feel sorry for them. But when you see the dog trotting around in the hotel, wagging its tail, sitting on the couch, they're relaxed, the people are relaxed—and happy,” she said.
Twenty dogs have been adopted out since the unique program began last year, a
100 percent success rate.
“We've had dogs adopted in less than an hour and the longest we've fostered a dog is 10 days,” says Lauren Bowles, the Aloft's Director of Communications.
The dog-friendly hotel has never had a complaint about allergies or messes.
“The hotel guests love interacting with the dogs as much as the dogs love the attention,” said Bowles. “It's a win-win.”
A Growing Idea
After volunteering in South Korea, where cat and dog cafes are a popular attraction, animal lover Sarah Wolfgang started crowd-funding with the goal of opening America's first permanent Dog Cafe in Los Angeles where people can interact with adoptable dogs in a social setting.
She tested the waters with her first “Pup-Up Cafe” in January. For $15, people could play and lounge with adoptable dogs of all breeds and sizes, while enjoying gourmet coffee purchased from a food truck outside. Consumers could sign up in advance to reserve their spot, but others walking by the shop could also stop by and sign up on the reservation list. Every dog ended up being adopted.
Wolfgang says a lot of shelter dogs are categorized incorrectly as aggressive or bark-y because they're in a high stress environment that doesn't allow them to showcase their true personality. So putting them in a more positive environment gives them a second chance.
“The Dog Cafe would provide potential adopters with a good idea at what a shelter dog's true personality is like, hopefully ending up in the dog finding his forever home,” she said.
Coffee for the Pup-Up Cafe was provided by Grounds for Hounds, a Santa Monica-based company that donates 20 percent of profits to local animal projects.
Owner Jordan Karcher can personally vouch for the effectiveness of a low-stress environment improving the odds of adoption: He adopted his dog Molly at an open-air pop-up adoption event outside a Whole Foods three years ago.
“I knew within 60 seconds of meeting her that I would never leave without her. Three years later, that skinny, brown-and-white spotted girl serves as the face of Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co.—She’s front-and-center on every bag,” he said.
Companies find kindness reaps financial rewards.
And it's not just canines and coffee. Pubs, restaurants, and retail stores are seeing the benefit of promoting adoption too. Wags and Walks, the rescue that provided the dogs for the Pup-Up Cafe, just staged its first “Yappy Hour,” where people bring their dog to a pub for a cocktail and a bite to eat—and mingle with adoptable pups.
Founder Lesley Brog said these social initiatives generate a ton of adoption applications and are a logical extension for rescue groups fighting to get the attention of potential pet parents.
“The dogs' personalities begin to emerge when they are comfortable,” she said. “We often see dogs come out of their shell immediately upon leaving the shelter. Once we know their personality we can best match them with a forever home.”
The unique events are just a few of the many unique initiatives companies and rescues are working on to showcase homeless pets.
Ahead of this year's Puppy Bowl (that would be Animal Planet’s Super Bowl-themed adoptable puppy-a-thon), crowd-sourced taxi alternative Uber and Animal Planet partnered with rescue groups in 10 American cities, including L.A., Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Dallas, to deliver adorable puppies to office workers.
For $30, you got 15 minutes of face-to-face puppy cuddles. All the money went back to the charities providing the dogs. All one had to do to receive a visit was request the dogs via the Uber app.
At the Los Angeles event, Brog and her team sent mutts from Wags and Walks to Ryan Seacrest's radio studio for a little cuddle puddle.
“The event was so popular, only a few lucky companies were able to snag puppy time,” said Brog.
“Because of that, Wags and Walks has started getting requests for private puppy parties—and all the pups from the event have already found their forever homes.”
How much is that doggie in the window?
The notion of adopting out shelter pets in a retail space is spreading to an industry that, at first glance, would stand to lose money from the idea's success: pet stores.
Whereas many franchises make a tidy profit importing and selling purebred puppies and kittens (though the tide is turning thanks to growing public awareness of puppy mills), some industry leaders are bucking that trend and opting to showcase homeless pets instead.
Since pioneering the idea back in 1999, nearly all North American PetSmart locations now have adoption centers within their stores. Working with hundreds of local animal welfare organizations, PetSmart’s adoption events saved the lives of more than 65,000 pets last year alone.
During the first-ever Mega Pet Adoption Weekend held at Toronto, Ontario, PetSmart locations, 585 cats and dogs were adopted and welcomed into forever homes over just three days.
“Following the event shelters were reporting that they were empty, other than animals needing medical care, and able to take in more animals to help them also find forever homes,” said Stephanie Kerr of PetSmart Charities.
She says many people shy away from shelter adoptions because of a desire for a certain breed or uncertainly about the adoption process, but giving those same shelter pets visibility in their stores helps dispel those misconceptions.
Franchising a happy ending
With an astounding 100 percent adoption success rate, the Aloft Hotel group is expanding its dog adoption program. Its newest location in Greenville, South Carolina, will have one when it opens this fall, and the chain is also hoping to do the same at its Tampa, Florida, hotel.
Since all of its hotels are already dog-friendly, it's hoped eventually every single one will get on board with the plan.
Kim Smith says she's been contacted by other hotel chains as far away as Austin, Texas, to introduce similar initiatives. She feels hotel owners are figuring out that this is an easy way for them to give back, not just to the community, but to their clients as well.
“People love the fact they're staying at a hotel where pets are welcome too. The fact that they're away from their animals and they still get to hang out with a bundle of joy—it's a great feeling,” she said.
And with hundreds of animals being euthanized in nearby shelters every week, Smith hopes the adopt-a-pet idea is one that catches on… and quickly.
“You are literally saving a life,” she says.
PetSmart's Stephanie Kerr takes that one step further, noting by adopting a pet you are actually saving two lives,“the life of the pet you will give a forever home and you also make room at the shelter for another pet in need.” And what could be sweeter than that?