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Meet Shelley Rios of The Animal Protectorates’ Operation Adopt in Burbank

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shelley Rios.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
In 2010, a group of local Burbank residents became engaged in getting new laws passed in our city to protect pets – those laws have become known as “puppy mill legislation” and now the entire state of California follows similar laws. These laws prevent the retail sale of puppies and kittens coming from inhumane commercial breeding facilities where the parents are caged their entire breeding lives with little or no time outside of a cage and are treated like commodities rather than loved pets. Now, instead of selling “mill” animals, pet stores work with shelters, humane societies or rescue organizations to rehome orphaned animals in their stores.  In 2015, when an opportunity arose for The Animal Protectorates to secure a location in trendy retail area that was zoned for a pet store, a group of us decided to set up a pilot program under the new model.  With donors, volunteers, staff and a lot of community support, the model has worked and we have helped find homes for nearly 1000 dogs and cats who were orphaned at local shelters – even while utilizing a Structured Adoption Approach™ which is the platinum level of adoption protocol requiring home visits prior to all adoptions.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has been far from a smooth road and we constantly take note of how to make this business model of helping shelter animals find homes in a retail environment better, but with all of the support we have received from donors and the community, we are “defining” and “refining it.” And, in the process, have been able to not only help shelter animals, but quickly realize that we were helping people and families who really wanted to adopt a shelter pet, but couldn’t go to the shelter themselves because the environment is too emotionally upsetting. This demographic of people loves what we do and have spread the word all over Los Angeles making us pivotal in erasing the belief that all animals coming from shelters are damaged.

When I choose an animal at the shelter, I have learned to consider the animals already in our care, the types, ages and sizes people in the community want to adopt, and believe that someone from the community will adopt that specific animal and within a relatively short time. I also have to consider how much veterinary care the animal will require. It doesn’t take too many decisions made just from the heart, instead of the head, to affect the health of the nonprofit as whole – especially the other animals who are already in our care and staff who rely on their job to care for their family and own animals. If I don’t keep all of that in mind, then the adoption center fails.

We also turned to a referral-only volunteer base to assist staff. We found that in an emotionally charged area like animal rescue, many have their own beliefs about how things should be done – most of whom have never had experience running any type of business and all it entails. By having a cohesive volunteer workforce who are all moving forward in the same direction – it has created a very supportive, dynamic and successful environment.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into The Animal Protectorates’ Operation Adopt story. Tell us more about the business.
Operation Adopt is a nonprofit organization where our primary focus is getting adoptable animals out of the municipal shelters into a kinder and positive environment so that people who want to adopt shelter animals, but who find the shelter environment upsetting, can adopt, which gives other animals we are not able to help because of our limited space, more time to find homes instead of being euthanized.

We are located in a quaint trendy retail area and are known for how exceptionally clean our facility is; how professional our staff and volunteers are; and, how well our animals are treated. We also get accolades for how well we introduce our dogs and cats to the public. We have an amazing and compassionate professional groomer who comes with a team each week to donate time getting animals coming from the shelter -sometimes so matted and dirty they have difficultly moving – beautifully coiffed and ready for their professional photos (which is another thing we are known for).

We don’t take short cuts in helping animals onto their next homes. There are generally 3 approaches to adoptions. Open adoptions are utilized by municipal shelters where anyone with a driver’s license who is 18 years old can adopt and take an animal home. Interview-based adoptions consist of a questionnaire with a few yes/no questions and then the adoption is usually approved with the adopter (not the organization) making the decision of whether or not the animal will be a good fit in the home regardless of if the animal is good with other animals, children or suitable for an apartment/condo environment. The Animal Protectorates has created a Structured Adoption Approach™ where our focus is on the quality of placement rather than on quantity of animals placed (which is what the other approaches focus on). We make sure that if we know that an animal has certain requirements (such as an escape artist animal having a tall fenced yard or a dog for instance who may not be good with other dogs or children) we find homes who meet those requirements. We ask if applicants rent or own their own homes – and if they rent, we verify that the landlord allows pets and if any additional deposit is required that it is paid. We have an adoption radius generally measured in miles which is for two reasons – so that we can utilize volunteer time to perform home visits (and volunteers prefer to stay close to the Operation Adopt home base) and so that our animals are placed in the areas where we get the majority of our support.

Because we don’t take short cuts and we focus on quality of homes, our adoption fees are higher than municipal shelters, but people see the value in what we are doing, the value in these orphaned animals and they want to support us.

We are proud of being one of the very first communities in the entire country to implement puppy mill legislation and prouder that the community has embraced what we are focused on doing.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
For me personally, I heard a saying about luck at a very early age which stuck with me – “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” I believe that I have to make the most out of every situation – good or bad – and that everything happens for a reason.

I work hard and while I have never been given many material things, I have been blessed with freely given wisdom by many mentors who have believed in me. Even when considering how hard and expensive it would be to open Operation Adopt – I called on a mentor’s voice who once told me, “Shelley, animals have your heart, they need your mind,” so that is how I learned to approach helping animals.


  • In general, adoption fees range between $350-$750 for dogs and $150-$500 for cats, but adoption fees may increase or decrease in certain circumstances (for instance with puppies they may be higher and when donors sponsor all or a portion of an adoption they may be lower).

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Jessica Sample

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