Supporting the greater pet community

If your company is like most in the petfood industry, it already donates product or money to animal shelters or rescue groups. But if you’re looking for new ways to support the greater pet community, several companies have new initiatives, along with a new model, petfood banks, patterned after food banks for humans.

Another source of ideas comes from Betsy Banks Saul, founder of, an online portal that networks over 12,600 pet adoption groups across the US and Canada. At Petfood Forum 2012, Banks Saul gave the opening keynote, highlighting several issues currently facing the animal rescue community:

  • Standards of care, such as how pets fare physically and mentally in shelters. Banks Saul said the Association of Shelter Veterinarians has written standards for the physical aspects. Regarding pets’ emotional needs, the Foundation is supporting a pilot program called Train to Adopt, in which shelter staff work with pets to keep them mentally stimulated and teach friendly behaviors such as approaching the front of the cage when prospective families visit. So far, Banks Saul said, the pilot is showing a huge correlation between mental stimulation and adoptability.
  • We’re failing cats.  The population of “community cats”— feral or other cats living exclusively outdoors—is so large in the US, no one knows exactly what the number is; estimates range from 9 to 90 million, according to Banks Saul. She added that cats fare much worse than dogs, with more cats in shelters—where 55% of them die, compared with 27% of dogs—and fewer lost cats returning to their owners (only 2.5% compared with 8.5% for dogs). For more information or to get involved, visit
  • Crisis in customer service.  In a survey of consumers about their experiences when trying to adopt pets, 40% said they received no reply after contacting an adoption group. And in a “secret shopper” test conducted by, only 74 of 120 shelters passed in terms of customer service. Banks Saul said the problem stems mainly from lack of resources and staff being overwhelmed and exhausted; yet perhaps petfood companies with call centers could lend some customer service advice and training to their local shelters? Or incentivize their call center staff by awarding time off with pay for equivalent time spent answering a shelter’s phone or manning the front desk.
  • Mass sterilization.  Did you know that the US spends over US$500 million a year on surgical spaying and neutering of pets? (US$106 million of that is within the animal welfare community.) While mass sterilization has reaped benefits—limiting pet overpopulation and improving pet health and behavior—it is costly, and the surgery has risks. The good news is, research is improving the efficacy and safety of non-surgical (chemical or pharmaceutical) sterilization of pets, which promises to eventually cost a fraction of spay/neuter (US$2-4 per pet vs. US$50 for surgery). Check out

This is only  about half of the “hot topics” Banks Saul addressed; others include animal hoarders, legislation against Pitbulls and similar dog breeds and transporting animals from areas with a surplus to areas that actually have a shortage of adoptable pets. Could the rules and strategies of supply and demand that work in many industries be applied here?

Above all, Banks Saul said, petfood manufacturers are in a unique position to promote and promulgate the principle that pets are family. Ensure it rings through in your products, packaging, marketing and communications. Use your reach and networks (traditional and social) to stretch the expectations of what it means to be a good pet parent and spotlight good citizens, pets and humans. Finally: “If you see something you like, allow yourself to start a movement,” she said.

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