Since the Shelter Hope Pet Shop opened at Janss Marketplace in 2011, the nonprofit rescue effort has saved between 40 and 60 dogs a month—celebrating close to 5,000 adoptions to date.
“Our services focus on adopting dogs to loving families,” explains Kim Sill, of Thousand Oaks, founder of Shelter Hope, a nonprofit volunteer-based pet shop that showcases shelter animals available for in-store adoption.
“We also spend a great deal of time teaching the community to give back by helping us,” Sill says.
The circumstances are different with every dog, which primarily come from the San Bernardino city shelter and Kern County, areas where dogs are frequently dumped at shelters that kill for space.
“We have taken dogs from hoarding situations and others that have been abandoned at vet offices because they have a broken leg,” Sill says. Additionally, “we took dogs from many natural disasters last year, including Hurricane Harvey and Irma.”
Shelter Hope Pet Shop also takes in dogs that have been dumped at the shelter after years of being used for breeding.
“We also take dogs from Mexico,” Sill says. “We do not discriminate against a dog for where they come from. To us, a dog is a dog, and most of the time they are better than people, so we want to help them.”
The idea for Shelter Hope Pet Shop formed while Sill was working undercover for an animal rights group called Last Chance for Animals.
“While investigating pet shops that sold puppies produced from puppy mills, I realized that Americans needed to see highly adoptable rescue animals in the same way they were looking at mass-produced mill animals,” Sill recalls.
Other incidents in her life also fueled her decision to help dogs through Shelter Hope.
“I grew up in South Georgia with a Jewish father who worked as a social worker at the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home,” Sill recalls. “Daddy taught me to pick up strays as I watched him bring home foster kids to our home, even when we didn’t have room.”
Her husband, Joel, also encouraged her to follow her passion to help dogs.
“I have two sayings that I love—one is ‘dog bless’ and the other is, ‘I never rescue a dog, they always rescue me’,” she says. “Rescuing dogs does not feel like work even though it is a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day job.”
Shelter Hope Pet Shop operates in the Janss Marketplace, thanks to NewMark Merrill, which gifted free rent so the nonprofit effort could thrive.
Camp Bow Wow, a doggie day care facility in Agoura Hills, also donates space at night to house Shelter Hope’s rescues.
“They have done this since we opened in 2011, and with each adoption, we encourage the new owners to take their new dog back to Camp Bow Wow so that they can help give back to the business that has helped us save so many,” Sill says.
Indiana Bones and the Temple of Groom has also been a partner since Shelter Hope started.
“They donate two grooms per dog, one when we get them and another to the new adopter,” Sill explains. “This provides the dog with a beautiful makeover so that they can show well, then after, the groom gives the owner the opportunity to go back to Indiana Bones and say hi and get to know the real people who help us save these dogs.”
Volunteers are a huge part of why the Shelter Hope Pet Shop can survive. Sill says that two of her most valued volunteers include a Vietnam veteran, Larry Cole, and Abbie Hodash, a young woman with autism.
“All our volunteers help us socialize and rehabilitate the dogs so that they can be adopted into loving homes,” says Sill, adding that orientations are held twice a month for children and parents who want to volunteer.
In current efforts, the Shelter Hope Pet Shop is working to expand its foster care program.
“Many people would like to save a dog’s life but can’t make a long-term commitment,” Sill says. “We have the perfect opportunity for those people—fostering.”
By fostering, “people get to love and care for a dog but also know that it is temporary,” Sill says. “We’re looking for people who feel that fostering would be a great fit for their lifestyle.”
She adds that the foster program is called Phillis’s Fosters, in honor of her dear friend, Phillis Armstrong, who passed away in June 2013.
“Phillis dedicated her life to Shelter Hope and started the much-needed foster program at the shop by herself,” Sill says. “It is fitting that we continue the program in her name.”
For people who are unable to foster or adopt a dog, “the quickest and easiest way to help the Shelter Hope Pet Shop is by donating,” Sill adds. “Your generous tax-deductible donation will help us to find a home for neglected and abandoned pets that would otherwise be put to death.”
This past year, California became the first state in the nation to ban the sale of mill dogs.
“The law goes into effect in January of 2019—I was so proud to be a part of this enormous change,” Sill says. “I protested pet shops for almost two years, while I worked with Last Chance for Animals. Many cities across America banned the sale, and hundreds of rescue-only pet shops have popped up.”
The Conejo Valley was “ground zero” for Sill, and an important part of the making of Shelter Hope Pet Shop.
“For many years I was told that this concept would not work, that it couldn’t survive and that I would have to have an enormous amount of money to keep a shop like this open,” she says.
Initially, she asked many large animal groups to back her idea and help her launch it, however, “no one was willing to try it.”
Serendipitously, Sill found a partner in a stranger when she met Sandy Sigal of NewMark Merrill.
“He gave the dogs a chance, and he gave me a new life in Thousand Oaks,” Sill says, noting the nonprofit’s initial plans to operate three days a week quickly expanded to five.
“We got so busy and had so many volunteers that we expanded,” says Sill, who aims to help other nonprofit rescues open Shelter Hopes in their communities.
“In 2013, I funded the Shelter Hope in Sacramento, which started as a pop-up shop in the Nimbus Winery and stayed open for three years,” says Sills, and, “In 2014, I helped fund the Shelter Hope in Santa Clarita, which is still thriving today.”
Sill believes Shelter Hope “will hand a better world for animals to the next generation,” and that her efforts will make rescuing a dog from a shelter “a normal thing” that can ultimately lead to a forever home.
“I love it, but I wish I didn’t have to do it,” Sill adds.
“I wish the world was free of animal abuse and neglect, but for now, we forge on.”
Shelter Hope Pet Shop is located at 193 N. Moorpark Road East, Suite F, in Thousand Oaks. To learn more, call 805.379.3538.