Turlock pet adoption formula a triumph

TURLOCK -- Rescue groups and city animal shelter staff are calling a new adoption program a resounding success with 53 dogs adopted since September.

Small dogs have been driven from the city shelter to Pet Extreme, in Monte Vista Crossings, every weekend for off-site adoptions.

Off-site adoptions are almost always organized by a city or county animal shelter, but carried out by a small band of dedicated volunteers.

"Rescue groups can make or break a shelter," said Animal Services Supervisor Glena Jackson.

John Pinkerton is the guy standing by the cats and dogs in Pet Extreme, noon to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. He and his wife, Lee Anne, run Friends of Turlock Animals, which has been rescuing and adopting out city cats for years.

With the closing of Valley Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Stockton in the fall, a group that took most of Turlock's small adoptable dogs, the Pinkertons moved into the barking side of the rescue game. So far, every dog that has been brought to Pet Extreme has been adopted one way or another.

"The majority of people don't want to go into a shelter," Pinkerton said. "They find them depressing. Honestly, Turlock's shelter is one of the cleanest, best run in the area, mostly because of the staff, partly because of its size, but people who don't know that still think: It's a shelter."

Getting the dogs ready for off-site adoptions is a team effort. Jackson and her staff at the shelter convinced city brass that it was worth investing in at about $50 per dog.

Spaying, neutering and microchip implants happen before the adoption fee is collected so the animals can leave that day, from the store to the new home.

Brenda Sutherland of the group HOPE Rescue -- Helping Others Prevent Euthanasia -- provides the vaccines and local veterinarians, such as Community Vet, First Street Vet and Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital, offer surgical services at reduced prices. The result is a bounding, healthy dog for a signature and the $88 city adoption fee, which covers the city's costs. If for any reason a dog isn't adopted, Sutherland has agreed to adopt the animal and pay the city for its cost.

"It's awesome for business," said Rick Hernandez, Pet Extreme's store manager. "(Adoptive families) are here in the store and pick up the food, leash, dish, collars. They purchase it all here."

Gone are the days of big pet stores selling dogs and cats. Concerns over puppy mill pups have aligned pet stores, such as Pet Extreme, PetSmart and Petco, with local shelters and rescue groups, Hernandez said.

Animal Services Auxiliary, a nonprofit group that works with the Stanislaus County Animal Shelter, has been taking dogs to PetSmart on McHenry Avenue since October. So far, 10 dogs have been adopted.

Several rescue groups work at PetSmart on the weekends, so the store staggers their appearances. County shelter dogs are there every sixth weekend and county cats are there every six weeks for two weeks at a time, said Mavis Williamson, client services supervisor at the shelter. Shelter staff are working to get dogs into Petco, which has three rescue groups that offer cats every weekend.

Animal Services Auxiliary President Mary Whetstone said families routinely are sent to the shelter from the store.

"If they're looking for a German shepherd, well, we can't bring a German shepherd (to PetSmart), so they're sent to the shelter," she said. "There are adoptions indirectly that way."

The county and Turlock shelter send only small dogs and puppies to off-site adoptions. Smaller animals are easier to manage and easier to adopt. The results speak for themselves: Turlock hasn't put down a healthy dog under 20 pounds in three years.

Euthanasia rates climb as dogs get larger, with pit bull and pit bull-mix dogs on the extreme, sad end, being put down more often than any other breed or size, Jackson said. Turlock is working on a volunteer program to train helpers in how to help with adoptions. They hope to increase the number of large dog adoptions. And Turlock and the county are always looking for nonprofit groups to take dogs to stores in other areas.

At the Turlock shelter, the dogs seem to know something special is happening on Saturday and Sunday mornings before the ride to Pet Extreme, said shelter supervisor Jackson.

A small ring fence, not six feet across, keeps five little dogs from bounding along the store aisles. Nine to 16 cats are stacked in two towers of cages, paws swinging through the grates at each other and any random finger reaching for a quick coochicoo.

"It's a little party over here," she said. "They're all excited, waiting to go to the big dance."

Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at mshea@modbee.com or 578-2391.