Two Naperville pet stores were in the spotlight for two very different reasons this past week. While the Naperville Petland came under fire when pictures of emaciated puppies at the store hit social media, Greg Gordon of Dog Patch Pet and Feed was working behind the scenes with other pet storeowners who want to offer adoption instead of pet sales.
Dog Patch is Naperville’s oldest pet store. After selling puppies for 38 years, the store moved to an adoption model in recent years. Gordon met with pet storeowners, managers and others at Super Zoo, the pet store industry’s trade show in Las Vegas, last week to talk about the trials and triumphs of going humane – or to an all adoption model.
“It was a very interesting and interested crowd – primarily those that own or run pet stores,” says Gordon. “The talk was very well received and most of those that participated were concerned about how it works…how do you move from pets being retail, how do you replace that revenue and what do you need to do to make it work.”
A new way of doing business
For years, Dog Patch had worked with a rescue in Wisconsin to adopt out cats while they sold puppies. The store started to adopt out some dogs in 2010 and made the move to a 100 percent adoption model in November of 2011. That is when Gordon announced that he would stop selling puppies when he finished his contractual commitments. The Puppy Mill Project connected him with a rescue and Dog Patch sold its last dog in January of 2012.
From the beginning, Gordon has admitted that he was making this move without a strong business plan. He also has worked to continually make changes and improve the bottom line. The goal was never to make money on the dogs and cats that were up for adoption, but he also had to replace the revenue puppy sales once generated for Dog Patch.
“People are convinced that they are walking way from money. At first, I was losing money on the adoptions because we were spending far too much on rescue with high veterinary bills,” says Gordon. “However, Dog Patch gained so many new customers because we stopped selling dogs. The rescue community became very supportive and The Puppy Mill Project did a great job of encouraging people to support the store.”
One of the pet storeowners he met at Super Zoo was a woman who owns 21 Petland stores in Canada. Unlike Petland in the U.S., the Canadian stores announced they would stop selling pets in the fall of 2011. She’s now trying to figure out the most viable way to make pet adoption work in her situation. She is looking at either working with rescues or rescuing on her own.
A Place to Bark
“Each store really needs to find what works for them,” says Gordon. “I’ve always wanted to have control over the adoptions done in my store. I needed to find the most cost effective way to do it. I was struggling with the costs locally – veterinary costs are higher here and some of the dogs pulled locally were very sick. Then, one day Bernie Berlin from A Place to Bark walked into the store.”
Berlin has a home in the area as well as a home in Tennessee. A Place to Bark is based in Tennessee, an area where a lot of people still do not spay and neuter their pets. That means many healthy puppies end up in animal shelters with a good shot of being euthanized because there are not enough homes to adopt them.
The dogs are vetted, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and heartworm checked by a non-profit called The Fix Foundation. Gordon pays the cost to that organization, which is a fraction of what the same services were costing in the Chicago area. The dogs are then transported to Naperville.
“So far, we’ve rescued over 200 dogs this year, which is twice the amount that I was expecting,” says Gordon. “Bernie brings up 25 to 35 puppies at a time and we have a mix of all kinds of breeds and sizes – probably a better selection than the pet stores around here. It is so rewarding at the end of the day to know that we’ve saved this many lives.”
The puppy place
Dog Patch had always been known as the place to get puppies in the Western suburbs. Unlike some other pet stores that have come under fire, they were also known for taking great care of the animals at the store. The staff continues to handle the rescue dogs in the same manner. Dogs and puppies are walked frequently, get playtime in the yard and get plenty of socialization. If adoptions don’t work out, Dog Patch takes the pets back and rehomes them like many rescues do.
“I was appalled when I saw the Petland photos on Facebook,” adds Gordon. “I just had a staff meeting with my managers and none of us understand why anyone would treat dogs that way. And, why would you put a pet that appears that unhealthy on the floor for sale? It’s an embarrassment.”
Gordon knows the owners of the Naperville Petland and has tried to encourage them to handle things differently. One thing he’d love to see them do is have the dogs spayed or neutered before they leave the store to stop adding to the pet over population.
“Before we moved to our current model, we would ask for people to leave a spay/neuter deposit when they purchased dogs from us. We’d return the money after the pet was altered but it didn’t work well,” says Gordon. “All pets are spayed or neutered before they leave here. We’ve saved 600 dogs and cats since 2010. I’m very proud of the impact we’ve had and glad we made the move that we did.”
Since going humane, Gordon has received calls from all over the world. Along with his presentation at Super Zoo, he’s been asked to meet with a humane group in Rockford soon. He also may present at the H.H. Backer show in Chicago this fall.
The adoption option
“It can be done but people need to realize that one size doesn’t fit all,” adds Gordon. “What I’m doing here at Dog Patch remains a work in progress and it will always be evolving. What we are doing is really taking root and I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to do and how we’ve been able to work with the rescue community. I couldn’t have done this without them.”
Over the weekend, Dog Patch sponsored an adoption event at the Dupage County Fair so that many rescue groups could meet more potential adopters. The store works closely with rescues in the area to promote adoption as well. In Chicago, three other pet stores have gone humane. Wilmette Pet Center fosters pets for its long-time rescue partner Adopt-A-Pet.
Thee Fish Bowl in Evanston pulls from Chicago Animal Care and Control. Collar and Leash in Chicago just moved to a humane model in April. That store hosts adoption events on Saturday with a variety of rescue groups. Both of those stores made the move in conjunction with The Puppy Mill Project as well.
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