04/25/2013 04:42 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2013

Pet Adoption: Translating Attitudes Into Action

A recent survey PetSmart Charities conducted with Ipsos research showed that the desire to save a pet is the strongest driver of adoption.* Americans are becoming more aware of the pet homelessness problem (which currently stands at eight million homeless pets entering U.S. shelters each year), and they are taking steps to reduce it by choosing to adopt instead of buy their pets.

This attitude about pet adoption was much different, however, when I started with PetSmart nearly 20 years ago. As someone who loves pets and has dedicated a career to helping them, I've been able to see this change first-hand. Shortly after I started with the company as a store salon manager, PetSmart's founders made the landmark and radical decision at the time that they would not sell dogs and cats. Instead, they would adopt pets from the community in stores. This decision led to the creation of nonprofit PetSmart Charities, which has grown to become the leader in pet adoptions. Since we were established, we have helped find homes for at least five million pets.

I've seen the landscape change quite a bit since then, a time when people would buy pets from breeders and pet stores because they didn't know any better. Over the past 20 years, the attitude has shifted and people are considering saving a life through adoption because they are aware that there are so many pets that deserve loving homes.

I've been fortunate to not only witness this change in attitude, but also to use my own passion for adopted pets and translate that into my work. Growing up, we always had adopted dogs in our home. When I turned six, my parents took me to the Humane Society in Tucson where I adopted a Golden Retriever named Rusty. She lived to be 15 and it broke my heart when she passed away.

Since Rusty, I've been fortunate enough to adopt Chloe, Boomer and Boo -- each has had a significant impact on my life and my work. Now, as the executive director of PetSmart Charities, I use my passion to fulfill our mission of a lifelong, loving home for every pet. It's been PetSmart Charities' goal to support programs that help change peoples' minds about adoption, which is why we began in-store adoptions in the first place. The adoption centers, located in donated space within PetSmart stores, showcase pets in a happier environment, featuring both mixed and purebreds, to help make the perfect matches with pet parents. Through these centers and our support of year-round adoption events with more than 2,000 animal welfare organizations, we help find homes for more than 420,000 pets each year in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

While we have come a long way, we still have a lot of work ahead of us to change perceptions about shelter pets so that adoption is always a person's first choice. Surveys show a positive trend: 58 percent of people in 2011 would consider adopting a dog or cat versus only 51 percent in 2009. Still, misperceptions about shelters not having desirable pets; concerns about behavioral problems in shelter pets; and the perception that shelters are depressing or sad places lead potential pet parents to consider other options.

Pet homelessness is a solvable goal. If each person looking for a new pet chose adoption, a lifelong home for every pet could be a reality. I've been fortunate to follow my passion for pets throughout my career, and I hope to inspire others to consider how adopting a pet can change their life, too.

*The surveys were conducted by Ipsos Marketing between March 14-24, 2009 and November 3-11, 2011, with a national sample of 2,000 adults aged 18 and older split equally by gender, and an additional sample of 1,000 adults aged 18 and older who had acquired a dog or cat in the previous 12 months. The surveys were self-administered online and asked about a range of pet adoption issues.