There is a saying in animal rescue that ‘no one buys the loser’s T shirt’. This is in reference to sports events like the Super Bowl and the Stanley Cup. Every year, paraphernalia that reflects the champion team is sold out in stores and online. While the losers are realistically only #2 in their profession, their items go unsold.
In our industry, some rescues and shelters have a tendency to approach the marketing of their animals as though they are ‘selling’ them to one another. As animal advocates, we are always interested in saving the underdog, the victim, the innocent, the project. However, the majority of our society is looking for a happy, well-adjusted animal that can be added almost effortlessly to their family. We need to consider our audience, and market our dogs accordingly. Don’t focus on a dog’s past, or make assumptions based on scarring or physical manipulations like ear-cropping… the dog who needs a home has probably recovered more quickly from enduring any supposed ordeal, than you have from imagining or hearing about it! They just want to know when lunch is! Focus on their adoptability, and all of their characteristics that should make potential adopters fight to make him or her a member of their families.
Finally, remember that there are unfortunately still individuals out there who are misguided in believing that shelter and rescue dogs are somehow ‘damaged goods,’ and less-desirable than purebred or pet store pets. By only highlighting the sob stories of our available pets, as opposed to their many appealing characteristics, we are reinforcing the negative stereotypes some hold in regards to shelter animals.
The goal for every advertisement and marketing opportunity should be to make your reader imagine how much better their life could be with a new pet in it!
Protecting or Killing?
When it comes to adoption policies, even the most well-intentioned among us can be hurting the dogs more than we are helping them. So often, we enact policies based on rare events that may or may not ever happen. (Ex: No adoptions in the ***** area code, because many dog fighting crimes occur there.) This also occurs when shelters and rescues make blanket policies in regards to the ages of children in the home… remember, dogs can’t read birth certificates! As much as we want our dogs to be judged as individuals, we need to make sure we are offering our adopters the same opportunity. In these cases, we are ruling out an entire group of potential adopters, in order to protect our dogs from the few that might have cruel or misguided intentions. When it comes to dogs facing time-limits in open-admission shelters, these types of policies are essentially protecting the dogs to death.
Every Application is an Opportunity
Remember to approach every adoption application with a positive attitude. A willing adopter is a potential to get a dog into a home, and out of your rescue or shelter, which opens up another spot for a dog on the street or in poor condition. If nothing else, an application that may not seem perfect at the onset may be an opportunity to educate! For example, someone who says that their dog will be left out on a chain may not understand the consequences of this. By educating them, at best you have an opportunity for them to learn and improve their approach to dog ownership. At worst, you avoid the conversation and deny the application, which causes them to go to a shelter or breeder with less stringent application processes. The dog they adopt may live its life on a chain, all because you didn’t take the time to approach the conversation. (And who’s to say that some time spent on a chain is worse than euthanasia or life in a shelter? But that is a conversation for another time…) If nothing else, their application may not be appropriate for the dog they are applying to adopt, but perhaps there is another dog in your organization that would suit their needs. Just because your dogs may be safe in your rescue or your No-Kill shelter, does not mean that there are not many other dogs facing euthanasia in shelters in your community… why is one life any more precious than the others?
Every Adoption is a BIGGER Opportunity
By maintaining communication with your adopters, you are able to help them resolve any issues they might be facing with their new family member before it becomes a seemingly insurmountable problem. Many rescues, which often have more available resources than some municipal shelters, employ a 3 day, 3 week, and 3 month check-in policy. Furthermore, these conversations are an opportune time to advocate that they share their positive experiences with your organization with their friends and family.
Through the grants Animal Farm Foundation makes available for marketing, many of the advertisements in this post have been made possible! There are lots of creative ways to showcase your adoptable shelter, rescue, or foster pets. In the name of finding homes for available animals, feel free to use their ideas to be inspired. Don’t get caught in the trap of selling to people like US!
Intrigued by this post? Visit Animal Farm Foundation’s Marketing page to learn more!