The benefits of pet ownership are manifold. In addition to providing unconditional love and protection, having a furry companion has been linked in multiple studies to an array of health benefits, such as decreasing stress, relieving anxiety and lowering blood pressure. Caring for animals also gives people a sense of purpose and encourages an active lifestyle. Adopting a pet can be a lifesaving act, for both animal and owner.
One local organization is revolutionizing the way our community thinks about pet adoption. Operation Adopt opened in 2015, nestled between the eclectic vintage boutiques lining Magnolia Boulevard’s shopping district. “We are not an animal shelter,” says Shelley Rios, founder and president of The Animal Protectorates (TAPS), the nonprofit that runs Operation Adopt. “We don’t take in animals from the public like a shelter does. We instead search local shelters for healthy and safe animals to bring into the community for adoption, focusing on quality of adoptions over quantity in the process.”
Rios, who became a lawyer to help animals, joined with a group of animal welfare advocates to successfully push for an ordinance banning the sale of mill-bred dogs, cats and rabbits in commercial pet stores in Burbank in 2012 (a similar law was passed statewide last year). The group formalized into TAPS, with a four-pronged mission of teaching the community about animal welfare issues, advocating for animals in the legal and political realm, and protecting and supporting animals in need.
Operation Adopt fulfills the latter part of the group’s goal: protecting animals by finding them forever homes. It is the first center of its kind in the area to implement a business model compliant with the law, a departure from the way commercial pet stores have been operating for decades. “Since pet stores, now statewide, can only offer animals from shelters and rescue groups, [TAPS] decided to try out this new business model to show stores nationwide that it will work, that there’s an alternative,” says Rios.
To accomplish this, Rios, her small staff and a dedicated group of volunteers hand-select animals from nearby shelters based on assessment of their health and behavior. Once under TAPS’ care, they are taken to Operation Adopt to be seen and treated by veterinarians and cleaned up by groomers. Since the group works with these animals within a 1,100-square-foot space, their main focus is selecting animals they feel will be adopted quickly. In doing so, they can continue the cycle of bringing shelter pets into the community while also reducing overcrowding and euthanization rates at local shelters because they are freeing up space. At the end of the acquisition process from the shelter, each animal is given a purple TAPS collar, signifying that the animal’s safety and well-being is the organization’s responsibility for life.
Prospective adopters encounter a clean, bright and energetic environment where dogs and cats of varying breeds and ages are sprawled out comfortably in runs or condos, playing with toys or swinging in hammocks. The setting is a far cry from the crowded and often emotionally unsettling environment of a typical shelter, because Operation Adopt is more of a “halfway house” for animals on their journey to finding a family. “Everything we do — from the way we select animals to the way we matchmake adopters — sets up the animal and their future owners for success,” Rios says.
And it’s been working. To date, Operation Adopt has successfully completed over 850 adoptions, rehoming animals within an approximately 15-mile radius of the center. Rios says that this is an immense accomplishment given the group’s in-depth adoption process, which entails a detailed application, a counseling session, a home visit, and a finalizing step where fees are paid and certificates of microchips, vaccination and spay or neuter are given to new owners. “Many people often adopt an animal without fully considering the responsibility and expense of caring for a living creature,” says Rios. “Because we have structured steps in place, it gives people time to really think about how their lives may change with the addition of a pet.”
For those unable to dedicate the time needed for pet ownership, fostering gives animal lovers who want to make a difference the opportunity to care for pets in their home when their schedule allows for it. Rios says that fostering offers the best of both worlds, helping animals in need and enjoying the companionship of a pet, if only temporarily. In fact, on days when Operation Adopt is closed to the public, many of the animals in its care go to foster homes, so few spend the night at the storefront.
Another option is to volunteer. Operation Adopt’s volunteers maintain the spotless storefront, assist people interested in adopting, and walk dogs around the neighborhood to exercise and familiarize them with the area. TAPS staff member Holly Hornstein says that the community recognizes volunteers when they walk up and down Magnolia Boulevard because of their TAPS T-shirts and, of course, the dogs’ telltale purple leashes and collars.
This recognition shows that Rios’ model is working. The level of support from the community has undeniably contributed to Operation Adopt’s success over the years; hundreds have volunteered their time or have made donations because they believe in both TAPS’ mission and Operation Adopt’s approach to pet adoption. In the future, Rios wishes to expand the center further to include even more community resources, such as boarding and in-house microchipping, grooming and vaccination services. For now, the team at TAPS is taking it one adoption at a time. “What we do isn’t easy. We don’t take shortcuts because we want the best for each and every animal coming into our care,” says Rios. “We thank the community for responding and supporting us in every way.”