A Little More Influence

We can’t influence everybody and thankfully, we don’t need to in order to achieve a no kill nation.  The numbers tell us that we only need to get a portion of undecided pet seekers to adopt their pets from shelters in order to increase demand to the point where killing adoptable pets would simply be bad business for shelters.  So let’s look at whose behavior we can influence.

People who go to pet stores – We have two opportunities to create change here.  One is to get pet stores to change from selling puppy and kitten mill stock to selling shelter pets.  The other is to look at the reasons why people choose to go to a pet store – many of which can be summed up in one word:  convenience.

There is no hassle in buying a pet from a pet store.  The store is likely open for business on evenings and weekends.  It’s probably in a readily accessible location, perhaps even within a mall where you are already shopping.  You pick out the pet you want, pay your money and you take your new pet home with you immediately.  What can we learn from this?

  • Shelters need to be open when working people can visit.
  • Location, location, location.
  • Shelters need to streamline their adoption process to strike an effective balance between reasonable screening/matching and allowing adopters to have the pet of their choice.
  • Shelters should have as many pets as possible neutered, vaccinated and ready to go.

The bottom line:  When our community shelters keep inconvenient hours, are poorly located, take pride in refusing adopters, and/or require a waiting period between adoption and taking the pet home, they are driving adopters to pet stores (or other sources).  The goal is to get more adopters in the door, not drive them away.  Once they are in the door, I think we should do anything within reason to keep them!

Another group we can influence is people who buy from breeders.  There are some who are buying from good breeders for reasons with which we can not compete (seeking a particular bloodline, etc.).  But there are others who are buying from not-so-good breeders for reasons to which we can offer alternatives.  These might include any of the previously mentioned reasons people buy from pet stores.

In addition, some people are under the false presumption that purebred dogs from private breeders are healthier in mind and body than shelter dogs, even if those shelter dogs are purebred.  One area where we have influence is how we market our shelter pets.  Are we trying to sell them based upon their sad stories of neglect or abuse?  Are we trying to sell them based upon a threat that they will be killed if not adopted by a certain date?

Think about the impression this creates in the minds of those seeking pets.  They may see shelter pets as damaged goods, broken in spirit and/or body, having so little value as to be arbitrarily killed due to a date on the calendar.  They may view them as unwanted, unloved and unworthy.  All because of the way we told the pet’s story.  I’m not saying we should lie or withhold a pet’s known history but in some cases, the history is not known and it’s simply assumed the pet was abused.  Often the sad part of the story is the only part conveyed to adopters.

There are lots of good things to tell about every animal.  Why would this animal make a great pet?  What is unique or fun about this pet?  How would someone’s life be better for adopting this pet?  Don’t forget to talk about the good things!

Again, we don’t have to force every pet owner on the planet to adopt from a shelter in order to bump shelter adoptions up enough to force an end to killing.  We just need to influence some more undecided people than we are now.  It can be done.  We can adopt our way out of killing.  Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

13 thoughts on “A Little More Influence

  1. I agree 100% with all of this! I don’t understand why “shelters” won’t take this approach if they are serious about getting ALL their animals adopted out. Turning around the mindset that shelter animals are damaged is a big hurdle.

  2. An approach like “If you don’t buy this kicked around floor model TV within a few hours or we’re going to set it on fire” isn’t going to get a whole lot of buyers through the door.

  3. There are more reasons that people buy from breeders than “seeking a particular bloodline”. In fact, people seeking a pet could care less about a particular bloodline. Purebred dogs and cats bred by good breeders DO tend to be healthier and better socialized than the average back yard mutt or shelter dog. People are seeking out a known quantity in terms of size and personality. Plus, as a vet tech of over 25 years, I never recommend that people with small children or small pets (cats, etc.) adopt an adult dog over 15 lbs from a shelter. I tell them if they want to adopt, go to a rescue group that has temperament tested the dogs around children and cats. It is disturbingly common for the family dog to kill the family cat–even ones that have lived together for a long time. I see it happen several times a year, and it happens more often with dogs that did not grow up with cats around. It happens alot with techs, actually–they rescue some adult dog that was going to be put to sleep, and take it home to their resident cat(s). The dog is fine for some months (or even years), then one day, kills the cat. Yes, usually something happens–like a dispute over food–but if it can happen to somebody who is fully aware of the possibility, it happens even more often with the average pet owner.

    Also, is the fact that, at least in California, it’s almost impossible to find a small breed puppy or young adult dog in a shelter. I have a good friend who lives in the San Fran Bay Area who spent and entire spring and summer a few years back looking for a small breed young adult dog at every shelter and rescue group within an 80 mile radius. She never found one. (She got close once, but the dog was adopted before she was able to race down to the shelter and adopt it.) So, she ended up going to a Chihuahua breeder nearby. She already had a chihuahua mix and cats, and she wanted another small dog. I agree, if she wanted a Pit Bull she probably could have had one pretty easily–but that’s not what she wanted. It didn’t HAVE to be a Chi, but it had to be a small breed dog.

    1. It may be more southern CA than norther CA, but there isn’t a shortage of shelter chis in California. I volunteer at a shelter in Salem NH, and every few weeks we get more California chihuahuas in. 4-6 at a time, whenever the shelter manager lets the group transporting them that we’re ready for more, they come. And they’re flying CA shelter chis to New England shelters because there are so many that most of them would be killed otherwise.

      I agree that, with a good breeder, you stack the deck in your favor in terms of health and temperament–pretty heavily, in fact. Nevertheless, most of the pets in shelters are fine pets that just want the right home, and the main problem they suffer from is being in the stressful conditions of a shelter. I will never say everyone should be adopting, but more people than do now, would find their perfect pet in a shelter if only the shelters were more accessible, more welcoming, and doing better marketing.

  4. Wow, just glancing through the Furry Friends Rescue in Fremont Ca and they have ten chihuahuas, a minpin and a jack russell , maybe they aren’t the right type of chihuahuas or something. I think it would probably take looking for a while to find something other than a pit bull, took me all of seven minutes with the google.
    Nothing against pure breed dogs, just have seen more in poor health than in good but that’s the luck of the draw. Seen mixed breeds with poor health as well, some times your lucky and sometimes you aren’t.
    On the whole the pure bred dogs I’ve run into had individual personalities although some had more herding instinct than mixed breeds I’ve met. I’ve known nice and mean pure breeds, smart and not so smart pure breeds. The only thing about pure bred dogs that appeals to people I know is the look of them and the size, you generally know how big they will get etc. To each his own.

    1. Hah. I was just looking at listings in my neck of the woods & a search on PetFinder turned up five pages for chihuahua ‘babies’ within 100 mi. radius. Many within town – the ACC has a couple of chi mix pups right now.

      Five, six years ago when we adopted our dog – a dachshund x chihuahua – I did have the impression there were fewer small dogs in Bay Area shelters. Still, the small dog class we attended for new adopters at Berkeley/East Bay was so packed, it split. Most were young dogs.

      Mind, the essential point – that people go to breeders (or the neighbors) because they don’t find the types of pets they’re looking for at shelters – is valid. The question I’d ask is, Why not? – are there really fewer available, or is that an artifact of ease or accessibility of listings, of what’s visible … at Sonoma Co. HS, for instance, they just say ‘we often have puppies and kittens available’ and don’t list them individually on-line.

      1. There are, in fact, huge variations geographically in what types of dogs are most common in shelters. It’s almost unheard of for a New England shelter to have puppies, unless they have been shipped up from southern shelters. Adult small breed dogs are more common, somewhat, but they tend to get snatched up as soon as they’re released for adoption after intake. Whereas, in Florida, small breed dogs available for adoption are very common and always available.

    2. You seem to be lumping all “pure breed dogs” together. A breed isn’t a brand. A good breeder screens for health, screens for temperament, provides good socialization for the puppies, and screens potential puppy buyers to ensure not just responsible owners, but a good match between the personality of the puppy and what the prospective owners are looking for in a dog. This really does improve the likelihood of a long-lasting, successful, happy match.

      Backyard breeders and puppy mills, on the other hand, do few to none of these things, but their dogs are “purebred.” The puppy mill dogs are the puppies you find selling for high prices in those convenient, friendly pet stores Shirley is talking about–they make the pet acquisition process easy and pleasant, but the results are a crapshoot, because even poor shelters usually care more than a pet store about making a good match, and most of the pets available have experience being family pets.

      Improve the marketing of shelter pets, and fewer animals will die while more people will have the pets they really want.

    3. Like I said, this was a few years back, before the housing slump and the huge influx of chis into LA. (You know there is a puppy shortage when puppy smuggling becomes profitable enough to sneak them across the border.). Anyway, she lives in south SJ and went as far as Monteray County. There were no small dogs to be had then.
      I’ve seen plenty of unhealthy mixed breed dogs. I’m not convinced they are any healthier than breeder acquired dogs. Maybe healthier than pet store puppies, but those are on a level of thier own.

  5. We are a foster home based rescue that pulls from the E-list at Animal Control and I whole heartedly agree with the article. We hold our events in the middle of the shopping district and our adoption rate speaks volumes. We pull, vet and adopt out within days, its a lot of work but our turn rate is phenomenal. Having them in homes instead of a shelter gives us the advantage to know our animals well and we tell the potential adopter what we know. There is no shortage of small, medium, large, young or old….we have them all (including bully breeds which I love with passion). There is someone for every animal, even the not so cute, the lame, the one eyed, the three legged….! But the public has to see them, touch them, hold them….If you take them to where the people are they will get adopted.

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