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Adoption for the People

A store tied to a nonprofit welcomes both customers and adopters.




Michelson Found Animals Adopt & Shop, Culver City, CA

OWNER: Michelson Found Animals Foundation; URL:; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2014; AREA: 10,000 square feet; EMPLOYEES: 17 full-time, 10 part-time; FACEBOOK: /adoptnshop; INSTAGRAM: /adoptnshop

DR. GARY MICHELSON wants every pet to have a home, and for any dog or cat who gets lost to find their way back. To achieve these goals, the surgeon, inventor and philanthropist created Michelson Found Animals Foundation.

The nonprofit organization funds spay-neuter research and services, and provides affordable microchips and scanners to shelters and clinics, as well as a free registry. It also operates Michelson Found Animals Adopt & Shop, with the Culver City, CA, location winning second place in this year’s PETS+ America’s Coolest Stores Contest.

In her role as foundation executive director, Aimee Gilbreath helped conceive the multipurpose store, which offers dog and cat adoption, supplies, daycare and grooming.

“A lot of people fear that a shelter will be loud or sad or overwhelming, so they might be interested in adopting, but are worried about the experience and don’t go,” she says. “We bring adoptable pets to people in an environment that we can assure will be positive.”

Oversized dogs and cats cover the building’s exterior, thanks to famed muralist David Flores. Inside, teal and yellow mix with walnut and stainless steel to create a bright, welcoming atmosphere.

Products and services support the health and happiness of pets — no matter where they come from — to set them and their families up for success.

Healthy Foods, Tidy Litter

Adopters will find all of the supplies needed to start life with their new dog or cat. Gilbreath and her staff carefully curate for the 2,500 square feet of retail space in Culver City.

“We only carry high-quality foods because we know how important that is for an animal’s health,” she says, pointing to Zignature and Stella & Chewy’s as two of the available options. Too often, pets find themselves surrendered because of costly health issues that could have been prevented or managed with diet.

Products stocked at Adopt & Shop must also make care easier for owners. Two such examples: the virtually dust-free World’s Best Cat Litter paired with a top-entry litter box.

“Cats jump in and jump out. They don’t track as much litter out, keeping the area clean for everyone,” Gilbreath says.

Toys from the likes of Planet Dog, collars and leashes from Lupine, and a variety of other smartly designed items attract pet parents, in general, who appreciate the thoughtfulness of offerings.

Services For All

Adopt & Shop welcomes all types of dogs, both to become adoptable pets — the organization pulls from area shelters — and to enroll in daycare. This approach makes the latter quite popular.

“We’re an animal-welfare organization. There is no breed or size discrimination in our daycare,” Gilbreath says, pointing out that because staff have such varied experience, word of mouth draws pups who may not fit in elsewhere. “We have a bit more tolerance for sass.”

Dogs go through an assessment before being grouped by size and compatibility. Because those awaiting adoption may have medical or other issues requiring special care, they have their own play and grooming areas with separate air-handling systems and staff.

The same goes for cats at the store, with adoptable pets kept separate from those visiting for a groom. While many groomers do not specialize in cats, Gilbreath sees it as yet another way to support their health and happiness. Discounted microchipping and vaccinations also are available.

Charitable and Business Success

In 2017, approximately 2,500 pets found new homes through Adopt & Shop in Culver City. At any given time, 25 to 35 dogs and 20 to 40 cats live there. The organization also has a robust foster program.

All adoption fees and income go toward operating the multi-purpose store, with the foundation helping as needed.

“From a financial standpoint, our adoption fees alone do not cover the total cost of care, so our retail products and services are critical to the business model and to helping us to save more pets,” Michelson says.

Gilbreath adds, “Our sales are up 20 percent from last year. We’re excited about that.”

Judges’ Comments

Tom Crossman: This is a wonderful concept, and all elements are executed beautifully.

Phil Chang: Love the Tinder campaign! That’s amazing, great use of new tech to help an “old” cause. Also great idea to use retail to drive your cause, bravo! Love what you do!

Ruth Mellergaard: This store makes me glad to be an animal lover — a beautiful space and a great idea.

Jamie Migdal: What a beautiful and inviting space! The design very clearly reflects the altruistic intentions of the organization. They’ve done a wonderful job thinking outside the box in pursuing their mission, and I can only imagine that local people are delighted to have an alternative to big-box stores.


Five Cool Things About Michelson Found Animals Adopt & Shop

1. TINDER TAKEOVER: On Adopt a Shelter Pet Day in 2017, the store partnered with dating app Tinder. Users could swipe right on nine adoptable dogs and cats, each one posed with a social media influencer. All nine were adopted! Users outside of L.A. were given info about shelters in their areas.

2. VOLUNTEER HOURS: In 2017, 800 active volunteers donated 80,000 hours to the stores; the foundation has a second smaller store in Lakewood. They do everything from stock shelves to counsel adopters. Volunteers get discounts on retail products and adoption fees.

3. CATTY WAGON: The mobile adoption vehicle brings kittens to various weekend events. A 30-foot repurposed food truck, it features six cat condos that can hold up to 30 kittens, plus has two meet-and-green rooms and retail space.

4. FREE DOG TRAINING: Santa Monica Paws hosts a free one-hour training class at the store each month for new adopters.

5. MICROCHIP MONDAYS: Microchipping costs just $10 at the store. Michelson Found Animals Foundation also created, the nation’s first free national microchip registry.

Online Extra: Q&A with Aimee Gilbreath

One book:

5 Minute Journal

Favorite business book:

The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership

Advice for a new store owner:

Everything pre-opening is going to take twice as long as you think it will, give yourself as much time as possible.

I drive a Mini. If I could choose any car, it would be a…

Tesla Model X.

What superpower would you like to have?


What question do you wish customers would not ask you?

Do you have any French Bulldog puppies available for adoption?

What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do professionally?

Firing someone I had come to regard as a friend.

Favorite job at work that doesn’t involve customers:

Dog and cat “enrichment” — otherwise known as playing with the pets!

If I weren’t a pet business manager, I’d be …

Advocating for women and children’s causes.

Current life goal:

Make one of my dogs Insta-famous.




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