That's not a rhetorical question. It's a sincere one, inspired by a disturbing conversation I had recently with some rescue group volunteers.
I manage a Facebook page for a campaign promoting shelter pet adoption. We welcome people posting pets needing homes on our wall, but there's a catch.
The research done for the campaign found that in order to find homes for all the dogs and cats currently dying in shelters, we need to push beyond the circle of people who adopt pets already. In other words, we need to market shelter pet adoption to a group of people who aren't already doing it.
It's not a lot of people, relative to the number who are adding pets to their families every year. In fact, it's a very doable task. But standing in the way is the perception on the part of many of these potential adopters that shelters are horrible, dank, scary places where terrible things happen, and that shelter pets are neglected, unsocialized, sad, badly behaved and sickly.
Add to it negative emotions like guilt and fear, and whammo: they're turned off. They get their pet somewhere else.
So, how do you think those adopters are going to feel when they see a listing like this:
Sweet Leisha cries in her cage, she doesn't know why she is in the shelter, she doesn't know that it isn't her fault that they are going to kill her. She has done nothing wrong, yet here she sits, in a cold shelter. Leisha is a good girl, a friendly girl, an affectionate sweetheart that only wants to love and be loved. Can you foster or adopt Leisha? Her life is depending on it!
Or this one, titled, "To be destroyed Tuesday!":
New photo on sweet Sandy xoxo. Poor girl is just a baby yet the ACC decided to wrong her as they do so many others. She has a behavior rating of NONE and was hidden away in a back room until she caught "the cold". NEVER had a chance to be adopted or walked because 95% of the volunteers are only allowed to walk the 17 (yes, 17) dogs in adoptions. Thank god we at least have a picture... Just look at Sandy's eyes.. they are the window to her soul and I swear this dog has a pure soul that is full of love. Help her... SAVE HER!
In talking with a group of rescuers who have been posting these types of messages a lot lately, I said, "You know, if we want to save all the pets in shelters, we have to appeal to adopters who won't respond to this kind of message. We have to focus on the pet and his or her personality, and make them seem appealing and the adoption process seem fun and rewarding."
The reply? "We want to tell it this way, because we need people to know what's going on at the shelter, and how bad it is, and how many wonderful pets are dying there every day."
I get it. You want to reform your local shelter. It makes perfect sense, and you should do it.
But not at the expense of the animals in that shelter.
Look at Austin, Tex. In the midst of a very intense fight to reform their local animal control agency, the adoption group, Austin Pets Alive!, stayed out of the political fray and focused on getting pets into homes. Day after day, while FixAustin.org stormed the barricades, APA! wrote glowing, sunny adoption listings, pointing out how wonderful every pet was, and appealing to the broadest possible group of adopters while turning off no one. Like this one for Shakespeare, the dog in the photo on this post:
Shakespeare is poetry in motion. He is super active, very curious, and loves to play.
Shakespeare has had a bad break. He injured his leg a long time ago and it healed at an odd angle. But that doesn't bother this Chihuahua mix one bit. He can keep up on a walk with no problem!
Once he knows you and can tell you want to be his friend, he will crawl right in your lap and love all over you! He is a happy-go-lucky dog who needs a home to call his very own.
Come see Shakespeare today and see all that he has to offer!
Today, Austin has reformed its shelter and is a no-kill city. Last month they saved 96 percent of the homeless dogs and cats in their community. They'd reached nearly 80 percent city-wide even before getting a new director at the city shelter, just on the strength of their adoption and rescue efforts alone.
Would you like some of that in your community? Then stop mixing your messages. Don't use pet adoption listings as a weapon of attack against bad sheltering practices. Separate the two causes. Because ugly, frightening messages like the ones I pasted above will not only turn many adopters off of adopting that pet, but off pet adoption in general. Your messages are poisoning the well for other pets in your community and, thanks to the power of social media, pets all over the country.
When you want to adopt pets, focus on the pets and their personalities. Get people to feel curious and excited about them. Think about a soccer mom while you're writing the listing, and consider whether it describes a pet she'd want sleeping on her kids' feet at night, or one she'll perceive as a PTSD victim bringing baggage full of doom and gloom into her family.
And when you want to reform your shelter, Austin did it this way; check it out and try it in your community.
But leave the animals out of it; they are entirely innocent and should not be dragged into an ugly political battle, or tarnished by the ugliness happening at our country's worst shelters.
And above all, realize that potential adopters who are already on the fence shouldn't be shoved over to the other side by "WILL DIE TOMORROW" messages about "death row" and "hellhole shelter" and "slaughterhouse."