"Home 4 the Holidays," the world's largest adoption drive, is aiming to pair one million pets with loving families this holiday season and they are already half-way there.
More than 3,400 shelters in 17 countries are participating, including 26 in San Diego County.
"What better gift could there be than to save the life of an orphan?" said John Van Zante, spokesman for Helen Woodward Animal Center, which started the adoption drive in 1999.
Ten years ago, the animal center's president Mike Arms, said he had enough with the breeders, puppy mills and pet stores who beef up advertising during the holidays, the time of year when more families adopt a pet.
In 1998, more than 80 percent of all adoptions were from these sources; only 17 percent were rescued from shelters. That meant 40,000 animals had to be euthanized in the San Diego region.
So Helen Woodward banded together with 14 local shelters, IAMS and Petco to promote rescue animal adoptions.
"We told them 'We have a plan to increase adoptions, help to lower the rate of euthanasia and take business away from breeders and puppy mills,'" Van Zante said.
That first year, 2,563 shelter cats, kittens, dogs and puppies found new homes. The program was an instant hit and spread rapidly throughout the United States and beyond to Mexico, Puerto Rico and Canada.
The number of adoptions grew exponentially, to more than 20,000 the second year and 100,000 the third year.
In 2007, more than 490,000 animals were adopted, bringing the total Home 4 the Holidays success stories to more than two million.
Now, the drive is aiming to accomplish in three months half of what's been done in the past nine years.
Ambitious, yes, but with shelters across the globe taking up the charge, Van Zante said, the goal is within reach.
In the past, shelters have been hesitant to encourage adoptions during the holidays. Numerous fears about puppies eating pine needles, hard-to-digest people food, and returns were all proven to be unsubstantiated, Van Zante said.
Before you go
If the children or spouse are finagling for a pooch or kitty for their special gift this year, here are some things to consider.
Rescue groups and shelters work to match the needs of the pet with the desires of the people, Van Zante said. Also, all pets have been given a medical exam and up-to-date vaccines, are spayed or neutered and all medical information will be disclosed.
Mom and Dad can come look first, but adopting a pet is a family affair and everyone should be involved, Van Zante said.
Also, a pet for a holiday gift is not a good idea if it is for someone outside the home.
"You can't give somebody a new best friend," Van Zante said. "But you can take them to a shelter, have them pick out their pet and pay the adoption fee."
While some think adoptions may drop off in a down economy, that is not the case, at least for Helen Woodward, which oversaw 204 adoptions in October, up from 176 last October.
Indeed, at least one recent adoption was inspired partly because of the economy.
The Renner family of Del Mar adopted Kaia, a Sheppard-mix puppy, after the first dog they adopted from Helen Woodward 14 years ago passed away. The family had considered taking the weeklong Thanksgiving vacation to go on a trip, but decided to stay home and get a puppy instead, Renner said.
"The economy doesn't look so good, so maybe families stay home more and do not do as much," Renner said. "Why not at least get a puppy, which you are able to do free things with, like go on walks, go to the beach or the park."
Helen Woodward Animal Center is open Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and Day, but closed on Christmas.
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