Animal Shelter Dogs: Promoting Them for Adoption

This two-part action kit provides resources and examples of ways to promote shelter dogs in order to increase their chances of adoption. In Part 1, we give creative ideas and advice for promoting individual dogs to help get them into good new homes. Highlighting the unique characteristics of a dog can make all the difference in getting that animal adopted. Part 2 offers practical tips for putting on adoption events. Holding adoption events periodically can really help increase a shelter’s adoption rate.

This kit shows how you and your community can make a big difference in the lives of shelter animals, especially pit-bull-terrier-type dogs, who often need some extra help getting adopted because of the stereotypes and myths that surround them. By promoting these dogs for adoption, you can educate potential adopters and show them what wonderful companion animals these dogs can be.

Table of Contents
Part 1: Promoting individual dogs for adoption
Part 2: Putting on adoption events

Part 1: Promoting individual dogs for adoption

This section gives tips and ideas for showcasing individual dogs to improve their chances of adoption. Promoting individual dogs for adoption doesn’t have to be restricted to bringing them to adoption events. You’ll also want to use some of the following ideas for promoting dogs at the shelter, over the Internet and when taking adoptable dogs out into the community.

1. Make sure the dogs look snazzy.

When you have a job interview, you know it’s important to look your best. The way you present yourself can make or break the deal. Presenting a dog as an adoption prospect is similar to a job interview, so make sure the dogs are clean, well groomed and look their best, whether you’re taking photographs or video of them, or showing them at an adoption event. The dogs will feel better, and that will come across in their demeanor. Also, whenever adoptable dogs are out in public, make sure they’re dressed in colorful “Adopt Me” vests or bandanas to let everyone know they’re looking for homes.

2. Create doggie calling cards and flyers.

Calling cards and flyers are another way to showcase individual dogs and promote them for adoption. You can create calling cards yourself and print them out on card stock, available at office supply stores. On the cards (which can be about the size of a business card), include the dog’s photo, gender, age, shelter ID number, the name of shelter, the address, an email address, and a phone number. The cards can be handed out when volunteers are out in public with the dogs. You can also place the cards at the shelter reception area, plus carry them with you so you can hand them out wherever you go.

Another fun idea is to create an individual flyer for each dog. Include several photos and a compelling adoption blurb. If you don’t have a color printer, copy places such as Kinko’s and OfficeMax can print your flyers for a fee. The flyers can be posted at the shelter and any locations where there are community bulletin boards (e.g., supermarkets, Laundromats). You can also ask local businesses if you can put up the flyers in their store windows.

3. Use appealing photos and videos.

It’s true that a picture speaks a thousand words. Photos and videos of dogs looking happy, giving kisses and/or showing good manners can really show off their personalities and help them get adopted.

Since images help people make a connection to a dog, you will want to get good-quality photographs. Color photos are best. When you take photos, use a background that’s in contrast to the animal, to highlight the dog’s best features. Keep the photos simple and clear with few background distractions, though you might want to include a person in the photo to show the scale and size of the dog.

Before snapping the photos, take time to help the dog be as calm and relaxed as possible so that the images do not show a dog looking anxious or scared. You can use squeaky toys or treats to get the dog’s attention. Ideally, the photos you choose for your flyers or website should have the eyes of the dog looking directly at you.

Adoption videos on websites such as YouTube and Petfinder are proving to be not only popular, but also effective in finding homes for pets — and it’s free to upload videos to those sites. As with photos, you’ll want to get good-quality video footage to show off the dogs to best advantage. Creating video is a great way to highlight a dog’s social skills by filming him interacting politely and playfully with both people and other dogs.

4. Write compelling adoption bios.

To go with your adoptables’ photos, you’ll need compelling adoption bios. Potential adopters are attracted first by a photo, but then they’ll want to know more about the dog. Keep the language in the bios simple and conversational; avoid animal welfare jargon or technical terms whenever possible.

You’ll need a punchy first sentence — something that will grab the attention of prospective adopters. The tendency is to give a list of details: “Joey is a five-year-old neutered male pittie/Lab mix with white markings, up-to-date on shots.” This is useful information, but it isn’t compelling. Instead, try to capture something unique and endearing about Joey, and express that feeling in the first sentence of his bio. For example: “He may look like a tough guy, but Joey is actually a champion snuggler.”

Once you’ve grabbed potential adopters’ attention, you can share other information such as age, breed, tendencies, quirks and challenges. Focus on the positives first. Here’s an example of how not to do it: “Joey unfortunately has leash reactivity, which means he behaves offensively toward other dogs when he’s on walks. He can live peaceably with other dogs, as long as they’re submissive.”

Here’s a way to emphasize the positives without ignoring the negatives: “Joey is that rare sort of pooch whom a child can climb all over and hug. He’s so gentle and sweet around everyone. Well, except other dogs when he’s out on a walk. He’s not so good with other pooches when he’s on leash.”

You can include restrictions, but be gentle and choose your words carefully. For example, instead of saying “Andy must go to a home without children,” which could scare off even a childless couple, put a positive spin on it: “Jo-Jo’s such a goofy bundle of energy that he might be a bit too much for small children.”

At the end of the bios, remind people how much you want to hear from them, and include contact information (a phone number and email address).

5. Get the dogs out into the community.

The more a homeless dog is seen, the better his chances are of getting adopted. To help educate the public about shelter dogs and promote your adoptable dogs, look for opportunities in your community to set up a table at different types of events. Ask about bringing adoptable dogs to sports events, car shows, parades and farmers’ markets. Don’t forget to dress the dogs in vests or bandanas that say “Adopt Me” in big bold letters. Be sure to have a banner made with the name of your group or shelter and the website address. If you aren’t allowed to bring dogs to the event, set up a table anyway and hand out your custom-made flyers about adoptable dogs and the dogs’ business cards.

If your shelter has days when it is closed to the public, that’s a perfect time to get the dogs out on walks in public areas like parks or on hiking trails where they can meet people and be seen. Besides giving the dogs more exposure, these walkabouts are excellent socialization opportunities for the dogs, which ultimately will help them get into homes.

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Part 2: Putting on adoption events

Adoption events don’t have to cost a lot of money or involve a huge investment of time. To pull off a successful event, though, you need to do some planning. The goal is to bring the dogs to the people in a festive, fun atmosphere so you can increase the dogs’ exposure to the public and better their chances of adoption. A successful adoption event (one that draws a crowd and results in many adoptions) benefits all the animals at the shelter because it publicizes your efforts, thereby encouraging even more adoptions.

Here are some steps for holding a successful event:

  • Establish a catchy theme for your event.
  • Decide where and when to hold the event.
  • Recruit volunteers to help before, during and after the event.
  • Fundraise to cover event costs.
  • Publicize the event.
  • Promote the event through social networking.
  • Showcase the dogs as individuals at the event.

1. Establish a fun theme for your event.

The first step is to establish a specific theme to promote your event. You can use the time of year to help inspire a theme: seasons, holidays (e.g., Valentine’s Day, Halloween), sports events (e.g., the Super Bowl, the World Series) or school events (e.g., homecoming, prom night). You can also use TV shows, awards shows, and current trends.

Here are some examples of successful promotion ideas:

Pet Idol. You could call this Pit Idol, if the event is showcasing pit-bull-terrier-type dogs. This theme is a take-off on the TV reality show “American Idol.” The goal is to get prospective adopters into the shelter. To participate in the contest, people are encouraged to go to the shelter and vote in person for their favorite dogs. In the process of deciding which dogs to vote for, participants meet the dogs and get to know them as individuals. By registering to vote, participants are automatically entered in a drawing for a chance to win donated prizes (e.g., flat-screen TV, iPod, Kindle, gift card).

Homecoming. In this promotion, the annual rite of passage for high school students goes to the dogs. The public can vote for their favorite dogs and help crown a homecoming king and queen. Those who register are entered in a raffle drawing for donated prizes.

Petcademy Awards. This promotion can be launched in advance of the annual Academy Awards show. Staff and volunteers choose 10 VIPs (Very Important Pets) to promote on flyers and over the Internet. The dogs can be nicknamed after Oscar-nominated films to reflect their individual personalities (e.g., Little Miss Sunshine or Billy the Kid). Each dog can be given a “Walk of Fame” Hollywood gold-star sticker that can be placed prominently on their kennel cards to let voters know which dogs are contestants. People who adopt a VIP dog can be given a “swag” bag containing items such as dog treats, collar and leash, and gift certificates for grooming or training services. At the end of the promotional period, the votes are tallied and a winner is chosen and announced. For an example of a poster to promote this type of event, see the resources section.

“Adore-A-Bull” Adoption Fair. This promotion focuses on finding homes for pit-bull-terrier-type dogs. Dressing up these dogs helps to soften the image people have of them, making the dogs easier to relate to. The dogs can be dressed up in glittery collars, feather boas, tutus, bowties and other gear guaranteed to make people smile. Consider having a short parade of costumed people and dogs that ends at the shelter with an adoption fair that includes entertainment, refreshments and dog training demos. For more information about increasing adoptions for pit-bull-terrier-type dogs, watch Animal Farm Foundation’s video.

Other promotional ideas include a speed-dating event featuring adoptable dogs as the “dates,” a walkathon that incorporates adoptable dogs and a costume contest for homeless animals.

2. Decide where and when to hold the event.

You can hold adoption events inside your shelter, outside in the parking lot or in an open area near the shelter entrance. If you decide to have adoption events at your shelter, put up posters and banners outside to attract visitors, and set up a table with information about the available dogs. To highlight the dogs’ individual attributes, create attractive cage cards that contain comprehensive info about each dog. On the day of the event, have volunteers walk the dogs, wearing “Adopt Me” bandanas, around the facility or grounds, to allow people to meet and mingle with them. Also, make sure the shelter is clean and cheerful; to create a festive atmosphere, put up decorations appropriate to the theme.

If you want to have adoption events off-site, select a venue that has high traffic and is a pleasant place. Some possibilities are pet supply stores or parks that have plenty of space and parking. You’ll need to get permission from store managers or park officials, of course, and work out the details of event logistics.

You can also collaborate with other local rescue groups or shelters to put on adoption events. Pooling the resources of several groups allows for larger events and attracts more potential adopters.

Whether your events are large or small, it’s generally best to hold them on weekends, when most people are off work and kids are out of school. If you’re holding the event outdoors, spring and fall are great times for larger adoption events. Be sure to choose weekends that do not conflict with major religious holidays or other big community events.

3. Recruit volunteers to help before, during and after the event.

Depending on the size of your event, you might need to recruit volunteers to help with tasks such as putting up posters, handing out flyers, walking and grooming dogs, staffing an information booth, helping to process adoption applications or serving refreshments. Invite volunteers already working at your shelter to help, and be sure to send them a save-the-date email so they put it on their calendars. Also, use social media and local events to encourage involvement and recruit additional volunteers.

Word of mouth is another way to recruit volunteers. You can ask existing volunteers to invite their spouses, co-workers, friends and family to participate. Previous adopters can be a source of potential volunteers as well. Send out email invitations or make phone calls to former adopters inviting them to help with your event.

4. Fundraise to cover event costs.

You can get items to use for prizes and adopter gift bags through donations from volunteers and businesses. Volunteers can hold fundraisers to raise money for the prizes, or even donate prizes themselves.

A great way to solicit donations is to send a letter to local companies explaining your adoption promotion and specifying what you would like the business to donate. If you don’t get a response, go to the business location and ask to speak to the business owner. When a business agrees to donate, be sure to bring a homeless dog along when you collect the donation so they can see firsthand whom their donation is benefiting. To encourage future donations, send thank-you cards (complete with photos of dogs who were adopted) after the event to participating businesses.

5. Publicize the event.

Since the success of every event depends on lots of people showing up to participate, it is vital to get the word out in as many ways as you can. Here are some fairly inexpensive ways to promote your event:

  • Advertise it on your website.
  • Have a large banner created and put it up outside the shelter.
  • Create flyers advertising the event and have volunteers ask local businesses to post them on their windows.
  • Create a door hanger and have volunteers distribute them in neighborhoods.
  • During the event, get volunteers to dress up in dog costumes and position them on nearby busy street corners. Have them wave large signs steering the public toward the event.

You’ll also want to publicize the event through the media, such as newspapers, television and radio. Generating a news release and a PSA (public service announcement) for radio and TV will help attract media outlets. For tips on writing news releases and PSAs, read “Writing a News Release” and “Writing a Public Service Announcement” in the appendix.

6. Promote the event through social networking.

Go to Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and Craigslist and post notices and information about your event. Ask people to share your link and help promote the dogs who are available for adoption. You can also start your own blog (free via Blogger or Wordpress) or go to your local newspaper’s blog or forum pages and leave a comment with details about your adoption event.

To further promote it, add an event page to your Facebook account and post flyers for the available adoptable dogs on your Facebook wall. Ask volunteers, friends, family, and fellow rescuers to share the post. Also, go to the free website and promote your adoption event there.

7. Showcase the dogs as individuals at the event.

Use the tips and ideas given in Part 1 of this action kit to highlight the special qualities of each dog hoping for a new home.

Special thanks to PetSmart Charities® for providing grant funding for the programs from which these materials were derived.

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Writing a news release

A news or press release is a short announcement of a newsworthy event. You send press releases to newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, and Internet sites to interest them in doing a story. Editors and news directors receive many releases every day; to grab their attention, your news release must look professional and present the facts in a concise and compelling way.

First, develop a template for your news release. Using a template lets you produce releases efficiently, since the basic format is already set up.

Here are some tips for formatting a news release:

  • Include your logo at the top of the page, but keep it simple and don’t let it take up too much of the page. Editors and news directors are interested in knowing quickly who you are and then getting to the lead sentence.
  • Put contact information at the top of the page and make sure the media contact is available at the phone number and e-mail address provided.
  • Type your release using a basic font: Times Roman, 12 point size, and regular font (instead of bold or italic) is a good choice.
  • Use single-spaced text and indent five spaces to begin new paragraphs.
  • Use the standard order (time, date, place) when giving the details about an event. For example: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday, June 4, at the Radisson Building. Don’t use zeros for times (use 11 a.m., not 11:00 a.m.) and don’t use letters after numbered dates (August 22, not August 22nd).
  • Keep it to one page if at all possible.

Here are some tips for writing a news release:

  • Write a concise, catchy headline that summarizes the story. It should be written in the style of a newspaper headline, using active verbs – for example, “Art that speaks for homeless pets.”
  • Your lead sentence should describe the event, and why it’s newsworthy.
  • The body of the release should contain the all-important facts: who, what, when, where and why.
  • Information on sponsors should be at the end.
  • The final paragraph should describe your group and summarize your organization’s mission.
  • Proofread the release carefully for grammar and spelling, and always make certain that all the information in the release is accurate before you send it.

Writing a public service announcement

Public service announcements (PSAs) are short notices, lasting anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds, that are aired on radio and TV stations prepared to provide information to the public. PSAs are used by organizations to publicize community events, to assist in fundraising efforts, and to inform and influence public opinion.

Most radio and TV stations look for local causes to promote in the PSAs that they air. PSAs must contain information that is beneficial to the community and should not include controversial or self-serving material. Check with the program directors at your local radio and TV stations for their guidelines about content and formatting. You should submit your announcement at least 10 days in advance of the time you would like it aired.

The standard lengths for PSAs are:

  • 10 seconds (25 to 30 words)
  • 20 seconds (45 to 50 words)
  • 30 seconds (60 to 75 words)
  • 60 seconds (120 to 150 words)

Here are some tips for formatting a PSA:

  • Use your organization’s letterhead and put in a contact name and telephone number.
  • Triple space the entire PSA so that it can be read easily. Use Times Roman, 14 or 16 point size, regular font. Indent all paragraphs.
  • As with news releases, use the standard order (time, date, place) when giving the details about an event. For example: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday, June 4, at the Radisson Building.
  • Keep the PSA to one sheet.

Here are some tips for writing a PSA:

  • Include all the facts: who, what, when, where and why. Be sure to give specific starting and ending dates.
  • Stick to the facts. Avoid superlatives, overly enthusiastic text, and acronyms or nicknames the general public may not be familiar with.

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