Reminder to Shelters: The Public is Your Friend

I have so many pet peeves when it comes to shelters, it’s a good thing I have a blog.  Today’s pet peeve:  Shaming the public when a shelter takes in an abused or neglected pet who gets tons of adoption inquiries.  The applicants, who are responding out of compassion for a shelter pet in need, are collectively scolded for not adopting one of the other pets at the facility who will perhaps wind up in the dumpster.

First off, it’s not the public’s fault that the shelter is killing animals instead of doing its job and many people are unaware that in fact, most shelters do not actually shelter.  Secondly, when I see an outpouring of sympathy for a shelter pet from potential adopters, the last thing I want to do is wag my finger in their faces.  Shelters normally have to work hard to draw people in but in this case, people are coming to the shelter, seeking to adopt.  Carpe diem!

Instead of berating the so-called irresponsible public for not taking home a scared Lab mix hiding at the back of the cage after learning that the emaciated spaniel mix on the news is already spoken for, why not capitalize on the public’s interest?  If I had Tinkerbell, the (fictional) emaciated spaniel with dozens of adoption apps, I would make every dog in the place Tinkerbell’s friend.

Take the scared Lab mix out of the cage to play with Tinkerbell.  Give Tinkerbell a Beagle snuggle buddy.  Take her on walks with a terrier mix.  Invite the media back to the shelter for a follow up story on how Tinkerbell has an adopter but Tinkerbell’s play buddy, naptime friend and exercise pal will be lonely without her and are still hoping to find their special someone.  Post pictures online of Tinkerbell with each of her doggie pals and tell how she made a difference in their lives at the shelter.  Encourage the compassionate public to consider adopting Tinkerbell’s friends.  Explain that she touched so many in the community but especially the dogs she made friends with at the shelter.

In short, get rid of: “Oh you’re interested in the pet who was on TV? Well she’s already got an approved adopter you jerk!”  Replace with:  “You saw Tinkerbell on TV?  Thankfully she has a home waiting for her but I am concerned about her friend Rocky here.  They nap together every afternoon and he’s going to be so lonely when she is well enough to go home.”

22 thoughts on “Reminder to Shelters: The Public is Your Friend

  1. That is brilliant.

    And yes, shelters NEED TO MARKET THEIR ANIMALS. And no, “URGENT, DIES TOMORROW” doesn’t count as marketing.

  2. Thoughtful post.

    Shelters that attract interested people, and can benefit from them as potential volunteers, seem to have the most success overall.

  3. I have lots of pet peeves too. One bothering me this morning are facilities that have policies like this: “Residents of xxxxx County and adjacent counties may adopt pets from xxxxx County Animal Shelter with proper identification required.” Still do not understand the rational for such a rule. Perhaps some reader might clue me in?

  4. Those sounds like great ideas! While not myself a shelter worker, it has bothered me, too, how it seems a common scenario, some one sad story pet gets featured in a public way, or one little group of pets in some abuse raid/rescue, and multiple people all want it/them, but when told they are taken, they aren’t interested in other ones available.
    Maybe that’s why the common practice of inventing sad tear-jerking false histories for all the others? Hoping to trigger the same kind of response for all the others? Which I think backfires anyway, people don’t like realizing their emotions are being toyed with to get them to do something, they feel tricked. And like you point out, then shaming them for not going for what in marketing is called “bait and switch”…they saw one “product” advertised, made them want it, but when they try to go get it, they are told its not available, and the saleperson is pitching them an alternate product? Think about how much this kind of shelter pet situation is so like that marketing game.
    I’ve said, and stand by, that triggering emotions of urgent compassion, and intense “emergency” response to “rescue” some poor little thing, is NOT a good reason for aquiring a new pet, and therefore for trying to bring in potential adopters. It is a valid reason to rescue an animal from a dangerous emergency situation, but not for aquiring a new pet. I have, many have, reacted to pull an animal out of an immediately dangerous situation, to help it, knowing full well I could not and would not be keeping that animal for myself, adding it permanently to my own pet household.
    The foster/adoption systems involving children used to use the same kind of tactic, and found it did not work well for either getting any particular “featured” child into the right home, or for attracting potential adopting familes for all the children in need.
    I think your ideas are on a good track, presenting, “marketing”, the whole “community’ of pets at a shelter needing homes, rather than individual “units” of the “product.”

  5. This is kinda how we got P’Gell. That is, we inquired about one cat shown on PetFinder, and were told – ‘that kitten has a home now, but if you’re interested in a special-needs adoption, we’ve another injured kitten who’s almost healed enough to adopt out ….’ And lo, we were hooked.

    As marketing goes, it’s pretty simple.

    1. That’s great. It’s not “bait and switch”, it’s simply redirecting the consumer to a similar product of the same price. You know what the person’s interest is and you’ve got the type of product they are interested in so go ahead and tell them about it!

      1. Yes, and not only we were sent info and photos by email immediately on our cautiously positive response, but also updates every few days until she was ready for her introduction. Which – for the cost of a little time – got us emotionally invested and kept us on the hook.

    2. Certainly there are going to be those such as yourself that are open to that redirection. It is the ones that aren’t that was being questioned, why it happens so often as it does. That’s clearly not how you handled it when told the featured pet was no longer available. But many do react that way, and I proposed why some of those may do so.

      1. Have you asked people who’ve turned away? Thing is, speculation in the absence of data is unlikely to actually answer the question. Mind, people are also unlikely to answer this sort of survey entirely truthfully, but that’s another issue – and the untruths told may well be informative in themselves, since the tendency is to give the ‘right’ answer, the most socially acceptable one and the one people feel the surveyor wants.

        Here’s my speculation, for what it’s worth: in such cases a number of the people who apply won’t be ‘in the market’ for a pet – rather, they’re making an impulse offer of a home to a specific pet in need, one whose story has touched them deeply. They’re already to some extent emotionally invested, and so, when that pet isn’t available, they aren’t prepared to take in another.

  6. The culture at AC departments is ingrained and negative. While at Montgomery County TN – I had to repeat repeat repeat multiple times a day – how to respond to the public. The ACOs were rude, and negative. They were trained this way by a 10 year Director and since they were long term employees – it was really hard to fire them. I mean REALLY hard. In Fact – after they fired ME for rocking the boat so much as the new Director – employees that I fired were hired back! And some were given promotions and raises! Now the culture and the shelter is back to worse than it was. Filthy, rude, lazy, and killing.

  7. Very well expressed, as always. I get a little miffed at the people who want the pathetic celebrity dogs, but this would be a great way to get people who want a pet to get one less famous.

    1. Maybe with those that aren’t interested in a different pet, it IS the “celebrity” aspect that’s involved. To be able to say, We have that dog that was on tv, in the news feature story. Fame by proxy? By now owning the “famous” pet?

      1. Or maybe it’s just you feel bad for that particular pet, you have that bit of emotion driving you. When another animal is offered, you don’t have that investment, and you’re less likely to accept.

        Like when one pup in the litter, or one dog from a group, ‘grabs’ you, you’re more likely to get a new dog than if none of them have that effect. Even though, apart from that one emotional factor, you’re in the same situation.

  8. I was once told that for an audience to care about the main character in a story, that character has to be shown giving or receiving affection at the very beginning of the tale. If the shelter animals in your example are depicted giving and receiving affection with each other, they right away become like the main character in a good story. Such a great idea, and so much better than scolding the audience.

  9. I agree. I believe education and giving alternatives is the best option. When an animal is featured on tv people flock to adopt it but the shelters don’t capitalize on the fact that you’ve got the public’s interest why not advertise for volunteers, or other animals up for fostering it things needed. Berating people will get you no where.

  10. My beef…..There is a lack of good communication and a good relationship with the shelters. …they should work together….I don’t see that, I hear too many “oops, we killed that one” even tho supposedly the shelter was contacted a particular dog had a rescue.I don’t think the name calling serves a positive purpose. Obviously, something is amiss as I just wonder if they are really mistakes or rescues piss them off with their comments and the dogs pay with their life.

  11. Well written.

    Another topic about shelters…Shelters, do you want people to do the responsible thing and relinquish their animals when they can no longer care for them (for whatever the reason) or would you prefer they just turn them out in unsafe/harmful conditions? I have seen some of our local shelters employees write diatribes on facebook about the people that relinquish their pets. It seems rude and unprofessional to spew that everywhere, yet when they find this neglected animal they are just as livid.

  12. I love this idea and think it is worth trying (and keeping) if it saves more lives. I believe that people may not be in the market but are grabbed by a certain story, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they would reject other alternatives outright. It might be at that point that they recognize that they are ready for a new family member and the celebri-pet’s friend or other homeless soul might be the perfect alternative. Amazon’s “You might also like” feature seems to do well enough.

  13. For all of you nay-sayers that offer that the public is “emotionally invested” in that one animal and won’t take another, please stop drinking the kool-aid. If one more animal is saved by this approach, it’s worth trying. What is the matter with those of you who won’t try because it “might not work.” How do live with that kind of crushing pessimism?

  14. I agree that this approach makes sense. Twice in my life I’ve been so touched by a cat’s story that I rushed down to adopt even though I hadn’t been considering adopting another animal prior to that time. In each case I ended up adopting a different cat instead. I found that once my heart was open to the idea of adding a pet to my family, I couldn’t just leave empty handed after finding out the pet whose story brought me in was not a good fit for my family. Granted, neither of these situations included a “famous” pet, but I disagree that it’s always the fame that is biggest draw. I think it’s the story that touches people’s heart and it makes sense to capitalize on that to get other pets adopted.

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