Animal instinct

Pub date March 29, 2011

PETS A pet-free existence — who needs it? Creature comfort can’t be underestimated, whether you’re ready for a one-time volunteer session, a casual relationship, or some long-term lovin’.



In this country of serious pet overpopulation, there’s no need to buy your next animal companion from a pet store. Whatever you’re looking for — cats, dogs, parakeets, rabbits, mice, rats, chickens, snakes, lizards, even chinchillas — the odds are good that some local shelter or rescue group will have one waiting to be adopted.

Animal advocates (and even some pet stores) urge seekers of furry, scaly, or feathered companions to think adoption first. “That’s been our message for years,” said Jennifer Scarlett, co-president of the San Francisco SPCA.

In most cases adopted pets work out better for the animal and the human, notes Deb Campbell, spokesperson for the city’s Animal Control Commission. “People who impulsively buy pets tend to have more problems,” she said.

In this city alone, there are too many unwanted dogs and cats — many the result of backyard breeders and owners who fail to get their animals spayed or neutered. And with the recession, more people have been forced to give up their pets. So adoptable creatures abound.

If dogs are your thing, the SPCA ( and the city shelter ( have dozens waiting for the right home. So do several local rescue groups. Wonder Dog Rescue (, Rocket Dog Rescue (, Family Dog Rescue (, and Grateful Dogs Rescue ( all offer large and small pups of all ages and breeds for adoption— you can even snag a ex-racer from Golden State Greyhound Rescue (

Many adoption programs are able to give you the lowdown on your prospective pet’s personality. “Our dogs all live in foster homes, so we have a real sense of what they’re like and how they interact,” says Wonder Dog’s Linda Beenau.

Muttville ( specializes in placing older dogs. “With a senior dog, you know exactly what you’re going to get,” said Sherri Franklin, the group’s founder. “We evaluate the people who are looking to adopt, evaluate the dogs, and try to fill everyone’s need. We’re matchmakers.”

Shelters and rescue groups spend a lot of money making sure the animals they adopt out are in good medical condition (and won’t reproduce).

Cats are the most popular pets in the city, and the SPCA and the city shelter both offer cat adoptions. “We adopt out about 4,000 animals a year, and two-thirds are cats,” said Scarlett. There’s even a working-cat program for feral cats that may not be cuddly but can offer businesses an organic solution to rodent problems.

But the list doesn’t stop there. The city shelter “adopts out small exotic animals, fish, birds, poultry — you name it,” Campbell said. “It’s illegal to buy a rabbit in San Francisco, but you can adopt one from us.”

“Chickens are very popular pets these days,” she added. “They can give you breakfast.” (Tim Redmond)



We don’t know about you, but seeing precious pets cooped up in cramped shelter cages — well, it makes us knock over garbage cans, spray urine on an expensive sofa, and caterwaul at the moon. And this is a country that euthanizes between 50 percent and 70 percent of its shelter animals. Sorry to be a bummer. But you can help, even if you’re not ready for a 10-year commitment. Really — you can!

Fostering a pet serves a lot of purposes. First, for us flighty city creatures, it provides a low-commitment avenue to pet ownership. Second, to foster is to play a vital role in the shelter system. Many of the city’s smaller animal rescue organizations and humane societies couldn’t exist without a network of caring foster homes to nurture pets while their shelter facilities are full. And for some, saving animals from shelter euthanasia wouldn’t be possible without temporary homes.

“We’re a grassroots organization that doesn’t have a brick and mortar location besides our three adoption sites,” says Lana Bajsel of Give Me Shelter cat rescue, a group that typically cares for 54 cats at a time. “The fosters serve as our safety net. Their role is crucial.”

Cats and dogs aren’t the only cuddly creatures that can join your family for a short period of time. Wonder Cat (, Pets in Need (, Furry Friends Rescue (, and Rocket Dog Rescue do concentrate on dogs and cats, but you can also foster a rabbit through Save A Bunny ( or birds through Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue (

Foster systems provide a way for many shelters to save furry friends that are long-shot adoptees or would fare poorly in cages. The SPCA’s “fospice” program can match you with a chronically ill (but not contagious) pet that needs your love. As in most foster programs, the SPCA will pay for any medical care fospice animals need (although as a foster parent, you’re usually responsible for food and other daily needs).

Organizational requirements vary from group to group, but Bajsel says that most of the time all it takes to be a foster parent is a safe home (for example, no windows without screens that open onto busy streets), your landlord’s permission, and preferably, a little animal savvy. “But we’ve placed cats with fosters who have never had one before. In those cases, we can provide a little more hand holding” she says.

With such demonstrable need, most organizations will accept any help you can give — even if it means a little something before you leave on your summer vacation. It’s really contingent on you, the foster parent. “The time commitment can be as little as two weeks,” Bajsel says. (Caitlin Donohue)



Say your flea trap apartment or Scrooge-like landlord prohibits adopting or fostering — you can always volunteer at one of the many Bay Area organizations dedicated to animal welfare. Once you catch the scent of the needy pooches, cats, rats, and people dedicated to saving them, it’ll be tough not to volunteer.

Cat lovers will feel right at home at Give Me Shelter cat rescue, which can use your help with anything from petting a purr-er to cleaning cages to lending a hand at adoption events. If you’re more of a man’s best friend kind of gal or boy, lend a hand at one of the city’s incredible dog shelters. Muttville can hook you up with a variety of ways to get involved, including matching elderly dogs with lonely older folks as part of its heart-melting “seniors for seniors” program.

Rocket Dog Rescue is another all-breed dog rescue organization with a mission to save animals “at the speed of light.” Learn more at one of its volunteer orientations on second Sundays of the month.

Bad Rap ( stands for Bay Area Dog Lovers Responsible About Pit Bulls, a group that’s serious about reeducating the public about pits, as well as getting perfectly adoptable pits placed with loving owners. Volunteers with the group will discover the secret world of big, barrel-headed sweethearts — and their ardent admirers. Bad Rap needs volunteers who can show up on Saturdays to train pits on leash skills at Berkeley Animal Care Service.

It doesn’t take an overly sappy soul to see the appeal in puppies and kitties, but can all our rodent people please stand up? Rattie Ratz ( is a sweet-hearted organization in Woodside that rescues rats and treats these surprisingly amenable pets with respect. The group is all about rat rescue, resources, and referrals, and needs volunteers to help with animal therapy programs, adoption, fostering, and education.

Finally, we know that some of the sweetest creatures can’t be happily held — but they can still use your help! You can lend a hand at the Marine Mammal Center ( by getting trained to find and transport stranded animals and bring them to medical centers. Wild Care also ( has plenty of volunteer opportunities to help save Bay Area wildlife — it needs folks to work the hotline call center, do outreach education, and work directly with pet hospital staff. (Hannah Tepper)