As organizations all across the nation kicked off Clear the Shelters campaigns earlier this month, Hill’s Pet Nutrition’s Brand Engagement Manager sat down with The Association’s Katherine M. Shenar. The colleagues discussed the programs that have meant the most to Joann (hint: we’ve already mentioned one of them) over her 26-year career. Here are some highlights from their convo.
Katherine M. Shenar: Not only are you celebrating your 26th anniversary at Hill’s, you’re also celebrating the 5-year relationship between Hill’s & NBC for Clear the Shelters…
Joann Fuller: And I’m going to add a third anniversary if you don’t mind—the 20th anniversary of the Food, Shelter, Love program.
KMS: So many reasons to celebrate! For those not familiar, can you tell us about Food, Shelter, Love?
JF: In 2001, Hill’s wanted to identify the times when pet owners most look for advice on how to take care of their pet, outside of, say, taking them to the veterinarian for the first time. The other really big place is when they are adopting from a shelter. We actually had a breeder program at the time, but the company made a strong right turn to say, “If we’re going to put our resources behind creating new pet families, we want to help the pets who need it the most—those waiting in shelters for new homes.”
The program was launched and tested in 2002, and at the time it wasn’t common for a shelter to have one specific nutritional partner to provide food for all the pets in their care. We wanted to see if it would make a difference in the shelter to have one consistent source of high-quality nutrition.
KMS: Why is consistent diet so important?
JF: Shelters do an amazing job of trying to use multiple methods to reduce the stress levels, and if we can add one thing to that, it’s not to keep switching from food to food. The last thing you want is an animal who is stressed and now also has GI distress. This creates an unhappy animal and creates a lot of extra work for extra staff—even down to the quality of poop you have to pick up. That’s big, especially when you’re dealing with hundreds of animals every day.
KMS: What kind of changes have you noticed over your time in animal welfare?
JF: What’s super-exciting is this pivot that a lot of organizations are making to become more of a community-based animal resource center. We know that adoption will always be an important component, but I have loved to see this move to look beyond—there’s a strategic focus on keeping pets with their families, just as much as on adoption.
KMS: Hill’s has been investing lately in food pantries. How did that come about?
JF: We started to pivot during the height of COVID. Animal welfare organizations were specifically holding tight for a tidal wave of animals to come in. This never really materialized, I think because so many shelters were stepping forward with resources, including pet food, to keep pets in their homes during this time of great uncertainty. We provided more than 2 million pounds of pet food.
KMS: For the last 5 months, shelters are seeing more animals come in than are leaving—so Clear the Shelters could NOT come at a better time.
JF: I agree with you—this is the year to get behind Clear the Shelters! It was started 7 years ago in Texas, when 38 municipal shelters came to their local NBC station and said, “We really need to do something to raise awareness about adopting a pet at a very critical time of year—the late summer months.” In that very first year, they adopted 2,200 pets. So far, this year is our second highest year for shelter and rescue registration. We’re shooting to skate way past that record, with more than 142K pets adopted.
KMS: How can shelters get involved?
JF: Very easily—just go to cleartheshelters.com. You can sign up all through the last week in August, for the crescendo weekend when hundreds of shelters will be hosting events. I’m often asked, “Do I have to waive or reduce my adoption fees?” No, you do not! Yes, it’s a great way to move pets into the home, but it is not a requirement. This is an effort by everyone to focus on the need to adopt.