There are two main reasons for shelters to post photos of pets online:
- So owners looking for their lost pets can find them
- So adopters can fall in love with an animal via a picture
Now if ACOs are photographing animals in the field in order to get them immediately online in case the owner is looking for them before the pet arrives at the shelter, these photos are naturally going to be of lower quality. The ACO will probably be working alone, the animal will likely be frightened or agitated in some way and there won’t be many options for background or setting. But considering these are temporary photos that may aid in the return of a pet to an owner before impound, I think the benefit far outweighs the concerns over photo quality.
Once ACOs get back to the pound and the animal has had a brief period to adjust to the strange surroundings, I think it’s important to get that first marketable photograph to replace the temporary one which was being used primarily for identification purposes. Granted, the first attempt may not be a keeper and should not be considered the final photo to be used for the pet’s entire stay at the shelter. It may well be possible to get a better photo of the animal being more relaxed and happy after he’s got some groceries in his belly, a soft bed to sleep on and some friendly human interaction. But that first marketable photo should represent the shelter’s best effort to capture the pet in a positive light at the time the picture was taken.
When I use the word “marketable”, I am referring to the idea of selling the pet to a potential adopter via an internet posting. Even if an animal was picked up as a stray, there is a significant chance that he will not be claimed and will be up for adoption. So although the animal may still be in a holding period, the marketing plan should begin to unfold.
Here is a photo that the Memphis pound posted on PetHarbor. Had this been a temporary photo taken in the field, I would have no problem with it. I think an owner could clearly recognize his dog from this picture. But MAS does not take photos in the field. The ACOs wait until they have several animals on the truck then return to the pound and photograph the animals for PetHarbor. This is the one and only photo this dog has on PetHarbor to either be identified by his owner (if he has one) or for an adopter to fall in love with (if he goes unclaimed).
This is not the one and only photo I would use if it was my job to market this dog. For starters, the dog looks positively stricken. This conveys a negative feeling to adopters browsing online. He also has 2 leashes on him. This would be a concern to some adopters. A trained animal professional needs 2 leashes to control this dog? I’m just a regular person. How would I be able to control him? The setting is cinder blocks and stainless steel – obviously inside the pound. While it’s better than the typical pets-behind-bars photo, it’s clinical and negative. It reminds the adopter this dog is in a pound. While adopters obviously know this on one level, I wouldn’t like to reinforce it subconsciously when pitching the dog to them. Many people associate negative things with shelters – It’s a place where they kill animals. People take problem pets there. etc. So when I’m trying to sell them on a pet, I don’t want to use an image that screams POUND PUPPY.
Ideally, the marketable photo is going to show the pet in a way that makes the adopter say, “I can imagine him being in my home.” A soft eye, a home type setting (a comfy chair, a pet bed, outside on the grass), a friendly interaction with a human – all of these things are great to see depicted in shelter pet photos. These images put the idea in the mind of adopters that this is a regular pet who happens to need a home right now and I can envision him being part of my family. Photos like these let people fall in love.
In the case of the above dog, he obviously has great ears happening. My first thought upon seeing him was that he could be marketed as a sci-fi fan’s dream pet: one daggit ear and one Yoda ear. How about putting him on one leash, having a vol take him for a walk outside, giving him some hotdog bites and trying for a more marketable photo with the help of another vol? If that photo could accompany a clever write-up, all the better.
What other ideas can you come up with for marketing this dog – or any shelter animal? What do you like to see in a photo as a potential adopter?