Discussion: Marketing Shelter Pets

Dog #0772760 at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg pound in NC, as pictured on Petharbor.

Are there one or two aspects of marketing shelter pets that you consider to be the most important or should every small detail related to marketing be considered essential?

To my mind, if a member of the public can see it, it’s marketing.  By that I mean to include such things as the cage housing the pet, the information on the kennel card, and obviously the actual pet.  In addition, there are numerous aspects of online marketing including any photographs, write-ups and pleas regarding the pet.

Is there a minimum a shelter should do in order to market a pet?  For example, present a clean pet in a clean cage to visitors and post a quality photo of the pet online?  Are small details such as the selection of a name for the pet significant?  Should shelters be considering all aspects of marketing as equally important?  Where do strategies such as offsite adoptions and crossposting to multiple websites fit into the equation?

24 thoughts on “Discussion: Marketing Shelter Pets

  1. Minimum: The animal should be identifiable and NOT LOOK MISERABLE OR TERRIFIED. That means in focus, face clear and as much of the body markings as possible. No cats in traps, no mashed together piles of kittens, no dogs huddled in the dark, no WET animals (seriously, what’s with all the wet cats and dogs – hose them down, then take a photo?). Nothing in the background that is repulsive (cages of desperate animals, poop, vomit, some jackass with a chokepole).

    The background…how I’ve come to loathe that blue box that NYACC uses. A clean cage or a neutral wall is much better than that hideous faux happy BS.

    The goal is not only to get the animals seen (for RTO or adoption purposes), but also to make people think that your shelter is not a house of horrors. Bad choices can drive people AWAY from your shelter.

    There’s a lot more that could be done – dog expressions are important – but so many seem to struggle with just the basics…

    1. Couldnt agree more with this.

      Just to add onto that, I’ve seen some awful pictures of animals in shelters. Not just from this website, but on my own as well. Dogs on choke poles, animals just looking terrified/huddled into a corner, cats looking like they are being choked because the shelter workers don’t want them running away so they grab them too close to their body, and them of course there are health issues as well (i.e. clean cages and what not), plus many more things. It’s just awful how they don’t want to bother taking the time out to make sure they are good photos, or photos where you can actually tell what’s going on in the photo (like the dog with his one paw up at MAS). I’ve seen private shelters, which are more like rescues than anything, take tremendous photos, and I’m sure they don’t get the funds that municipal shelters do. It’s a shame that money can’t buy compassion.

  2. Marketing is crucial, and needs to be done well, and made a priority.A community should have something in front of them pretty much every day, reminding them that there are pets at the shelter who need them, so when they are ready to add a pet to their home, they check the shelter first. Having those pets in front of them all the time also makes a community realize the importance of having their pets altered (or, if they are going to breed, doing it in a responsible way).
    Our local shelter has a website (good) and pretty decent pictures (also good) and does okay w/ the names, I guess. There was a litter of kittens named Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato this past spring, and some other foolish ones that didn’t impress me much. They do run a “special” for the cats pretty frequently, but it is always “Adopt one, get one free.” Since not all pets are altered before leaving the shelter, and if they are not,people have to leave a very large deposit to ensure it gets done, that is not really much of a “special.” If the cat is not altered, it is $105 to take it out the door. ($30 adoption fee, and $75 deposit.) If the adopter knows about low cost clinics in our area, they’ll be paying $60-$85 to have a female cat spayed and vaccinated. If they don’t, the very lowest price I’ve found at a vet is $165, and that is the spay only, no shots. Males can be altered for $40. Anyway, the point is, if the cat is not already altered, not many people will be taking advantage of that special.
    The website is the extent of the marketing they do. They put the special on there, and that is it. No fliers, no ads in the paper, no FB or Pinterest marketing, pretty much no Petfinder (right now they have 4 dogs on there, all of which have already been adopted, and no cats). My group is doing all of this for them, except for the Petfinder, because we can’t. One lady from our group did submit a volunteer application, specifically saying she would like to keep Petfinder current for them. It’s been a couple months, and she hasn’t received a response. We have tried to persuade the director to allow us to do adoption events, but she will not. A big part of that is the crappy shelter hours. The shelter would be closed on Sat., when we would need to return the pets. We go ahead and do them any way w/ pictures of the pets. Not nearly as effective, but we do what we can.
    We also post fliers w/ pics of the pets in local businesses. Some of our small local shops have been so great about posting these for us :)
    One lady in our group posts a flier in her van window for whatever cat has been at the shelter the longest. She includes a pic, and a little description. She’s called the shelter before to try to get more info. to include. They actually told her they didn’t really know much about the cats personality, because they never get them out of the cages. Can you believe? The last couple weeks, the descriptions on the website have gotten a little better, so her call may have them recognizing the importance of this, I hope.
    Curious to hear how and what other communities are doing. I hope this post gets a good discussion going. Maybe we will get some new ideas from it :)

  3. I agree with all that was written by Mikken.

    Oh there are so many important things in marketing shelter pets. Number one is do not play the “come get this dog/cat/bunny or she is killed at Noon today” card. Ugh! Most people will feel doomed when ready that : (
    Be positive, be upbeat in the bio and photos. Names are super important! We get cats surrendered who had names like Devil or Hairball in their former homes…NO WAY, never will we keep names like that! Who wants to adopt Devil? Come on!
    Make the reader of the bio feel good, Write so that they can imagine the pet in their home, snuggling with them, going for hikes in the woods, being their friend.
    If a dog jumps and is very energetic – don’t say that he jumps on you, say it like this, “Ben is a really good boy who has a lot of fun energy. He can’t wait to go for walks and hikes with you, he’ll dance with happiness at being your new best buddy’!
    Read about taking good pet photos – capture their soul, their expressions. You may have to go back a few times to get just the right shot of the pet, but it’s worth it. I’ve re-taken shelter pet photos many times over. They relax after a few days and you can see their personality shine through.
    Get you message and pets for adoption out their every single day! Facebook, Twitter etc. And at the very least, keep you website updated and changing all the time – folks will come back to it. Heck we have followers that check 2 or 3 times a day to see who was adopted! They love it!

    Remember – You never get a second chance at a good first impression!

    Here is a good link to taking good shelter pet photos: http://www.petfinder.com/how-to-help-pets/adoptable-pet-photo-tips.html

  4. Good points too Laura : )

    We do adoption promotions all the time at UPAWS, especially in the Summer when our census is high. Contact the local radio stations, local paper, fliers, Facebook…switch it up. This Wednesday, we have a free adoption fair called Collars for a Cause. Charter Media and FOX (a local car dealership) will have us at the dealership and from 2pm-7pm FOX will pay for every adoption! It’s a hit…a win win for everyone!

  5. I also agree with pretty much everything mikken says. A bandanna around the neck, perhaps, and more than one pic helps (ie: more than one pose). Also, it helps to have the something IN the pic to give a sense of size, but a jerk with a chokepole is NOT the thing to do that with (duh!) It helps to get the dog or cat out of the cages and if possible, a walkie will end in a happy smile – snap – goes the camera! Easy peasy for those who WANT their dogs adopted, that is.

  6. Agree with everything that has been said so far. A few things that our local humane society does (and they are doing so much better with the new(er) director than they ever did before): 1)
    special adoption days (ie tortie Tuesdays where torties – cats for those MAS friends who don’t seem to know that – are a special price), 2) peace/love/adopt campaign this summer to get 1000 pets adopted – with updates, tee shirts, 3) great photos, 4) pets featured regularly on local news shows, 5) good PR when a child decides to collect donations for the animals in lieu of birthday presents, 6) posting adopted animals daily on their facebook page. There is always something going on for the animals. I do wish they would do a better job of the write-ups rather than just the vital statistics, though, something that would show the animal’s personality. Some of the names are a bit “iffy” but they name hundreds of kittens each summer so I’m sure it’s not easy to come up with that many names.

      1. They have a couple of “names for babies” books . . . LOL! I think a personalized bio is also important. If you look at Urgent Part 2, some of the folks who know the animals actually write some decent stuff (not ACC, though, who could never be bothered). Might be interesting to see who is doing a really nice job of marketing – with examples. I have gone to the UPAWS site just because of the beautiful photos they post here and I.am.impressed. The UP of Michigan is not the most prosperous area of the country and attitudes don’t always support animals as pets, either. They do an amazing job!

      2. I too look at UPAWS pet photos sometimes whenever I need a cheer-up. It is soothing to see photos of shelter pets who are obviously being well cared for while the staff and vols actively try to find them homes. And I don’t have to worry that the pets I’m looking at will be killed for space, a cold, or any other bogus reason. Their marketing efforts provide a much needed respite from the daily misery of seeing so many shelter pets posted in hostage like settings.

    1. Naming the animals can be tedious.

      At minimum, just pick a name that indicates clearly whether the animal is male or female so that people don’t have to guess.

      Also, avoid names that give a negative impression of the dog’s personality or size. Zeus, Titan, Hercules, Rascal, etc. Let the people meet the dog, then they can decide if the dog is too big or too excitable once they’ve seen him in person.

  7. I feel it is very important to have good pictures especially when they are not puppies. A name is important to create a Feel for the animal, easier to relate and remember a name than a number.

  8. I want to know how to get a shelter to market the animals in the shelter period.. My local shelter has a Facebook account, but in the month of June not one animals was posted. July there was two dogs listed and a litter of puppies with no information at all, just a picture. So far for this month the only thing listed is a Bike run being held in OCT
    .Mark October 6 on your calendar for the big bike run.

    1. I’m dealing with this right now, Dot. My county run shelter has an excellent positive outcome rate for dogs, but not so much for cats. I want them to get every cat photographed and put up on PetFinder and keep their list current and complete.

      City Council is in charge of liaising with our animal shelter and they have been open to making changes in the past for the betterment of the animals. I’m writing them each a letter (one council member is specifically in charge of communications with the shelter, but I’m writing all of them l with the assumption that it would make discussion easier).

      If you have a similar set up (a City Council or similar), you can start sending them letters – list the reasons why getting animals posted on social media is going to benefit the shelter (higher RTO, higher adoption rates, it’s FREE) and the community.

      1. I know this is off-topic and I apologize for that, but this is something that I’ve been wondering lately, and if anyone would know this, it’s one of you posters. And Mikken’s post made me think of this, so that’s another reason why I wanted to post about it. Are cats much harder to adopt out than dogs? And is there a main reason for this? I’ve been hearing this more and more lately, and I know they are usually much cheaper in price than dogs too. Are cats just not as popular in general? I would figure that they’d be much easier to adopt out than dogs because 1. They don’t bark, 2. They don’t have bathroom issues or constantly need to go outside, like dogs do, 3. They may not have as many behavioral issues (meaning you can have a jumpy dog, or an aggressive dog, but you don’t really hear about that with cats so much), 4. They live longer, so people may be more likely to pay money for them over an animal who isn’t going to live as long, and 5. I’m sure there are more alternative places to get dogs than cats (backyard breeders, pet stores, etc), or at least I’d imagine so, among many other reasons. So anyway, again sorry for the off-topicness, but I just wanted to ask. Thanks!! :)

  9. Everything should be considered but… the photo and the name arr primary. In the click a second world of the Internet, Grab attention fast. A quality framed photo with the animal in as stress free environment and state as is possible. If you can photograph outside with natural light, it can be really appealing. Names can catch attention. We seem to overuse some. If a personality is coming through, use it. Spunky for the playful cat, Soldier for the attentive dog. Those may not be great. But if I see one more Jake….

  10. For Jessica- Cats are actually the most commonly owned pet in the country. While more individuals own dogs, most people who own cats have more than one. So, it does make sense that we see more cats in our shelters than dogs. You also need to keep in mind the feral populations. In most parts of the country, a feral dog would be noticed and likely picked up by AC pretty quickly. A truly feral cat, though, could go it’s whole life w/o ever really being seen enough for humans to take notice, unless, of course, it decides to have kittens under their deck, or something. In rural areas, feral or semi-feral cat populations are often deliberately maintained on farms for rodent control. Often, the cat population is not properly controlled, or is controlled by taking the “extra” kittens to the local shelter. Cats are also territorial, particularly the males, so many of the cats may end up on adjoining properties, where they get trapped, and taken to the shelter. Cats are also far more prolific breeders than dogs are. Dogs generally come in heat twice a year. If they are kept in the house, it is usually pretty obvious to their owners that they are in heat,and it is easy to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Even if they are kept outside, a female dog will sometimes avoid being bred, if she can, by laying down when the male attempts it. Cats, on the other hand, can come in heat every month. If the female has access to a male, the owners will probably never realize that she is in heat, so their is no chance of avoiding an unwanted pregnancy. Cats are also very good at slipping out the door, especially when they are in heat. I don’t know if you are familiar w/ “kitten season” in the spring? Outdoor cats do stop breeding in the winter, but as a result, they all end up pregnant at once in the spring, which results in very full shelters then. Shelters can level out the supply/demand issue this creates for the cat population by utilizing rescues and foster homes in the community, but many do not do that. It seems that many shelter directors have just decided there are too many cats, and nothing can be done about it but too catch and kill them all. I calculated the annual demand for pet cats in my county at 3,200 cats. Last year, the shelter adopted out only 414, and killed 2,300. All this killing is blamed on overpopulation, yet a rescue group is importing cats to our local PetSmart for adoption. Call me crazy, but I think my local shelter director should have a better handle on the situation than that.
    The human population does truly need to be diligent about spaying and neutering to control the cat population, though. In my area, it would help if there were more affordable options. We’ve gotten our non-profit status so we can work on making that happen, since the shelter director is not very interested in doing it. And they call themselves a Humane Society (sigh).

    1. Thank you so much, Laura, for your response back. :) I feel like I get it now. I’m not really familiar with cat-related issues because I’ve never had one, I’ve always been more interested in dogs and had them instead. Them going into heat/getting pregnant more often would probably be a large cause of this, since it’s probably a supply/demand issue. I just wasn’t really aware about cat’s cycles in general. Anyway, thanks again! And yes I agree, humane societies should really help in that department! :)

  11. This is all common sense. I think the bigger issue is, why are they people most important to the welfare of the shelter animals apparently devoid of humanity? Hire the right people, get the right results.

  12. I haven’t read everything everyone else has written but as someone whose two dogs were obtained based on internet photos and write-ups, here are the minimum requirements from my point of view in terms of for electronic marketing.

    1. Get the breed or breed mix as close to correct as possible. If the dog looks like a corgi but is labeled a retriever, no one looking for a corgi is going to find him.

    2. Have some way to identify the dog to a potential adopter. Names are nice, but at least an intake number. I have phoned a pathetic shelter who had neither and had to identify the dogs based on the physical description from the posted photos ( i.e. “Do you still have that medium-sized black dog with the white marking on the left side of his head?”)

    3. At least two good photographs. One should show the dog’s face, preferably as he looks relaxed, and one the body styling. So that if no one at the shelter really knows what breed it is, the dog can still be identified. I remember a case where a dog identified by the shelter as a rottie mix turned out to be a PB Tibetan mastiff. Who knew? And that way you don’t drive all the way to the shelter to pick up a Saint that turns out to be only 24″ high.

    4. Minimum write up of salient features: temperament (e.g.high, low, medium activity, is fearful, etc.), gets on well with others or not, health care known or given by shelter.

  13. What NOT to do – describe the pet as “grumpy” or “needy.” I’m sure we can all come up with plenty of alternatives that wouldn’t immediately turn someone off.

  14. My local shelter always takes intake pictures. They’re not the greatest pictures, but they are open to tips from rescues, volunteers and others. The intake pictures are posted to facebook the same day the dog comes in, in the hopes that the owner will be found, rescues become interested and can make plans during the three day stray hold, or adopters can make plans to come by and see the dog. This is the ideal that all shelters should strive towards. It only takes a few minutes and some effort with a squeaker toy and some treats and you can get some acceptable photos.

    Later on if the dog is still at the shelter a local photographer comes and does a collage of professional photos. The photographer gets experience taking photos and working with animals and trying different techniques. And of course it can be rewarding when the dog is adopted due to the beautiful photos. Not every shelter may have a professional photographer near or willing to volunteer their time and equipment, but volunteers can also set up great photos.

    All aspects of marketing, from the name of the shelter, the sign out front, the appearance of the building, etc. should be considered. But an online presence with photos are a definite must. If the shelter is not open, the photos will market the pets up for adoption from the adopter’s home computer or cell phone. If the shelter is taking good photos and updating listings right away, the adopter can see which pets are up for adoption, which pets are still under stray hold, what they look like, the expression in their eyes and on their faces…

    I would also encourage videos. A video can show how fido is outside of a cage, in the grass. A dog can be put through a series of tricks or show how he/she can play fetch. And the adopter can see this before they go to the shelter. It would be best if the shelter is open for more hours so people can adopt as well, but the shelter should also be doing their utmost to market the pets online so people can search through adoptable pets while the shelter is closed. And the website can list the adoption fee, requirements for adoption, tips for adopting a new pet, local businesses (like veterinarians, trainers, or pet stores), and the adoption application.

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