Discussion: Should Corporate Shelter Donations Come with Strings Attached?

The Santa Clara Co Animal Care and Control facility in CA took in roughly 2500 dogs and cats last year.  Since 2008, the shelter has gotten its pet food for free from Hill’s (makers of Science Diet) in exchange for pushing the products on its website and to adopters.  The contract is up for renewal and county supervisor Joe Simitian raised what sound like legitimate concerns at a recent county board meeting:

For starters, the county was giving the phone numbers and email addresses of adopting families to Hill’s, raising privacy concerns.

Moreover, the shelter wasn’t explaining why it was recommending the dog food. “The public doesn’t know the reason we’re hyping the dog food is that we’re getting it for free,” Simitian said, castigating the staff for using verbatim Hill’s language in its report.

And finally, the food has gotten less-than-rave reviews.

What are your thoughts?  Shame on the county supervisor for throwing a monkey wrench into the free food deal which reportedly saves the county $19k a year?  Shame on Hill’s for only offering to feed shelter pets for free if the shelter agrees to hand over personal information on adopters and read them their sales scripts?  Shame on the county for failing to seek out other companies which might want to donate food for the shelter pets, simply as a charitable act?  Is there some compromise which might be workable for Santa Clara Co?  On the bigger issue of corporate shelter donations, should there be an industry standard where the donor is recognized in some form (e.g. via a plaque on the shelter wall) but not to the extent that Hill’s requires?

25 thoughts on “Discussion: Should Corporate Shelter Donations Come with Strings Attached?

  1. I am not surprised this is happening. Ever notice the Drug Sales person flowing into your doctor’s office why you wait in the lobby? Kick-Backs. When I see this, I find another doctor.

    1. Every single doc out there has sales reps that come into their offices. Good luck with that.

  2. Don’t the laws these days require companies to explicitly tell “customers” that their personal information may be passed onto other companies and allow said people to opt out??

    I’ll admit that I personally think the Hills foods suck, but heck, its food, and its way better than nothing. And I’d have no problem with the shelter telling people that “we’ve been feeding your new dog X food, which was donated to us by that company, he’s appears to be doing well on it so please consider continuing to feed it” or some such…….but I have a huge problem with that fact not being told when the food is recommended…..

  3. Our organization does not enter into such arrangements because it compromises our objectivity in making recommendations to fosters and adopters as well as in consultations with our community. It is a matter of ethics and objectivity (much like some magazines don’t take ads because it would compromise their reputation and objectivity.) Instead, we have partnered with local holistic mom & pop establishments who give us their high-end, high-quality foods that have just passed expiration date. That also allows us to tailor the diet to the dog. And in the case of “sheltered” (as opposed to foster) animals, we just do a “mix” of everything. We have also found that the availability of a wide range of higher-quality foods has been valuable in treating some of our ill or nursing/lactating animals who may have extra nutritional demands.

      1. We don’t really thank them publicly or do any advertising on our webpage. But when people ask us where they can obtain good quality foods/supplies or need information on tailoring a pet’s diet to their special needs, we do refer people to those establishments that donate food to us. We tell them that these are local companies that benefit the local community, and they are an excellent resource for discovering what foods are available that might be best for that individual pet.

  4. Pedigree has a grant program that supplies food. They do not expect sales generated they only want quality food for dogs. As their slogan says Dogs Rule! Hill’s should be ashamed of themselves, its great they supply the food but to outright buy it, its expensive and with other nutritious choices I doubt people will spend the extra money.

    1. I believe that Hills also does a great deal of the “nutrition education” for vet students at university vet schools, too. From a PR sense, if the shelter is currently feeding cats and dogs Science Diet, then how many new owners will continue just because they don’t know any better? I do know that it probably helps shelters feed their animals when funds are scarce, but signing your client’s rights away to do it is pretty nasty, not to mention unethical (far as I’m concerned).
      Having gone through the pet food recalls of 2006 – 2007, I’ve learned a whole lot about the pet food industry that gives me nightmares at night.

  5. I have issue with them sharing phone numbers and emails of adopting families, but…

    Our local shelter struggles to make ends meet and the pragmatic, numbers part of me sees the $19K savings that the food donation from Hill’s provides and I could easily accept that and put in a plug for them.

    $19K would save lots of lives, buy meds, vaccinations, pay salaries, the list goes on and on.

    1. To be honest, I question whether this shelter, which only takes in around 2500 pets per year, would need to spend $19k on pet food. IDK the answer to that question but it seems awfully high to me.

      On Mon, May 20, 2013 at 12:18 PM, YesBiscuit!

      1. You have a very valid point. I’m guessing that’s the book value that Hill’s put on their donation.

  6. city shelters should redirect monies budgeted for things like office supplies, uniforms, etc to food for the shelter and instead request donations for office supplies and uniforms, etc. from local businesses. That way the items that are a MUST HAVE in running the shelter (aka FOOD) are never at the risk of donations AND by asking for donations from local retail for non essential items, they can give PR to those local businesses which in turn brings them additional business.

  7. Recommending the food in return for the donations is definitely compromising the integrity of the organization, as well as misleading the adopters. Publicly thanking the company for providing the food should be as far as it goes. That takes care of acknowledging the company, as well as letting the public know that they feed that brand because they’re getting it free, not because they feel it is the best food. And giving out the adopters’ phone numbers is unacceptable.

  8. This is interesting. First of all, if you were to rank the bands that donate food from the above mentions, what is the best? I would not feed my dog anything from Purina, period. When I did try to feed one of my dogs a very highly rated food (the same food my other dog ate), his stomach could not take all the protein. He was on Rx Hill’s for a bit and he did very well. We switched him to the OTC Hill’s Sensitive Stomach and he does great with it. I am sure that with all the paperwork that is filled out during the adoption process, there is something in there about who gets the adopters info. Anyone that comes down on an org trying to do the BEST possible thing for animals by taking donated food is just plain selfish. This is not a perfect world and unless YOU want to come up with the thousand of dollars it costs to feed those animals I suggest you take your huff and go. If you don’t have a viable solution you have absolutely no right to take food away from the org.

    1. Uh, cool your jets, for cryin’ out loud! No one here is trying to take food out of any animal’s mouth, and your speed reading skills show serious impairment by thinking that’s what this post is about.

  9. I think you would have to be dumb as a stump not to realize the free food, you get with your adopted pet, comes with a few strings attatched. I’m more than happy to give them my personal info in exchange for a $5 bag of food that my pet is used to eating. It saves me from having to clean up a mess from switching foods too quickly.

    I did a pet food study, for a master’s project, and found the best pet food for the least money. I continue to use it, even after the melamine fiasco, as I don’t have time to cook for my pets. And frankly, the human foods have been more prone to recalls than pet foods so my pets are actually safer with good-quality pet food.

    My study found HIll’s to be way overpriced, for what it offered, but they do offer specialty foods that are helpful for some animals. If giving out Hill’s sample bags (which our local shelter does) helps the shelter provide good food for their animals, I’m all for it.

  10. Right off the bat let’s not “shame” anyone. Someone at the shelter found a way to save some money and got at least a moderately decent food donated (I know of one shelter that gets their food from Walmart, stuff that doesn’t sell so well or is expired, so you can guess what’s in there!). I think it was GOOD of the supervisor to question the deal. I don’t think personal adopter info should be handed over to Hill’s unless the adopter has said “yes”. The real question here is why hasn’t the shelter reached out for sponsorships from some of their local tech business neighbors? Google is in Santa Clara county, as is Facebook and Yahoo. Get creative, just ASK. If you don’t ASK then the answer will always be no.
    Frankly I go straight to my vet when adopting and figure out what works for THIS animal. And any vet office that I’ve been in, because I foster and see different vets in the area, that is pushing a particular food (usually Hills) I don’t go back to for my personal aniamls. Just like a people doctor who pushes you to use a certain medication because the sales rep has a deal with him, I want to know if THAT drug is the best for ME or just eaisest for the doctor. Same with food for my animals. As for an industry standard? Who is going to set that? Those that make up the industry and it will only do so to augment their bottom line. I’ll be curious to see what Santa Clara ACC does in the coming months. And why aren’t they on twitter? Silly people, USE that social media!!!

  11. We buy food and cat litter for our shelter by Southern States and we have a monthly delivery system. On dog food we use about 70lb per day. We have several dogs and cats that are receiving grain free food, which is donated to us, and canned food is given out on a “as needed” basis. Southern States does not provide the best food (but it’s not the worst either) in the world but if you use 70lb per day alone for dogs you have to compromise somewhere.
    On a side note, some time ago we received two packages with free vaccines and we were asked to provide information about the dogs we use it on. We never used the vaccines.

  12. If it saves money, great. If it feeds dogs and cats for free, great.

    It is fabulous that corporations of any size agree to participate in donation services…most are not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts! There is an incentive with donations – free publicity, free advertising, word of mouth support, etc. ad naseum. I think that comes with an exchange of services.

    I do believe organizations should carefully select corporate partners. Partnerships reflect on both parties, good and bad.

    It would be a better business practice for the shelter to ask folks to opt-in to receiving information from Hill’s rather than forcing them to opt-out. But that can be rectified with updating their privacy policy in terms of what is done with adopter information (e.g. we ask our chicken adopters to opt-in on receiving emails and other forms of contact and, well, 90%+ choose to…a better solution for Santa Clara AC would be to ask adopters to opt-in, then email those adopters with a deal for Hill’s, asking them to sign up for their email list or something).

    I choose not to feed Hill’s Science Diet, for a laundry list of reasons. But I see no reason for Santa Clara to take advantage of this offer in exchange for advertising. A disclaimer stating that Santa Clara is not a nutritionist/veterinary nutritionist and cannot support any nutritional informational on any brand of food would be great but it’s not the end of the universe as we know it if they don’t.

  13. The rescue I work for has a pet food company sponsorship. We get canned and wet food, litter, and certain prescription foods donated. There is a large list to order off of, varying flavors and formulas. It beats relying on food donations, and provides a good consistency for the animals, so they aren’t on different foods all the time. (And it’s better than us having to buy dog/cat chow or dedicating a part of our budget to food.) When we adopt out an animal, we send home a ziplock Baggie of the dry, and simply explain they can keep the animal on it, or use what we give them in order to transition them to a new food. We occasionally have coupons for that food in our adoption packets, there is a “thank you” type link on our website, and we occasionally thank the company for their support via our Facebook page. We had a banner up in the shelter as well.

    No pressure, it’s a good enough food to keep our pets happy until they find their furever homes and their pet parents decide what they will eat. I feel as though the pet food company figures enough adopters will say, “I’ll just stick with what the shelter was giving them,” that they will reap profits as a result.

    1. This sounds like a win-win all the way around. The pet food company is doing some good while picking up potential future customers. The rescue gets badly needed help taking care of your animals. I’m guessing that you don’t have to give private client information to the pet food company in return.

  14. Sending the company the names and addresses of donators is out of line.

    Other than that, if anyone wants to donate me $19k worth of food a year and feed every sheltered animal, I’ll bend over backwards to do whatever they ask.

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