LONG BEACH - The animals at our local no-kill shelter, the South Pacific County Humane Society (SPCHS), can be viewed online by millions of prospective pet owners at Petfinder.com, the Internet's largest searchable directory of homeless pets. 

Petfinder.com was established in 1996 to help people find their new best friend and to help adoption groups find loving homes for all of their adoptable pets. Since then, it has grown into one of the busiest sites on the Internet and introduces over 1.5 million pets to their new families each year. 

Petfinder.com is involved in more than just adoptions, including facilitating the return of lost pets, helping shelters professionalize their services through training and outreach, and helping to bring new services to adoption groups and new pet parents.

The site recently launched Maddie's Fund®, a program awarding 70 cash prizes totaling $50,000 to shelters and rescue groups for good customer service.

Petfinder.com asks animal organizations, "Do you take care of adopters as well as you take care of animals?"

Maddie's Fund and Petfinder.com believe that good customer service saves lives. The first step in good customer service is to capitalize on the public's enthusiasm for adopting by responding right away when initial contact is made. The second step is to make a potential adopter's experience positive and helpful.

The program's cash prizes are designed to encourage shelters and rescues, to assess their customer service, and to entice groups to improve it if it is lacking. 

From July 13 through Sept. 18, Petfinder members are being selected at random and contacted by a Secret Adopter, either by phone, e-mail or in person. If the organization puts its best face forward, providing stellar customer service, it is told on the spot that it has won a cash prize, compliments of Maddie's Fund and the Petfinder.com Foundation. Our shelter won $500.

SPCHS President Keleigh Schwartz who, along with her beachdog.com staff, built and maintains the shelter's Web site, learned about the promotion online. The 80 percent volunteer-operated organization has been working hard on going from "good" to "great."

"Wouldn't it be great to show the 1200-strong rescue group Petfinder.com community the outstanding service we provide to our animals and customers?" Schwartz mused. She emailed SPCHS's Board of Directors, Staff and Shelter Volunteers immediately with details of the program. "Let's win!" she wrote.

Not 24 hours later, she received an email back: "WE DID! They are going to post us on Petfinder.com next week as the winner and send us a check for $500! Yeah!"

SPCHS had been "secret shopped" by the Petfinder.com Foundation with Director Diana Galbreath having taken a call asking for details about a specific pet. "I just handled it like I handle every call," Galbreath shrugged. "I'm so excited they chose us - and that we won! The cash is going to come in handy with kitten season in full swing".

"That's Diana," Schwartz beamed. "She's thinking more of this week's batch of kittens than her own success in winning today. That's the attitude that makes her customer service stellar."

All of the pets available for adoption from the South Pacific County Humane Society can be seen on Petfinder.com as well as their own (beachpets.com).

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