Northside SF
Cover Story
Million Dollar Mutt
Northside San Francisco’s Jasmine Blue has a My Mutt poster at Pet Food Express on California Street

Nine years ago, Pet Food Express co-owner Mark Witriol and then-executive director of the East Bay SPCA Gary Templin came up with a fun, creative way to celebrate the all-American mutt – the dog most at risk of winding up at a shelter. Aptly named the “My Mutt” program, it encourages adopters to donate $250 or more to a nonprofit rescue or shelter of their choice. Pet Food Express then hires a professional pet photographer to do a photo shoot with your “mutt,” and once the adopter chooses his or her favorite photo, Pet Food Express blows it up into a poster and displays it in one of their stores for six months (for a donation of $500 or more, the poster stays up for a year, after which the adopter gets to take it home).
Pets Unlimited executive director Sally Wortman with Neptune and Waldo

Over the years, My Mutt has been expanded to include all creatures great and small, from purebred dogs to cats, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, alpacas, geckos, horses, and more. The generous donations from pet adopters coupled with Pet Food Express holding special donation-matching events has turned the program into a major fundraising tool for Northern California shelters and rescues. As My Mutt nears the 10-year milestone, the program also achieved a phenomenal goal: At the end of 2011, they hit $1 million in total donations, partnering with Pets Unlimited (2343 Fillmore Street at Washington, 415-563-6700, in the home stretch and matching the $25,000 they raised through My Mutt for a total of $50,000 in donations.

Pets Unlimited executive director Sally Wortman says the My Mutt contributions have been a huge help. “The money goes toward our critical needs shelter – we save hundreds of animals from overcrowded shelters,” she says. “It also helps us take in animals with serious medical issues that those shelters would have to put down otherwise.”

Animals like Waldo, a beautiful, sweet six-month-old tabby kitten dumped at the San Francisco SPCA with a terribly infected broken leg. He also has FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus), a slow-growing virus that gets a worse rap than it deserves – it can’t spread to nonfeline species and is not easily spread to other felines (though it’s best for an infected cat to be the only cat or to live with other FIV cats). Most FIV cats live long, healthy lives with no symptoms at all.

Pets Unlimited took Waldo from the SF/SPCA and treated him at their state-of-the-art veterinary clinic. His infected back leg had to be amputated, making him a tripod (as it turns out, tripod dogs and cats are often some of the most popular adoptees – in fact, Wortman herself is the proud mom of Clover, a tripod border collie mix adopted from Pets Unlimited).

Sweet, mellow Waldo is now awaiting his forever home, and the donations from the My Mutt program helped to save him – though Wortman says Pet Food Express helps in many other ways as well. “We are so honored that they chose us to reach the million-dollar My Mutt goal,” she says. “The generosity of Pet Food Express to so many shelters and rescues is having an enormous impact on saving animals. They walk the talk.”

Besides My Mutt, Wortman says Pet Food Express is always there to help all organizations in need. “They help in so many ways – from goodies to supplies, fundraising campaigns, increased visibility ... their impact is enormous. The staff is not like most big pet stores – they feel like they’re part of a foundation and even do in-house fundraising. When you visit a Pet Food Express store, it’s palpable.”

Pets Unlimited takes in all kinds of cats and dogs, including many purebreds. “We’ve had Westies, cocker spaniels, yellow Labs, boxers, poodles, dachshunds,” Wortman explains. “And we also get wonderful mixes like adorable Neptune, a five-month-old, hilarious puggle-gone-wrong who came to us from the San Martin shelter with pneumonia.” Now healthy and recently neutered, Neptune is awaiting the perfect puppy parents.

Pet Food Express is now working to reach the next goal – $2 million in My Mutt donations – and they encourage anyone who loves animals to participate, regardless of whether you have a pet (in fact, the posters make great gifts for friends who do have pets). And if your pet comes from a breeder, you can still participate by doing a poster to benefit your breed’s rescue or the shelter or nonprofit rescue group of your choice. One hundred percent of the proceeds benefit animals in need, and your donation is tax-deductible.

For more information about the My Mutt program, call 510-924-3300, e-mail, visit, or inquire at any Pet Food Express location (see the website for stores and hours).

Continue to My Mutt Profiles article »

March 2012
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