« Republicans 2012: Keeping millions out of work to put one man out of a job | Main | Kyrie: 1999-2011 »

26 September 2011


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Check out our local shelter, Potter League for Animals, and you'll see a similar, up beat description of the dogs and cats there. You're right, the scare tactics make it sound as if every shelter is a horrible place. Our's is one to be proud of, it's a "green" building, they have obedience and socialization classes, and a beautiful facility.


This is a good reminder for those who write pet adoption listings - that the idea is to market to the people not yet in the club. I think it's easy for anyone who does any job to forget after awhile how you come across to "outsiders". And in this case, those are the very people you are marketing to.


Great article! I think sometimes people feel the need to share the pain they feel, and I understand that. But when it gets to the point that you're so desperate that you can't write positive pet listings anymore, maybe it's time to take a break. There are LOTS of ways to help shelter animals.

Terry Albert

Excellent post- I get tired of the emotional blackmail some rescue groups put out there. I found that giving as foster dog a fun name goes a long way to getting them adopted. I've fostered dogs I've named Mudpie, Bo Wiggly, Charlie Whiskers (all Labs) and Frosty Five Collies (she looked like a big white haystack). A name that makes people smile helps a lot!

Pamela Picard

Spot on.

Mel Hammonds

Fantastic article! I photograph for a rescue group and love that we try to be so positive in our messages, especially after reading your article! You are so right about having to appeal to a different audience.


Very true! I foster for Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue in California. You can check out the descriptions of the dogs at homewardboundgoldens.org. The dogs "speak for themselves," and the writer captures their personalities and even their issues (but putting as much of a positive spin on them as possible). I like to read the descriptions just for fun. Of course the organization is lucky, too, in that it has a sanctuary where potential adopters can go meet the dogs. Visitors don't see a dreary death row of kennels (none of the rescued dogs will be euthanized, so guilt doesn't play into this). There are grassy yards and it's a happy, bustling place that creates an upbeat mood. I don't think adopters see themselves so much as "saving" a dog as adding a new member to their family.


Great article, Christie... I have found that an upbeat positive attitude portrayed on my FB Fan Page about the dogs in my small rescue group have inspired many to adopt, help, and just in general "cheer me on to success." It's a much better way of educating people about what's actually happening and it gives people hope. Months after a particular dog has been adopted, a Fan Page follower will "out of the blue" ask, "So how is that little Mindy doing?" And that means they noticed...


It's funny because if you go with standard marketing strategy, you have to impart a sense of urgency, sometimes great urgency, that the consumer will lose out on a great deal of they let this one go by, and writing descriptions for animals are no different.

But you can impart that urgency without describing horrible shelter conditions, and you can write an encouraging description without taking away from the sense of urgency--in fact, that happy description should be part of what encourages people to run and adopt this animal.

The only thing is the death sentence is the only urgent issue you have, and people tend to sit around and think about things, so somewhere in there you need to say the animal only has a day or two left.


I think what we have to remember is we only have HOURS to save these dogs/cats and by only saying how pretty or affectionate a animal is will not be enough. We need to plead for compassion and sympathy on what the animal has already been thru as well as the current temperment so people will understand. If you don't add why they are wanting to kill(temper) people will not pay attention.

Christie Keith

Bernadette, I understand, but I think you're really wrong. The sense of urgency SHOULD NOT BE that if you don't adopt this pet he or she will die, but that if you don't adopt this awesome pet SOMEONE ELSE WILL!

The "adopt or they'll die!" message is driving away adopters. It's that simple. It might in a given situation get a home for an individual animal, and in no way do I discount the value of that, but you don't LOSE that adopter because you don't say the pet has limited time. You just lose everyone else, not just from that pet but from ALL pet adoption. This is a serious problem, and people who persist in using this marketing approach ("adopt or they die!") are not using a proven marketing strategy; they're IGNORING the real marketing data.

Christie Keith

rharleygirl, I know you have good intentions as does everyone who uses this approach. But it's a mark not just of a failure to market well, but a failure of having a good strategy in your community, that you have to constantly beat the drum, "HOURS TO LIVE! ADOPT OR THEY DIE!"

As I said, look what Austin did. They built a freaking MACHINE to do adoptions and they saved thousands of pets that way, while side by side was another organization working to do shelter reform, highlight problems and abuses in the city's animal control process, etc.

They didn't have just hours or a day to find that pet a home because that's not how they set up their system. They did not rely on desperate, short-term, often futile -- and, by the way, demoralizing to the volunteers and activists -- approaches to saving these animals. They did it professionally, reasonably and effectively.

If you find yourself relying on "ADOPT OR THEY DIE!" adoption messages, then your community needs a fundamental reworking of its rescue and reform movement. Part of that is improving how you market pets, but it's bigger than that.

The bottom line is to not waste your time and efforts on strategies that don't work, and adopt those that have and do -- about EVERYTHING, including pet adoption.

Charlene Sjoberg

This article is right on what I think! I think also that if more people focused on making every shelter into NO-KILL, there would be no unwanted pets. Check out www.nokilladvocacycenter.org and read how to make this happen! It is the answer!

Christie Keith

Charlene, was that for me? If you had clicked on the link I sent people to for "how to do it," that's where it went.


Very well said. I see how well Lost Dog does getting animals adopted, for instance, versus the local shelters. Why do the shelters take pics of the animals when they've just arrived, looking all scared and sometimes maniacal? And rarely do they take the time to write charming and detailed profiles for them.

Vickie Brown

So true Christie! Every time I see the positive uplifting descriptions, I say, now there is a Shelter or Rescue that totally gets it. I'm sending your article to my County Shelter hoping they totally get it! Your friend at No Kill Sonoma County

Jennifer Isbell

I see what you are saying but I think you missed the obvious point - not all the postings are for "adopters." Many are written to find ANYONE asap to pull the animal out of the shelter before it's killed. It's two different kinds of people they are targeting with their posts.

Christie Keith

Jennifer, I don't care what rescuers say to each other. These messages are being posted for the GENERAL PUBLIC, and are poisoning the well for shelter adoption on general.


Dear shelter employees and volunteers,

I am a pet adopter. I have adopted my last three pets. Previously I only bought my pets because I was too scared to see how horrible my local shelter was. None of the three pets I adopted had "His/her time is almost up!" messages attached to their descriptions. Each pet had descriptions that actually described the pet--from temperament and personality to what kind of home life was suitable.

I need to know about the pet to know if the pet is a right match for my family. I need to know we will all be happy together. I need to know this almost as much as I need to look into their eyes and connect.

I do not need to know how long they've sat in a kennel. I do not need to know they have 48 hours left before death. I do not need a heartwrenching story about life on the streets.

Beautiful photographs and thoughtful descriptions get me in the door. Looking into the pet's eyes brings them home.

I promise I'll reward you with a lifelong supply of stories, photos and videos of our family adventures.

Just leave out the death threats. Please.

My pets and I thank you.

Jo Wilkens

I am an advocate of adopting and an staunch animal lover and my house is at capacity with 1 dog and 5 cats...all rescued. I can say that the majority of the time, the "adopt or they die" posts make me cry and make me hide them. I cannot do anything about what those poor things are facing and it makes me too sad and guilty to see it all the time. I can also say that, as a photographer that specializes in pets, I have offered my services to the 3 major shelters in the area but only 1 of them has ever contacted me. I do what I can donating time, money and supplies - but those posts make me feel helpless and make the efforts seem futile (though I know they're not). I would imagine that others feel the same way. I am pleased to read this article and it gives me some hope that more shelters and communities will go the way of Austin!


Christie Keith wrote:
"The "adopt or they'll die!" message is driving away adopters. It's that simple. It might in a given situation get a home for an individual animal, and in no way do I discount the value of that, but you don't LOSE that adopter because you don't say the pet has limited time. You just lose everyone else, not just from that pet but from ALL pet adoption."

Absolutely spot-on. As was the rest of this piece.

Turning off potential adopters does NOT save more animals. It saves less overall. And those desperate "do what I say or the kitten dies" kinds of pleas, almost half the time, don't do much more than get people to make overemotional decisions that they are not prepared to follow up on after they've had their coffee the next day. Getting people caught up in drama and emotion might (I repeat *might*) get an animal pulled off of a kill list. But what good does it do if that same cat or dog gets dumped - sometimes halfway across the country - into another kill shelter - possibly one that doesn't advertise their kill lists - when the person realizes they weren't prepared to take this on?

An inordinate number of the animals pulled off these lists by people in a heightened emotional state because of desperate pleas get returned to the shelter or the rescue that pulled them. Think it doesn't happen more often under those circumstances? Think again.

This tactic doesn't lure in new adopters overall, and overemotional last minute decisions don't generally make for solid adoptive or foster homes.

I would much prefer these pages and groups focus on getting the information out, and on providing a forum where rescuers and potential adopters can make rational and reasoned decisions and can partner up to make long term decisions for the animals on a given list. Separately from that, advocacy groups can work on getting the conditions changed and shelter systems overhauled. Many members of those groups will be the same people, but they will not be the SAME group working at cross-purposes, which is what we have now.

Mary Beth Hall

This blog really strikes a chord to my heart! The kinds of posts you talk about also ruin relationships between shelters and rescue groups or volunteers.
Good shelters work very very hard to get their dogs adopted and the negative posts are simply a slam on the shelter and leave a lot of hurt feelings.
I agree wholeheartedly-good marketing is not"save this dog from this dank miserable place where its going to be killed if you don't take this one"
Thank you!

gretchen meyer

Thank you, Christie!

We at APA actually take a lot of advice from Elizabeth Doyle at Best Friends. A few years ago, I came across this page: http://www.bestfriends.org/archives/forums/032805adoptionads.html.
Then soon after, I went to the Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Conference where Elizabeth did a presentation on the same topic. I was really impressed.

At the conference, we spoke with her at lunch and learned that she recently moved back to Austin and was actually one of the original members of Austin Pets Alive! back in the 90's. Before she was hired at Best Friends, she spent years writing ads for pets in Austin's shelter and learned what worked and what didn't work. (She is actually a romance novelist and those talents definitely transfer to writing about pets.)

We set up a workshop with Elizabeth and Austin's rescue community about once per year. For non-Austinites, if you go to the Best Friends' conference, I highly recommend catching Elizabeth, if she's speaking at it. Or even just closely reading the webpage link I added above and following all of the advice on there can help a lot too.


I totally agree.

Then of course you see descriptions like "Charlie is a nice dog, looking for a loving home where he can reach his full potential." That's nice. Any information on the actual dog? Even if you qualify it with "we've only had the dog for 3 hours but he seems confident/shy" it makes a better impression.


Thank you Christie for another excellent piece. As both an adopter and a regular shelter volunteer at a great variety of shelters - couldn't agree more. We're actually looking for our next dog (patiently to find the right guy for our house - which is hard when volunteering!), and boy have I seen the gamut of write-ups. Shelters and rescues, focus on the behavior of the dog and taking good photos - or even videos! Its behavior is going to matter to many potential adopters (ideally all, but we know that's not true!), and a good behavior match will keep the companion in the home. This will be helpful to any audience reading the writeup. It seems like so many of the "regular joe" people looking for a "pet dog" want that breed that they grew up with and don't care in the least about the sad plight of the high-kill shelter dog... give them a cute photo and positive write-up, and they might be persuaded. (At least, that is the case with many of my co-workers who go to breeders and could care less about what I have to say about shelters and the great dogs in them. And these are highly educated silicon valley folks for the most part, even ones interested in politics and everything - this just isn't on their radar. It's a tough fight.) And I've been watching videos taken by volunteers at a high-kill shelter - extremely effective, positive, targeting all audiences, and makes it "real".

Anyway, great article Christie.


"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."
And in a way, this is one more beautiful form of Humane Education. Of course, anyone who adopts a pet NEEDS to know that they can call the shelter or the Rescue for answers to Pet Behavior Questions -- PLEASE Do Not Forget this HIGHLY NECESSARY service, since many pets get returned to the shelters for "behavior" problems that cvan be solved!! Trust me,Ii had a cat who used to poop on my bed. I worked with her and with folks in the know and the problem WAS solved -- NO WAY was I going to dump Princess back at the shelter!!!

Great Pyrenees Rescue of Northern Calif

Ace, I would generally disagree about calling the shelter for answers to Pet Behavior questions. Some are to busy or it's alm,ost impossible to talk to a live person on the phone and many shelters just have employees, and not people who know about animals. Better bet are the rescue groups AND (if the breed is known) breed clubs.

Great article. I have been so burned out by the "adopt or die" postings that I now ignore them and "hide" the regular posters unless they are for my breed (Pyrenees) in my area.Our group has always go with the positive marketing approach and it has always worked. You want to "sell" (in the marketing sense) the dog, not guilt trip them. And we also always look for ways to push beyond our existing audience because that's where the homes are. Our existing audience already has a Pyr. We go to them for money not to take on another dog.

Andrea Smith

Wonderful piece! I have a houseful of rescued dogs & cats, and I know about how horrible many shelters are. I know about the mass killings each & every day across the country. And I too often hide or look past the "will die today" posts all over FB and my email. it's just too much grief and sadness to cope with, when I can't adopt any more animals at this time. I so agree with posting happy pictures of animals with a good description of their special traits. The only negatives needed are the "no small children" or "no cats in house" caveats.

Merrie Wilson

I was the one who wrote the post about Shakespeare. It was wonderful to be able to write about this spirited little dog's personality, and I was so happy when he was adopted! Thanks, APA!, for giving me the chance to help Shakespeare and other dogs find a forever home.

The comments to this entry are closed.