By Katy Tomasulo

When Petco opened a location next door to the Seattle Animal Shelter (SAS) in early 2013, it didn’t just create a convenient spot for new adopters to pick up supplies. It became an opportunity to showcase adoptable cats and increase overall visibility for the Shelter.

Petco Interbay, located next to Whole Foods on 15th Avenue West, features luxury cat condos—purchased through a grant from the Seattle Animal Shelter Foundation (SASF)—that house up to six of the Shelter’s adoptable cats. Each spacious, airy condo includes two rooms and an elevated shelf, along with wide viewing windows for the cats to see and be seen. Shoppers can’t help but stop to say hello, read more about each furry resident and, on some occasions, fall in love.

“The idea for an offsite adoption location had been kicked around for some time, but it was actually Petco that came to us to get the ball rolling,” says Don Baxter, manager of animal care and volunteer programs at the Seattle Animal Shelter. “They were opening their brand-new store and wanted to establish a partnership with SAS, which made perfect sense as it was so close by.”

Adoptable cats lounge in their condos.

Adoptable cats lounge in their condos.

A team effort

Launching and maintaining the Petco program has required dedication and commitment from Shelter staff and volunteers. Volunteers Ed Hutsell and Kathy Whitten were instrumental in implementing procedures for the initial launch and getting volunteers to staff at least two shifts per day. Hutsell and fellow volunteer Barb Jochum now serve as team leads for the Petco program, while Whitten handles the marketing of the Petco cats.

Volunteer Charlotte with an adoptable cat at Petco.

Volunteer Charlotte with an adoptable cat at Petco.

In addition to the team leads, the viability of the program relies on volunteers from the Shelter’s “9-Lives” program, each of whom has regular shifts at Petco. At least two 9-Lives volunteers visit with the cats each day, feeding them in the morning, giving them quality roaming time in an enclosed area outside of their condos, and providing socialization, cuddling and playtime. Perhaps most important, the volunteers also keep an eye on the cats’ behavior and health and report any concerns to Shelter staff.

The program’s success also can be attributed to Petco employees, led by general manager John Fish. The staff at Petco cleans the condos in the mornings and after adoptions, monitors the cats, and answers customer questions when volunteers aren’t around. Like the volunteers, the staffers develop genuine kinship with the kitties.

“Petco has been a wonderful partner,” says Baxter. “They are open to our suggestions, willing to work with us and love having the cats in their store.”

More adoptions, more awareness

The Petco cat program has freed space for new arrivals at the Shelter and positioned adoptable cats in a high-traffic area. It has also helped increase the Shelter’s overall visibility, since some shoppers don’t realize that the city animal shelter is right next door.

Adoptable cats Bode and Sabella in their condo

Adoptable cats Bode and Sabella in their condo.

The efforts of the volunteers, staff, and Petco team have paid off. Since the program began in March 2013, 139 cats have been adopted from Petco, an average of nearly eight cats per month.

“The Petco program has been a rewarding and very successful experience, and we are glad to be a part of it,” says Whitten. “In the end, it’s all about helping cats, and the Petco team has pulled together to make that happen.”