Look What You’ve Done Now

“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” – John Burroughs

maricopa co dog

Shelter dog in a bin, as pictured on PetHarbor.com.


lex co dog

Shelter dog chokepoled to the ground, as pictured on PetHarbor.com.


rutherford co cat

Bloody shelter cat in a cage, as pictured on PetHarbor.com.

Be Here Now: Loving Pets Available in Shelters

I was researching a public shelter and couldn’t find a website for the facility so visited its page on Petfinder.  At the top of that page, the shelter had a quote from another website which reads, in part:

ALL SHELTER DOGS WERE ONCE NORMAL PUPPIES eager to learn how to live with people. Yet far too many dogs are surrendered to shelters largely because their owners were unaware of how to prevent predictable puppy/adolescent behavior, temperament and training problems.

While I understand the desire to promote responsible puppy ownership, putting this quote on a shelter’s webpage is a terrible idea because it translates to:

ALL SHELTER DOGS ARE ABNORMAL. They were once normal but that time has passed. As adult shelter dogs, they don’t want to learn how to live with people. It’s not their fault they are defective. Their ignorant former owners saddled them with the behavioral, temperament and training problems they now have.

Myth:  Shelter dogs are damaged goods.  There is a reason they are sitting in a shelter.

Reality:  Shelter dogs are dogs, just like owned pets.  They come in all varieties of behavior, temperament and training, just like owned pets.  They may have had an ignorant owner in the past or a loving owner who was simply unable to care for them any longer or perhaps they haven’t had an owner in quite some time.  Verifiable information about the pet’s past is often not available.

Nearly all dogs are happy to learn how to do what is required of them in order to have a place within a family home.  This is true for dogs adopted from shelters as well as dogs obtained from friends, family or other sources.  Adopters should expect to put some work into their new pet – not because he came from a shelter but because he is a dog.  Adopters can also expect to experience the joys of living with a companion animal.

Wendy, former and current normal dog, was adopted from a shelter and readily took to her bed hog training.

Wendy, former and current normal dog, was adopted from a shelter and readily took to her bed hog training.

Shelter dogs don’t dwell on their past.  Neither should we.  Every dog is an individual with the right to live, love and be loved.  At most public shelters, animals’ right to live is violated by the very people we pay to protect them from harm.  The notion that anyone at a shelter would do anything to discourage adoptions, and thus increase the number of pets going to the kill room, is tragic.

If you are considering adopting a shelter pet, don’t be fooled by the myths.  A dog sitting in a shelter is a dog – no more, no less.  It’s possible they might be a little more appreciative than average because you saved their life but you can probably manage.

The Case for Free Shelter Pets

Wendy, adopted from a shelter for free, loved and valued.

Wendy, adopted from a shelter for free, loved and valued.

Free.  People get excited when they see the word in front of most anything – except pets.  In recent years, anyone who advertises or seeks a free pet has been subject to attack from seemingly well-intentioned animal advocates and probably alienated about the entire concept of adopting a pet in need.  If you are giving a pet away for free, you are scolded for ringing the dinner bell for every dogfighter, animal torturer and other animal abuser in a six state range.  If you are looking for a free pet, you are smeared as an animal abuser (because they are the only people who want pets for free and if any doubt, see previous sentence) and told that if you can’t afford to pay for a pet, you shouldn’t be allowed to have one (because you are too stupid to know that pets come with expenses which obviously your broke ass will never be able to pay).

The teensy problem is that all this is wrong, so wrong, totally wrong and wrongissimo.  To my knowledge, there is no research that backs up any claim regarding free pets and negative outcomes that exceed the standard amount of negative outcomes which can be expected with all pet adoptions.  The data that we do have tells us what should be obvious:  people love their free pets just as much as they love pets they paid money for because they bond with the animal, not the sales receipt.

Nathan Winograd has written about the unfounded fears of giving away shelter animals:

From the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine to the ASPCA, from Maddie’s Fund to the experiences of shelters across the country, every study that has looked at the issue has concluded that waiving adoption fees—in other words, giving the animals away for free—does not impact either the quality of the quantity of the adoptive home, but does increase the number of lives saved.

Lives saved. Sounds good.

And to reiterate, people love FREE.  All people.  As Christie Keith writes:

Free pet adoptions are not aimed at people who otherwise couldn’t afford a pet, and that’s not primarily who they attract. Just as Nordstrom holds special sales only for its best and, presumably, wealthiest customers, just as car dealers and appliance stores and luxury hotels have special promotions, shelters and rescue groups who do free adoptions know that the “free” part is a marketing strategy, not a hand-out.

Free and special price promotions are designed to be attention grabbers. They also serve to focus people on pet adoption not in a “someday when I get around to it” kind of way, but in a “better go this weekend because it’s exciting, fun, and I’ll save money!” kind of way.

Dismissing a group as a whole because of misconceptions about who wants free pets is keeping shelter animals out of homes. And that means resources are tied up, pets are kept in cages or taking up valuable space in foster homes, and tragically for millions of shelter pets every year, it means they end up in the kill room.

This is usually where the folks who like to say “There are fates worse than death” chime in. Let me be clear: There are no fates worse than death. Where there is life, there is hope. While I am in no way denying that animal abusers exist, I know that they represent a tiny minority of pet owners and that at least some of them are willing to pay for the pets they abuse. (Does the name Michael Vick ring any bells?)  Most people try to do right by their pets and love them as family members.  Most adoption applicants will fall into this category, regardless of the fee being charged for the animal.

While Nathan Winograd advocates for reasonable adoption screening, a practice I too support, he makes clear that even without screening, adopted is better than dead:

[I]n shelters where animals are being killed by the thousands, and where they are horrifically neglected and abused in the process, I’d rather they do “open adoptions” if it means getting more animals out of there and doing so quicker because in truth, there is no greater threat to companion animals in this country than the so-called “shelter” in the community where those animals reside. Shelter killing is the leading cause of death for healthy companion animals in the U.S.


[I]f the worst thing that could happen to them if we gave them away is the very thing that will happen to […] them if they stay at the shelter, is the cost-benefit analysis even close?

Although it is my wish that more shelters would give away more pets more often, I think it’s appropriate to offer some additional lifesaving marketing ideas which could be used in conjunction with or as an alternative to fee waived adoptions:

  • Offer low cost promotions in conjunction with holidays and other special events:  $4 or $17.76 adoption fees for July 4th or $11 adoption fees for June 11, Just One Day event for example.
  • 10 for 10 (can be used with any numbers):  Pick out the 10 animals in most urgent need of homes (long timers, elderly pets, etc.) and offer them for $10.  As each animal gets adopted, replace him with another so the promotion can run continuously.
  • Pay what you will:  Offer animals for a fee of any amount of the adopter’s choosing.
  • Donations appreciated:  Offer pets for free while letting adopters know they are welcome to make a donation of any amount.
  • Run promotions based on physical characteristics:  Tabby Tuesdays or Big and Beautiful Fat Cats for example.
  • Peruse this online book for more marketing ideas.

This adoption promo ad is from 2011 but still a favorite of mine:

Many shelters have been successfully using free adoption promotions in order to save lives for quite awhile.  But among animal advocates, there remains a stigma – baseless as it is.  Let’s embrace the word free.  If you are looking for a word to replace it – one that you can hang your Hate hat on – use kill.  The people who needlessly kill animals instead of sheltering them are deserving of your lectures, not the people who want to save a shelter pet’s life by giving them a home.

Knock, Knock: Santa’s at the Door and He’s Got a Puppy

Pets make great gifts and I’m glad to see many shelters are finally coming around to that view, even if some only embrace the concept once a year.  Christmas deliveries of adopted shelter pets to their new families has grown in popularity and along with it, some long overdue myth-busting.

Staff from the New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals dressed up as elves and delivered six kittens to adopters on Christmas Day:

“Studies show that animals given as gifts are much less likely to be surrendered or given up because of the emotional attachment they give to the owner,” [director Jen] Corbin said.

Dressed as Santa and his helpers, staff from St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, New Jersey delivered adopted pets in wrapped boxes to adopters on Christmas:

The holidays can be a great time to adopt, [CEO Heather] Camissa says, because families are often at home and have time to spend with the pets and to acclimate them to their new home.

Also delivering pets to their new homes on Christmas morning were the Fairfax Co shelter in VA, volunteers from the Nevada Humane Society in Reno, the Charleston Animal Society in SC, and the Franklin Co shelter and the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Maine.  And an adorable 9 year old girl in New Jersey got a pair of pitbull puppies delivered to her home on Christmas morning, courtesy of the Cumberland Co SPCA.  The pictures will cure what ails ya.

Did your local shelter deliver pets on Christmas?

MAS Moves to Increase “Time and Space” Killings with Photo Ban

Memphis Animal Services (MAS) is a pet killing facility which has long cited “time and space” as its primary reason for killing dogs and cats.  In order to counter the alleged time and space issues at MAS, a group called Memphis Pets Alive has been photographing pets at the pound weekly, sharing them on Facebook.  In this way, owners looking for lost pets have an opportunity to see clear photos on an easily navigable and popular website – a service the pound does not provide.  In addition, rescuers and potential adopters can see the pets currently at the pound and begin making arrangements to get the pets out alive once the holding period expires, a date which Memphis Pets Alive notes on its posts.

The marketing of pets immediately upon impound is an important tool used by shelters wishing to increase their return-to-owner and overall live release rates as well as reducing their average length of stay.  MAS does not market pets upon impound, selectively choosing to photograph only some pets, using seemingly arbitrary criteria, and list them on a user-unfriendly website not designed for the public to navigate.  But Memphis Pets Alive has helped bridge the gap by photographing pets every week and sharing them on Facebook.

This week however, Memphis Pets Alive was informed by pound director James Rogers that they would no longer be allowed to photograph pets who are still within their mandatory holding period.  The “review date”, as MAS terms it on its cage cards, must be met before anyone is allowed to photograph the pets.

The Tiny Problem with That:  MAS typically kills pets the day of, or the morning after, their so-called review date.  Review is MAS-speak for Kill.  Some examples of pets who have been killed by MAS on, or within hours of, their review date:

  • Beauty and Rocko – two young, healthy dogs whose owner wanted them back.
  • Two owned dogs who were supposed to be quarantined at MAS for 10 days but who were killed after 72 hours because “review date”.
  • 3 year old mixed breed dog who was impounded after the owner fell behind on utility bills and killed by MAS on her review date.

In addition, the following pets listed on the Memphis Pets Alive Facebook page are just some who were recently listed as having been killed on their review date:

Dog #265867 at the Memphis pound, listed as killed on his review date.

Dog #265867 at the Memphis pound, listed as killed on his review date.  [Photo by Memphis Pets Alive]

Tragically, these dead pets are the “lucky” ones, in terms of MAS killing, since they were allowed to live until their review date.  MAS also kills pets before their review date.  Nola, a lost dog whose owner went to MAS trying to find her, was killed before her review date.  And pets who are owner surrendered do not get the “benefit” of a review date at all.  MAS often kills them upon impound.

Needless to say, shelter pet advocates raised hell about the photo ban.  After all, MAS is still killing pets for “time and space” but now actively blocking efforts by advocates to reduce the supposed time and space burdens placed upon the $7 million pet killing facility.  The city posted a response on its website which explains that the reason for the dick move ban is because MAS doesn’t want a potential adopter to see a pet’s photograph on Facebook and mistakenly believe the animal is immediately available for adoption.  Because MAS cares, really, so much:

MAS views the emotional trauma of such an unfortunate misunderstanding too great a risk[…]

I wonder how much of an emotional trauma it is to have your pet killed by MAS because of “time and space”, such as has happened to so many Memphis pet owners.  But I guess Memphis is all full up on caring.  The city can’t possibly care one iota more.  It’s too great a risk to consider more caring.  So please everyone, stop bothering MAS about its enormous level of caring.  Just leave it alone and quit bringing up how hugely much MAS cares.  Because the caring, it’s bulging and gigantic.  And space is an issue.

(Thanks Arlene for sending me info on this story.)

LOVE is Positive: An Interview with Ann Brownell of UPAWS, Part 2

Note:  If you missed Part 1 of this interview or you have yet to meet Ann Brownell, read this first.  Part 2 is below.  My questions are in bold and everything in italics was written by Ann.

6. You frequently contribute to the blog’s Open Threads, both to promote UPAWS and to encourage readers to find out about what’s happening at their local shelter. Why do you feel it’s important to maintain an active presence online?

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

Having an active online presence is essential, especially nowadays. People are used to finding things fast, they look on the internet for most everything, including when they are looking to add a furry friend to their family. Shelters have websites that feature pets and all the things happening, as well as a donation button. An active Facebook and Twitter page are also very important. Having your pets seen on Petfider.com and as many other online adoption sites is very important. UPAWS uses the Pet Adoption Portal by Rescuegroups.org. With one entry, your pets will load into numerous sites. All no cost!

Communicating every single day with your online community is vital! You must remind them that you are there. Don’t let the public forget about you. Every day UPAWS posts online a few times. Whether it’s a promotion (UPAWS runs many), plea, pet to promote, fundraiser, update on who was adopted (done daily), stray pets posting or to thank our supporters – we are active online every single day. Please note, always thank your supporters, volunteers, adopters, community, the media, and fans, daily! Yes, every day if possible. It is that important!

7. How do you avoid becoming lost in the endless stream of individual animals and shelters in need with your online pleas?

The way we don’t get lost or ignored is that UPAWS does not ask constantly. We are not every other week asking for a special plea for a pet. We feel that eventually will be like crying wolf. We ask maybe a few times a year. When we do ask, we are an open book, honest and true to that animal that needs help. Also our community knows UPAWS is doing everything possible to help that pet (all are pets). They also know that when they give a donation for a special needs pet, we are using it for that pet and other emergency pets in need.

We make it easy for them to donate by using our Firstgiving site. We set a goal of what amount we need and the Firstgving bar will show the progress. People love that and love to help!

Let me share a heartwarming example. This plea for Buddy Holly was put on our Facebook page and website at 10pm on New Year’s Eve. Within 13 hours we had surpassed the $800 needed by over $400!

Also please keep the public actively involved by thanking them and posting photos and updates.

8. In addition to maintaining an online presence, what other ways do you connect with the community on behalf of UPAWS?

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

UPAWS has a variety of ways. PSA’s to all our local radio stations, newspapers and TV stations whenever we have something to promote, we have a Pet of the Week on one radio station, Mon. – Fri. one of our local TV stations features a rotation of shelter pets from the area, UPAWS has a pet for adoption featured every Thursday on another TV station. We are featured each Wednesday on the Pet Page of a local newspaper – this paper features pets whose ads are sponsored by caring individuals and 3 other UPAWS pets (sponsored by the newspaper itself) as well as whatever else we send to feature that week, which may be a fundraiser, promotion, thank you or event such as our Spay/Neuter offers.

One local radio station DJ is a huge supporter and she has a Mon – Fri UPAWS featured segment which is sponsored by a local vet.

We use flyers for adoption promotions, fundraisers, events, Spay/Neuter offers and pets for adoption and those are posted throughout the community. Our 12 page Pet Gazette newsletter is mailed 3 times a year to 4000 supporters and another 1000 are distributed around the community and at the shelter.

Our manager has an online newsletter that she sends out once a month. Our President and Manager produce a UPAWS direct solicitation letter in color that is sent 3 times a year.

A local Mall has a special area where we have a 6 foot three sided wooden kiosk that has photos of our pets, newsletters, flyers etc.

We will ask to have features in our newspaper, radio and TV stations all the time to promote whatever we have going on. Our local media and community are amazing and very supportive.

BTW, the majority of these things cost UPAWS nothing. Of course the printing of the newsletters and mailers cost money, but please remember, these bring in donations, adopters and supporters too.

9. UPAWS sometimes runs promotions for things unrelated to pet adoption – e.g. nail trim specials.  What benefits are there in getting people to visit the shelter for these types of events?

There are many benefits such as not only offering the public a great service but to bring them into your open, inviting shelter to adopt, foster, volunteer or donate or just to say hello and visit. If they are not familiar with your shelter or programs, it is a great way to introduce them to your services, programs and pets. All good things!

10. There are many elements to the No Kill Equation and each aspect plays an important role in a no kill shelter’s success.  That said, for those shelters wanting to do better but not prepared to implement all the programs of the No Kill Equation today, can you recommend some no cost improvements that could be immediately made by a volunteer and would likely result in increased lifesaving?

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

If you are one person, or one volunteer and you would like to make a lifesaving impact, approach your shelter and offer to take the photos and/or write the bios of their pets for adoption. Ask them to let you load them onto their website or other sites they have for adopted pets. Be consistent. Use these tips and you will be on your way to saving lives.

Shelters can contact the local media, TV, radio and newspapers. Fax or email them PSA’s (Public Service Announcements) about certain pets or what positive things are happening at your shelter. The media is looking for upbeat and positive news! Plus who doesn’t love a great looking, happy pet for adoption. And it is free!

Put together a great looking Facebook page for your shelter. Update it every day with good news, positive things. Ask your fans to share and help. People want to help and they will if you ask them in a positive manner.

Wish list drives – our manager implemented Wish List drives during the warm months. She asks local grocery stores or other stores like Wal-Mart and pet supply stores if we can have volunteers outside their store on a certain day to collect Wish List items. We advertise on our website and Facebook. Not only do we get lots of wish list donations but we also get a lot of cash donations (so be prepared and have canisters at your drives). It is a win-win proposition because the shelter gets needed supplies and the hosting retailer gets business from the sales supporting the drive. Plus, they get public recognition from the big thank you I know you will be giving them through social media, your web page, and newsletter!

Have an Open House. Or offer $5 nail trims to the public.

Ask some local businesses to donate some pop and baked goods. Run an awesome discount adoption promotion at the same time. Advertise with those free PSA’s. Watch the public come!

TechSoup is a great resource for non-profits to get low cost programs and software for their shelter.

And don’t forget that smiles, thank yous, and a welcoming atmosphere are all free and come with life-saving dividends. Visitors who are treated with respect, compassion, and kindness will become your adopters, donors, volunteers, and good will ambassadors in your community.

Above all, spread the good word and always be positive about what your shelter is doing.

Thank you Ann for providing these informative, detailed answers and for sharing your wonderful shelter pet photos.

I’d like to interview more people like Ann. If you know a shelter employee, volunteer or advocate who does an extraordinary job advocating for shelter animals, please e-mail me their contact information if you think they might have time to answer some questions about what they do.

LOVE is Positive: An Interview with Ann Brownell of UPAWS, Part 1

Regular readers are familiar with both UPAWS – Marquette County’s open admission, no kill shelter in MI – and its Pet Promoter in Chief, Ann Brownell. For those who aren’t, I asked Ann to preface her answers to my interview questions with a short bio. My questions are in bold and everything in italics was written by Ann. Part 1 of this interview focuses on marketing individual animals and Part 2, which will run next weekend, is primarily about marketing the shelter itself.


Ann Brownell

My name is Ann Brownell and I have been volunteering since 1997 at The Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter. I was at UPAWS (formerly called Marquette County Humane Society) during the years of killing when our save rate as low as 34%. In 2006 our high-kill shelter began making crucial changes which put it on the road to becoming the open admission No-Kill shelter it is today. I am honored to have played a role in that journey and am proud to tell anyone who will listen that in 2013 we are at a 97% save rate.

My volunteering background includes cleaning cat cages for the first 5 years, editor of the newsletter, member of the fundraiser committee, Chair of our largest profit fundraiser Strut Your Mutt, Community Outreach, Website and Facebook page admin, Pet Promotions and shelter photographer. I have been the volunteer Pet Promotions and photographer for more than 10 years. I was on the Board in 2002-2004 and have been currently on the UPAWS Board since 2008 as V.P.

I have 30 years of retail background which I think has helped in marketing and promoting UPAWS and most importantly our shelter pets.
Please read my full bio and background with UPAWS at this link.

1. Shelter pet photos help get animals returned to their owners, adopted, fostered and rescued and they aid in fundraising. In your experience, how does the quality of the photos impact these outcomes?

HUGE!! The quality of the photo can mean the pet lives or is killed in many shelters across the nation! A good quality, positive looking photo is essential to helping pets find homes, being returned to their homes and attracting more supporters. In this day and age, people don’t have to drive to the shelter to see the pets for adoption. It’s as easy as a click of your mouse to see who is available to be part of that person’s life and family. A good photo can draw the attention of people who may not otherwise have noticed an animal and entice them to drive out to the shelter for a closer look. These pets did not ask to be homeless, they long for loving homes. They are not cast-offs and should be given the respect they deserve by showing them as the worthy and desirable pets they are.

In the case of pets being returned to their owners, a good clean photo can focus on the size, markings and weight of the pet, making it that much easier for the owner to identify their pet and get them back home. And contrary to what many people think, anyone can lose their pet – it is irresponsible of shelters to play the blame game. I could lose my cat with every precaution I believe I have taken. The goal of a good shelter is to help that pet find their way back home and part of that solution is advertising the lost pet with a photo and description.

Good quality, happy, snugly, detailed, well lit pet photos are wonderful for fundraising. UPAWS has found that people want to help but they want to see that their donations are going toward saving lives. UPAWS will never, ever play the card of “this poor sad looking pet behind these cage bars” photo plea. We just don’t advertise that way. We found that it turns people off and makes them feel bad and sad, neither of which will make them want to come to your shelter.

In pet adoptions, a positive, clean, clear in focus and well lit photo with good detail will make your pet stand out among the 1000’s of pets available, meaning, that a potential adopter will be drawn to that happy, clear, good looking pet photo which will bring them into your open inviting shelter to adopt, foster, volunteer, donate or just to say hello and visit. All GREAT things! What’s the saying? You never get a second chance to make a good first impression!

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

2. What specific qualities are you aiming for when photographing shelter pets? What things do you want to avoid in your photos?

A great quality photo will be in-focus, detailed, well lit, happy looking and close up. Bottom line is positivity!! No sad, behind-the-cage, grey, dark, sitting-in-a-concrete-dirty-cold-looking kennel, out-of-focus pictures will make anyone feel good. It sure will be more difficult to get them to want to get in the car and head to your shelter and adopt.

You want to have the person looking at the photo to see that pet as part of their home and as a beloved family member. You want to touch people’s emotions – get them to want to come and meet that positive, happy, clean-looking pet.

For Dogs – have a volunteer or staff member help and take the dog outside on a leash (try to never take the photo of a dog in their kennel – it is very depressing). If you have to take the dog’s photo inside, take the dog out of their kennel and find a colorful background. It has been freezing here in the U.P. One day I had many dog photos to take but it was so cold, we found a colorful blanket in the bedding, hung it up and ta-da, great dog photos!

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

Make sure to get down to the dog’s level – don’t shoot the dog from a viewpoint hovering above them. Kneel down, lie down, put the dog on a bench, have your helper hold the dog up – bottom line is to get at the dog’s eye level. Use a dog treat or squeaker, or my trick, toss a rock over your head and get ready to get that shot! Get the dogs’ attention!

If the dog is too wiggly or nervous, take the dog for a good walk or run – when the dog returns, they will be more relaxed, panting (which looks like smiling) and all-in-all will be ready for a great photo. If a dog is still not settling down, have your helper kneel down and put their arm around the dog – makes for a nice shot too since it is nice to have interaction with people in your photos.

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

Get that great close up shot of the dog’s face, eyes, and smile. If you have the ability to have a couple photos, you can add one as a full shot if you want.

Also take the flash off when taking pet photos – you don’t want those shining eyes in the photo. Relax, don’t hurry, and talk in a happy, cheerful manner. Animals know if you are stressed out or in a hurry and this will show in the photos. Keep everything upbeat, positive and have fun…remember, you’re helping save lives!

For Cats – it’s great again to have a helper but it isn’t as necessary as with the dogs. Again, please don’t take the photo with the cat behind bars of the cage. Avoid photos of cats lying in litter boxes. Have someone help you; wrap the kitty in a colorful blanket and have the person hold the cat. Some of the best shots are with people cuddling with felines. Gives the shot warmth and the person can imagine themselves with the kitty at home as part of their life.


If the cat is in its kennel, open the door (remember no cage bars!) have a feather wand or bag of cat treats that you wave above your head or just at eye level. This will get the cat to look at you – you want a great close up face shot – the warm, big round wide eyed look of the cat. This again is done by getting the cat to look at you with that feather wand, crinkly toy or bag of treats (make sure to give the kitty a treat though!) Use a colorful blanket as a backdrop for the cat to sit or lie on.

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

Another trick I have found is if the cat is lying down in their kennel (say on their Kuranda bed) and you are getting the shine off the back of the kennel stainless steel; put a colorful plastic placemat behind the cat (see example). Not only will it pop but it will take away that shiny cold stainless steel look which you don’t want. And again, no flash as we don’t want shiny glowing eyes.

Editing – Once you get your photos, you’ll want to edit them, by cropping them to an appealing size. Editing will take out all the undesirable things such as a litter box in the background, peoples’ legs, leashes, dog drool etc. If you want to go the extra mile, you can enhance your photos by sharpening and brightening them and by adding soft borders. For years I used Microsoft Digital Image 2006 Suite to edit my photos. I still use this but have recently Adobe Photoshop to edit and enhance my pet photos. Add the pet’s name and, if you wish, the shelter’s logo.

There you go…great photos in the making! There you go…saving lives!

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

There are many great websites to help you with advice on taking great photos. I have been taking the UPAWS photos for 10+ years and have Googled, and learned through reading and gathering information, what works the best. One website that I highly recommend is “One Picture Saves a Life”. Not only does the site have great tips, it goes into the types of cameras and lens that work the best. Please note, you do not need a high-end expensive DSLR camera to take great photos! DSLR’s are recommended and if you or your shelter has one, they are excellent but not necessary. I use a Nikon D7100 DSLR in my photos but have used point and shoots and smart phones in a pinch and they have worked fine. Just keep that flash off and follow the above tips and you’ll be on your way to taking super photos and more importantly, become a part of the solution in helping homeless pets find loving homes.

3. What types of profiles/bios are most helpful in marketing shelter pets?

Keep it positive, happy and upbeat! You want to paint a picture and tell a story of how that pet can become a beloved family member. Describe the dog as a buddy that would love to be your walking pal, snuggle buddy, and best friend, or the kitty as lovely pet to come home to with her calming purr and gentle ways. The reader doesn’t want to be depressed reading the bio. They want to read how wonderful this pet would be in their life. They want to feel good. Tell them how grateful that the pet will be and how it will repay your kindness with hugs, kisses, and unconditional love.

NEVER say this pet has X amount of time or will be euthanized! Don’t threaten or guilt people into adopting. Don’t go on and on with a bunch of negatives like “no kids”, “not house-trained”, “no other animals”. There are ways to address these issues without being negative. The key is to keep it positive. At times switch it up, tell the story from the pet’s point of view. Have the words come from the pet’s mouth.

I learned writing bios the hard way. Many years ago, before UPAWS was No-Kill, some of my bios were angry – not angry at the pet, but angry at the person surrendering that pet and the bios showed that. I even got a few complaints! I really had to sit back, stop, and reflect on what energy and message I was putting out there. Who was I helping writing something negative in the bio? Absolutely no one! Especially not the pet looking for a new home! If what you write isn’t nice, leave it out. Positive, happy, enduring, loving and upbeat are what you want your bios to be, for the pet’s sake.

Our UPAWS staff deserves recognition too as they are always willing to give me a hand with taking dogs out and holding pets for photos. Also our Manager will pitch in and help write bios whenever I need help catching up, or for a fresh outlook or update. We will also do “Staff Favorites” and a staff member will write a bio about why they love a certain pet.

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

4. You’ve mentioned previously about highlighting a pet’s positive attributes without being deceptive in his profile. Could you give us a couple examples of this?

Keep the description positive and upbeat. Think of ways to say things without being a downer.


Dog who jumps on people/has little training:
Zayda is a fun-loving, full of energy, live-life-to-the fullest gal! She knows the commands sit, down and shake and she sure would love to learn more fun tricks with your positive training guidance – especially for a Scooby Snack!

Bounty’s a great dog with a happy-go-lucky, “I love you…do you love me?” personality! Happy, joyful, enthusiastic; this big boy will be up and ready for most any type of adventure! From playing in the yard to chasing a Frisbee…Bounty is ready to go, plus be your faithful buddy all the way! He is smart and eager to learn, Bounty will work hard to please his people pals. He would love to have some training and learn some tricks. He is a fast learner, having learned “sit” quickly and is doing well walking on his leash.

Not good with kids:
He is exuberant with his greetings and a big boy! A home without small children is best for this active, silly boy; he may be a little too exuberant for young ones and possibly unintentionally knock them over.

Separation Anxiety:
Chuck would love his new family unconditionally showing his affection with kisses and tail wags. He gets along with people of all ages and other dogs (loves to wrestle and play!) Chuck would love a person who would be home with him since he loves people so much. Come and meet adorable, lovable, beagle-boy Chuck today.

Yia Yia is loyal, curious and trusting canine. She’ll make a wonderful buddy and would really prefer a home where someone is around with her – she loves her humans so much that she gets sad and has a some separation anxiety when they leave. But she is a very good girl and really just not much out of the pup stage – with a little positive mental and physical training, Yia Yia will be just fine!

No other pets:
Suzie is a delight who loves her people pals and is a bit of a Princess. She longs for a home where she is the only pet, getting the entire limelight to herself; after all, she is a pretty Princess!

5. How do you market shelter pets who are typically challenging to place such as feral cats, dogs who are aggressive with other dogs and elderly animals?

By not writing that something is wrong with them, always look for the sunny side! Here are a few examples:

Cat that is unpredictable:
Bandie has a unique personality and considers herself Queen of the Castle. Bandie likes to do things on her own terms, that including being affectionate with the people she knows and snoozing in her favorite places. Bandie has a personality! She loves to talk and walk around and pretend like she owns the place. She is a fun girl, with a unique personality that deserves a good home. Come meet Bandie today!

Cat that gets over-stimulated easily:
Zilla has a BIG personality!! She LOVES to play and play and play!! Zilla also likes to meet new people on her terms…yup, she likes to be the center of the universe and will let you know that! Zilla likes to be busy…playing, or looking at the birds in the feeder outside the window. Zilla is best placed in a cat savvy home. One who knows cat language – who knows the twitch of an ear, flick of a tail, size of the pupil – and what that means. Most times it means for Zilla – I am done being pet or I want to play and play until I am really tired. We love Zilla and want her to find a great home – she really is a sweet, brave, little gal. This is a best friend in the making, so come meet Zilla if you feel you may be the home for her!

FIV cats:
LOVE is positive…Being FIV or FELV positive doesn’t matter to Jimmy John & Rosie. But you know, being loved does. Caring for a pet with special needs may take less time and money than you think and the love you gain is priceless. They are special kitties and need a special indoor only home – one without other cats or with cats that are also FELV positive.

Dog aggressive with other animals:
Bobby adores all people – all ages, makes, and models! He will play, cuddle, and love you. He wants all the attention and love to himself. Because of this, Buddy prefers to be the only pet. Though he gets along happily with all people, he isn’t too happy with other pets taking his attention, love and food. He wishes to be the only fur-child of the family.

Elderly animals:
Hi, my name is Buddy and I am a 12-year-old, male, neutered, apricot colored, miniature poodle. I belonged to a beloved older couple most of my life – sadly they both have passed away and I am now looking for a new loving home. I was loved all my life and long for the rest of my years to be the same. You know what I miss? I miss sleeping in bed with my Mom – I used to love to snuggle real close to her against her back. She loved that too.

Living in one home since she was a young dog, Lulu had a great life. All of us adore her and are doing all that we can to help her transition (she is now in a caring UPAWS foster home). Miss Lulu is good with children, other dogs and is fine with kittens and cats. Her foster family had this to say about Lulu: “She’s a very quiet girl, doesn’t seem bothered by any of the animals here, enjoys short walks and sniffing around in the snow, hasn’t had any accidents; she slept thru the night with no problems. We haven’t heard her bark, no issues with food. She is a wonderful girl”. Lulu is a gentle soul who will give you pure, unconditional love, kisses and devotion. Lulu has known a family and love for 16 years, and hopes she will be lucky again with a second chance. Open your heart, give Lulu that wish.

Feral or semi-social cats (colony cats):
Grizabella is a gentle little girl with a darling personality. You can most often find her grooming and snuggling with her other feline condo mates. She would do great in a home with another kitty to bond with. Grizabella was found living outdoors with a group of other kitties. It has taken some time for her to adjust to people, but we have slowly seen her open up and blossom. She would need some time to adjust to a new home, but we think after given love and care, you’ll see a wonderful kitty show her true fun and gentle personality.

Thank you Ann for sharing your expertise in shelter pet marketing and for your fabulous photos.

I’d like to interview more people like Ann. If you know a shelter employee, volunteer or advocate who does an extraordinary job advocating for shelter animals, please e-mail me their contact information if you think they might have time to answer some questions about what they do.

Minneapolis Pound Brings the Hammer Down on Volunteers Saving Pets via Facebook

Screengrab of a dog posting on the Friends of MACC Facebook page

Screengrab of a dog posting on the Friends of MACC Facebook page

A couple of years ago, volunteers at Minneapolis Animal Care and Control started a “Friends of” page on Facebook.  MACC wasn’t promoting its own animals online and some of the volunteers were professional photographers who believed that good photos and descriptions posted on social media could help get more pets out of the pound alive.  Kathy Boyd began volunteering about a year ago after being inspired by the success and community involvement of the FoMACC page.  She and the other volunteers would photograph animals and write up summaries of their observations and interactions with pets at the pound so that potential adopters could get some insight into the animal’s personality.  They also gave all the pets names and answered questions from interested parties.

Since its creation, Ms. Boyd estimates that at least 100 people have adopted or fostered pets from the pound due to the FoMACC page on Facebook.  But even while staff at MACC cooperated by supplying information to volunteers, they also complained.  Ms. Boyd was told that staff did not like the extra effort required of them when potential adopters forgot to to make note of an animal’s ID number and instead inquired about a pet by name.  Staff was also reportedly  annoyed by angry phone calls from compassionate pet lovers after the FoMACC administrators moved a pet’s photo into a category reserved for pets killed by the pound, which was a common occurrence.  MACC has historically tried to hide the killing at its facility, failing to report on any animals it deems “unadoptable”.

Around the beginning of summer 2013, things began to change.  MACC staff stopped cooperating with the volunteers and refused to give them information on what happened to individual animals.  The partnership deteriorated, at the animals’ expense.  On November 2, the volunteer coordinator at MACC, Jeanette Weidermeier, called a meeting of the volunteer photographers which Kathy Boyd attended.  It was announced at this meeting that MACC would be using its own photographers, posting its own photos (using PetHarbor via its website) and from now on staff would no longer be sharing information with the FoMACC Facebook page.  A gag order of sorts was imposed upon the volunteers and they were all required to sign forms acknowledging the change in policy.  Ms. Boyd writes:

So, at the meeting on Saturday, Jeanette passed out print copies of the new procedures. One copy for each person to keep, and one to sign. But I got a different piece of paper. Mine was a memo that said, in effect, “Thank you for graciously offering to step in when we needed photographers… and now we can let you go back to your passion – cuddling cats.”

Feeling distraught by MACC effectively killing a successful form of marketing for its animals as well as humiliated for being kicked to the curb in an open meeting, Ms. Boyd resigned. The FoMACC posted about the meeting on Facebook.

When asked about the situation by a local TV station, MACC issued a statement in response.  It reads, in part:

Our new website features the most accurate, real-time information for all of the adoptable and lost animals at MACC and allows for more animals to be seen online than ever before.

I checked the PetHarbor listings on the MACC website yesterday.  There were 5 dogs and 10 cats available for adoption.  While there were a couple dozen additional animals listed in the stray category, there were also duplicate listings there for some of the adoptable animals.  It’s unclear to me how a facility that takes in roughly 4000 animals a year could find only 15 of them adoptable at this time.  If this is MACC’s idea of allowing more animals to be seen online than ever before, I think their idea is clearly a fail.

Screengrab of a dog listed as adoptable on the MACC website.

Screengrab of a dog listed as adoptable on the MACC website.

Thank you Kathy Boyd for speaking out publicly about MACC’s attempt to stifle the First Amendment rights of volunteers and muzzle anyone telling the truth about the needless killing there.  The volunteers have started a petition asking the city pound to reverse its decision and once again permit them to help save animals’ lives through their Facebook page.

Nobody WANTS to Kill Animals – Columbus County Edition

A man in Columbus Co, NC was reportedly keeping dogs in sub-standard conditions and authorities had received complaints from neighbors.  After the man died, ownership of the 13 dogs went to the Columbus Co animal shelter.  Shelter director Rossie Hayes decided to kill all 13 dogs immediately, without ever offering them for adoption or even posting them online.  The first excuse – lack of space – is straight out of Pound Killing 101 and, while unacceptable, isn’t exactly new.  The second excuse though is new to me:

According to Hayes, he had no choice but to euthanize the animals, since his shelter did not have any space and he did not want to violate state law.

“The dogs we had in the animal shelter are already on Facebook, and I’m sure the rescue groups are out there raising money to get them adopted, and vets to come pick them up,” Hayes said.

The 13 dogs who should have been rescued by the shelter after living in what were reported as poor conditions for so long, had to be killed because other dogs were already on Facebook. By this logic – erm… nothing, actually.  [Left side of brain explosion]

Tragically, someone described as an animal rights advocate was interviewed by WECT for the story and demanded to know why dogs who had been at the pound longer weren’t killed to make space for the 13 incoming dogs.  [Right side of brain explosion]

[…]Hayes tells us his shelter has one of the lowest kill rates in our area, and that statistic shows he’s dedicated to saving animals.

Oh thank ponies. Finally a chance to examine something objectively and scientifically. Let’s go look at the Columbus Co pound’s statistics:

Columbus Co pound's 2012 report to the state of NC

Columbus Co pound’s 2012 report to the state of NC

In addition to impounding 55 possums and raccoons – and killing every one of them – the Columbus Co pound killed more than one-third of the dogs and cats in its care last year. Mr. Hayes is stating that the killing of 1541 dogs and cats is in some way illustrative of a dedication to saving animals.  [Remaining bits of head explode]

(Note:  The report states the Columbus Co pound is spending close to $6 grand per animal which I believe is a typo.  Not sure how such a glaring error made it through to the final report.  Maybe the reporting party’s head had exploded during preparation.)

A ray of hope:

Monday night, many animal rights advocates plan to attend the county commissioners meeting to voice their concerns. The county manager tells us, the incident is under investigation.

Please oh please let someone go before the county commissioners and advocate for the right of all shelter animals to live.  Is that too much to ask?

Here’s the part of the post where I normally summarize.  I’m gonna need a minute………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  • 13 dogs HAD TO be killed instead of being rescued by the Columbus Co pound because they weren’t on Facebook and putting them on Facebook would clearly not be an option.  Because Facebook.
  • Killing 1541 dogs and cats in 2012 is proof that the Columbus Co pound director doesn’t want to kill animals.  Because one thousand five hundred forty-one.
  • The person complaining wants to know why 13 other dogs weren’t killed instead.
  • I have no head.

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

Bringing Up from the Comments

The point I was trying to make with my Jokes R Us post the other day was that shelter pets have value to people who love them, whether those people pay an adoption fee or not. Obviously a few people missed the point but it’s so important and one I’ve tried to make repeatedly on the blog. Thankfully, we have some great commenters here who are pretty good with words – much better than my singing. So I’m bringing up this exchange for everyone to read:

mikken / October 10, 2013

You know, people who value animals see their intrinsic value. People who don’t…no amount of money is going to help them see the intrinsic value. I’m sure Michael Vick paid lots of money for his dogs, wanting only “the best”. And we all know how much he valued them.

Just because an animal was free, doesn’t mean it’s not loved as part of the family. Even if that family chooses to sing at it…

Eucritta / October 11, 2013

This is true.

Here’s another thing: if not for people who perceive the intrinsic value of animal life and happiness, there would be no rescue, no foster homes, no wildlife rehabilitators, no movements for shelter or wildlife management reform. No-one would agonize over a backyard puppy who can’t walk or a feral kitten with neuro issues or a neglected flock of young roosters. No-one would make pet wheelchairs, or floation devices for aquarium fishes with swim bladder disease.

The notion that there’s a division between people who care and the Irresponsible Masses is a false one. Time and time again I’ve met people who, seeing a need, stepped in to help as best they knew how. Time and time again I’ve met people who love their pets, no matter how they got them.


What they said.

Thank you.


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