One of the ways we are boosting animal adoptions from shelters, steadily reducing the population of homeless animals in the United States, and striking a blow against puppy mills is through our Puppy-Friendly Pet Stores Program. As part of this initiative, we work with pet stores to help them transition from selling commercially raised puppies to offering shelter dogs for adoption.

Recently, this lifesaving program crossed an important landmark, with 20,147 shelter puppies and dogs placed into loving homes. Among the animals helped so far are dogs like Georgia. Georgia had just given birth at the Lincoln County Shelter in Georgia, and the puppies were placed in another shelter with an opportunity to be adopted. Georgia, however, appeared to have no future -- she was living in a tiny crate and was scheduled to be euthanized.

Dawn Bateman, director of animal welfare for Pets Plus Natural, was at the shelter to pick up animals (the shelter is a Pets Plus partner), when she happened to see Georgia and hear her story. She was smitten and couldn’t let the sweet dog meet a sad end. Dawn adopted Georgia and the dog now often accompanies her to work at the Pets Plus Natural store in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. The two are inseparable.

When our program first began in November 2008, it looked very different. Our goal at the time was to support hundreds of independent and small-chain pet stores across the United States that refused to sell puppies at all. We provided these stores with signs for their front windows declaring their commitment, and free materials for their customers on how to find a dog or puppy from a humane source, such as a local shelter. We also list the stores on our website and provide their details to consumers who text 77879 (data and message rates apply). More than 3,000 stores in all 50 states and the District of Columbia are now signed up as participants in this program.

In 2013, we expanded the program by proactively reaching out to pet stores that were selling commercially-raised puppies to see if they would be interested in converting to a more humane model. To avoid supporting fake rescues or irresponsible sources, we set up a carefully planned process that would include assistance to the pet store at every step and help the store create partnerships with reputable rescues or shelters in the surrounding area.

This is how it works: when a store applies to participate in our program, John Moyer, outreach program manager for the Stop Puppy Mills campaign, works with the store to make sure they are fully ending the sale of any breeder or puppy mill puppies. He assists them with forging a good relationship with one or more of the HSUS's shelter and rescue partners around the country, and also addresses any questions or concerns from the local community about where the rescued puppies were coming from.

In some cases, we help facilitate the transport of dogs from different parts of the country to the converted stores, working with placement partners including Animal Aid USA and Puppy Pipeline Rescue in Georgia, Natchez Adams County Humane Society and Hub City Humane Society in Mississippi, San Antonio Animal Care Services, Estill County Animal Shelter and The Way Home Rescue Alliance in Kentucky, and Humane Society of Tampa Bay in Florida.

Twenty-four pet stores in 11 states have converted to this model so far and now offer only rescued dogs and, sometimes, cats, for adoption. We even have some larger retail chains on board, including Pets Plus Natural, a Philadelphia-based pet store with six outlets in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, all now part of the Puppy-Friendly Pet Stores Program.

The Puppy-Friendly Pet Stores Program is a critical part of our overall campaign to spur animal adoptions, end puppy mills, help shelters, shut down Internet sellers and outdoor flea markets, set standards for the care of breeding dogs, and end animal homelessness. In recent years, two states – California and Maryland – and 325 localities have banned the sales of puppy mill dogs in pet stores. Businesses that adopt our conversion model are not just being smart and proactive by stopping the sales of puppies, they are also helping animal shelters and giving their own image a boost in the public's eyes.

Let’s take a moment today to applaud this important milestone and each one of these puppy friendly stores. They have not just helped save more than 20,000 animals – they have also denied puppy mill operators 20,000 chances to profit off the suffering of animals.

See a list of Puppy-Friendly Pet Stores >>