Did the Westminster Kennel Club dump longtime sponsor Pedigree because it has a problem with shelter pet adoption, or because Pedigree's ads promoting shelter pet adoption made them want to kill themselves?
The New York Times covered the story, reporting WKC spokesman David Frei as saying, "We want people to think of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show as a celebration of the dogs in our lives. ... Show me an ad with a dog with a smile; don’t try to shame me."
Pedigree responded by saying Westminster was actually against the cause of shelter dog adoption in and of itself, particularly the adoption of mixed breed dogs rather than purebreds.
I have no idea of what's really behind the split, but as I read the Times piece, I was struck again by the great divide in how different people try to "sell" pet adoption. Despite research from the Ad Council that found people are not motivated to adopt pets by sad pictures of pets behind bars or stories of suffering, those types of messages are still constantly being used by groups whose stated goal is to get pets adopted.
What those messages do is two-fold. First, they make people feel miserable and overwhelmed. They also tend to make people break out the checkbook. That's right; they're good for raising money, not finding homes for pets.
And Pedigree knows that. From the Times article:
Last year, nearly three and a half million viewers watched the Westminster Kennel Club show (and the commercials), which was broadcast on the USA Network and CNBC. Ms. Martellotti declined to say how much money Pedigree had paid to sponsor the show, but said the partnership had been a boon to its adoption initiatives. In 2007, Pedigree received $500,000 in pledges after its graphic ads were broadcast over the show’s two days.
“People did not look away,” she said. “They were inspired to pick up the phone and make donations.”
Also interviewed in the article was Sandra DeFeo, the executive director of the Humane Society of New York, who was quoted as saying they chose to focus on uplifting images of shelter pets in their promotions. She added that people "need to know" that animals are suffering and dying, but that they can't handle it.
I think she's mixing up her messages. When you're working on shelter reform, absolutely, you need to spread the word that animals are suffering and dying needlessly, due to antiquated practices that can and must be changed.
But when you're doing adoption, tragedy and misery don't work. Most people outside the rescue community (most of the members of which, by the way, already have all the pets they can adopt) want the adoption of a new family pet to be a happy experience. In both the Ad Council's research and that done by PetSmart Charities, people have demonstrated concern over adopting from shelters as being depressing and upsetting. How on earth does showing these miserable images address that concern?
It doesn't; it reinforces it. It might raise money for the organizations running the ads, but it doesn't get people to adopt shelter pets.
So I, for one, am glad to see someone calling that type of adoption ad into question. And I ask Pedigree, and anyone else who supports (or claims to support) pet adoption, to really consider if their ads are serving that goal, or setting it back.
Note: "Pet Adoption Videos That Don’t Make Me Want To Kill Myself" is a category on the blog of Edie Jarolim, Will My Dog Hate Me?