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Petco prepares to open SPCA adoption center

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Abandoned pets waiting to be adopted in Jefferson County now have exciting news to meow and bark about.

Watertown’s Petco store used to showcase only a few cats up for adoption from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Jefferson County, housed in a small station with cubby holes. But that small partnership soon will balloon into an 1,100-square-foot adoption center to be featured at the store at the Towne Center plaza off Arsenal Street.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Petco franchise totaling more than $200,000, for the past three weeks workers have been busy building the SPCA center, which is set to open in early December. The center will include separate spaces to house 30 to 40 kittens and cats, four dogs and a range of small pets including hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, mice, rabbits and chinchillas. A 300-square-foot play area for the dogs will enable prospective owners to get to know pets firsthand by interacting with them.

A devout pet lover, store manager Heather L. Roux has been a cheerleader backing the cause to launch an SPCA adoption center for the past five years at the store, which will be among only a handful in the country that feature them. Along with the grant funding to build the center, Petco will contribute $2,500 a month — $30,000 a year — to pay for staff, pet supplies and food needed by the SPCA each year to operate the center. Under the plan, the facility will be leased by the SPCA for $1 a year.

“I’ve been asking Petco to do this for years, and we had to build a rally to do it,” Ms. Roux said Friday while giving a tour of the center. “I’ve seen the way demand for adopted pets has grown here over the years, and the shelter has attempted to expand but didn’t have enough funding. (Petco) has been amazing about giving back to the community, and we expect the center to increase our traffic flow. It’s a great thing for the community.”

The SPCA has hired a full-time certified veterinary technician to work five days a week at the center, who will be assisted by a part-time worker and volunteers. Visitors seeking to find a pet will be directed by Petco employees to look at animals in the adoption center first, Ms. Roux said, before they’re directed to see the animals sold by the store. Animals up for adoption are sold at about half the cost of the store’s prices, she said, and all of the proceeds from those purchases will flow directly to the SPCA. Those who adopt pets also will receive a complimentary adoption booklet from Petco including coupons for food, equipment and services tailored toward the pets they purchase.

The center “is a great thing for the community,” she said, “and when people see it, they’re going to be impressed.”

Douglas J. Marlow, who was hired as the SPCA director in January, said the center at Petco will increase the visibility of adoptable pets at the center by providing an ideal venue in a high-traffic area; the store is on the west side of the city, while the shelter is based on Water Street in the east. The shelter also plans to purchase iPad mini devices to be used at both locations, allowing visitors interested in viewing animals remotely to stream live video footage using the phones.

“We’re in the center of one of the most significant pet retail operations in Jefferson County, and the traffic through there is going to give us greater visibility,” Mr. Marlow said. “Not only is it on the west end of town, but it’s on Arsenal Street, one of the biggest areas in the community.”

Mr. Marlow has significantly reduced the number of cats and dogs housed at the shelter since he became director as a way to provide them with more space, which has improved their health. Some 150 animals, mostly cats, were housed at the shelter and foster homes when he took over in January. At the same time, about 25 cats were being treated for respiratory diseases and eye problems, which he attributed to the overcrowding of animals up for adoption at the time. Thanks to a high number of adoptions, the number of animals has been reduced to 55 this year after the shelter was renovated to offer more space for cats; only one cat is now being treated for an illness.

Given the limited space available at the SPCA, he said, the Petco center will play an instrumental role by increasing the number of adopted pets in Jefferson County. “We’ll be able to take more animals and place more in the community,” he said, lauding Petco staff’s efforts to get the project approved. “Heather and her staff made the effort to push the corporate offices to consider the adoption center in our area. It’s very significant they chose Watertown out of all the Petco stores. Because of the (strong) economy and Fort Drum, foot traffic there is significant, and I think they felt it was a (justified) return to the community.”

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