Pitbull Programs: Start a Pit Crew and Organize a Neighborhood Pit Bull Day
This two-part action kit describes two ways to help pit-bull-terrier-like dogs in your community. Part 1 gives details on establishing a Pit Crew, a group of volunteers who educate the public about pit-bull-terrier-like dogs, thereby helping to dispel the myths about them, and promote responsible dog ownership. Pit Crew members also strive to increase adoptions of pit-bull-terrier-like dogs from their local shelters and promote spay/neuter in their community through outreach events and programs.
The second part of this action kit is about conducting a Neighborhood Pit Bull Day. The goals of Neighborhood Pit Bull Day are to celebrate the wonderful qualities of pit-bull-terrier-like dogs, encourage responsible dog ownership, and provide accessible and affordable services to pit bull terriers and the people who love them.
Table of Contents
Part 1: How to start a Pit Crew to help shelter dogs
- Get buy-in from the shelter.
- Make a plan.
- Decide what Pit Crew members will do.
- Recruit Pit Crew members.
- Hold Pit Crew orientation, education and training sessions.
- Keep in touch with Pit Crew members and shelter staff.
- Spread the word through the media and the Internet.
- Plan outreach efforts.
- Get buy-in from shelter staff and volunteers.
- Decide where and when to hold the event.
- Decide what services and activities you will offer.
- Decide what equipment and supplies you’ll need and how you’ll acquire them.
- Recruit volunteers to help before, during and after the event.
- Fundraise to cover event costs.
- Publicize the event.
- Promote the event via social media.
- Writing a news release
- Getting permits
- Getting in-kind donations
- Writing a public service announcement
What is a Pit Crew? A Pit Crew is a group of volunteers who serve as resources for educating the public about pit-bull-terrier-like dogs; helping to provide enrichment and training for these dogs; and promoting them for adoption. The Pit Crew members generally work with a local shelter.
Pit-bull-terrier-like dogs are just like any other dogs, but they’ve been given a bad rap; so, they need help overcoming the stereotypes surrounding them and the myths about them. Knowing your shelter’s current policies and positions regarding pit-bull-terrier-like dogs is the first step in starting a Pit Crew program. Talk to the shelter’s director to find out where the shelter stands on pit bull terriers and to help dispel any preconceived notions about these dogs. You’ll need the support of the shelter administration to have a successful Pit Crew program.
Next, develop a written plan for the Pit Crew to help staff and volunteers understand what the program is about and what it will accomplish. Some things to include:
- The purpose of the program: Why are you creating it?
- The goals of the program: What specific things do you hope to achieve?
- The organizational structure of the Pit Crew: Who will coordinate the program and lead the Pit Crew?
- The “jobs” of the Pit Crew members: What will Pit Crew volunteers do?
- The role of the shelter: How will the shelter be involved in the program?
The Pit Crew for the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter held a weekend-long art show and fundraiser that raised over $6,000 to help Baltimore’s pit bull terriers. The event, called “Commit to a Pit,” was hosted by artist and dog lover Robert McClintock at his art gallery. More than 250 people attended the Friday night gala, which featured food and drinks, a raffle and a silent auction for a commissioned pet portrait by Robert. Adoptable pit bull terriers were on-site each day to meet and greet the public.
Pit Crew members can help pit-bull-terrier-like dogs in a number of ways:
- Providing enrichment for shelter dogs: This can range from helping with basic training to taking dogs on outings. For more details, read the Best Friends action kit called “How to Provide Enrichment for Shelter Dogs.”
- Helping shelter dogs to get adopted: This can range from helping out with adoption events to posting information about adoptable dogs on Facebook. For more details, read the Best Friends action kit called “How to Promote Shelter Dogs for Adoption.”
- Educating the public about these dogs: This can range from helping to organize a Neighborhood Pit Bull Day to advocating for pit-bull-terrier-like dogs on Twitter.
Write detailed job descriptions for Pit Crew members so they will know what is expected of them. You’ll also need to decide whether to require volunteers to put in a specific number of hours per week or month and whether to track those hours.
Consider creating fun job titles to allocate specific functions to each person. Examples: events guru, training class liaison, donations and goodies officer, chief of kennel enrichment, promotions chief, media liaison, wardrobe designer, Facebook queen.
Finding committed volunteers is key to the success of your Pit Crew. Participation by all types of community members should be encouraged. If your shelter already has a volunteer program, ask the volunteer coordinator to include the Pit Crew as an option for people interested in volunteering for the shelter. Talk to the coordinator about ways to spread the word about this fun new volunteering opportunity. If the shelter has a general orientation for new volunteers, find out if you can do a presentation about the Pit Crew to recruit volunteers and generate enthusiasm.
You can also use social media and local events to recruit volunteers. Prepare an informational handout about the Pit Crew to distribute at events to interested individuals.
The Pit Crew from the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services takes adoptable dogs from the shelter for walkabouts in dog-friendly communities. Not only is this a great way to introduce pit bull terriers to people who may never have had a chance to meet one, it is also tremendously beneficial to the dogs. They get to spend the day outside of the shelter, interacting with all kinds of people, and they might even get a home out of the excursion.
Orientation. You will want to develop a special orientation for Pit Crew volunteers to introduce them to the program, its goals, structure and tasks. A group orientation is also an opportunity for volunteers to meet each other.
Education. Pit Crew members will be serving as advocates for pit-bull-terrier-like dogs, so you will want to educate them thoroughly about these dogs and the issues surrounding them. The Pit Crew should be able to talk to the public articulately and answer questions about topics such as these:
- Myths surrounding pit-bull-terrier-like dogs
- The pitfalls of breed-discriminatory legislation
- Responsible pet ownership
- The importance of spay/neuter for all pets
It’s important to deliver accurate information and consistent messaging about these issues to the public, so you should require Pit Crew members to attend your education sessions. On these websites, you’ll find many resources to help educate your volunteers (and the public):
- Best Friends pit bull terrier initiatives: bestfriends.org/our-work/pit-bull-terrier-initiatives
- Animal Farm Foundation: animalfarmfoundation.org
- Bad Rap: badrap.org
- Game Dog Guardian: gamedogguardian.com
Training. One of the most vital components of enrichment for shelter dogs is basic training. Plus, shelter dogs who have basic skills and good manners are more adoptable. Pit Crew volunteers can help by teaching dogs to walk nicely on leash, greet people politely, and respond to basic cues, such as “sit,” “down,” “stay” and “leave it.”
Before Pit Crew volunteers are allowed to work with dogs, they should be taught proper dog handling skills; to keep both dogs and people safe, they should also learn about dog body language. Find a trainer (someone who uses relationship-based methods) in your area willing to donate his/her time to teach a dog behavior and training class to the Pit Crew.
Finally, Pit Crew members should be made aware of shelter policies and procedures and follow them whenever they are volunteering.
“Pints for Pits” was a fundraiser for homeless pit bull terriers organized by the Pit Crew for the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter. Held at Mother’s Bar and Grill, the event featured adoptable pit bull terriers, food and drink specials, a doggie kissing booth, a raffle and a silent auction.
Once you have formed your Pit Crew, be sure to keep in touch with the members. Schedule regular meetings and social gatherings to share success stories and ideas and to keep spirits high. Communicate regularly via email to keep everyone updated on what’s happening at the shelter and with the dogs the Pit Crew is working with. Don’t forget to let the volunteers know how much you appreciate their efforts on behalf of the dogs. Also, for shelter buy-in, remember to keep ground staff in the shelter informed of your plans and program successes.
Since one of the main goals of the Pit Crew program is to advocate for pit-bull-terrier-like dogs, you’ll want to develop a positive relationship with the local media (newspapers, local TV and radio stations) to get the word out there. Appoint one person as your media contact to discuss the Pit Crew program and outreach events, and write and issue press releases. For some tips on the latter, read “Writing a news release” in the appendix of this action kit.
Encourage Pit Crew members to become media-savvy: Have them take photos and videos of the dogs when they’re out on walks, playing with other dogs or meeting new people. They can then promote the dogs and the Pit Crew program by posting the photos and videos on websites such as Facebook, YouTube and Petfinder. If the shelter has a website and/or newsletter, have a Pit Crew member write articles about what’s going on and put the stories on the website and in the newsletter.
Again, because Pit Crew members are advocates for pit-bull-terrier-like dogs, they should be encouraged to think of ways to educate the public. The Pit Crew can work with the shelter’s events coordinator to distribute educational material about these dogs and responsible pet ownership during the shelter’s regularly scheduled events, such as annual fundraisers, spay/neuter clinics and adoption events.
Pit Crew members can help to plan and execute a Neighborhood Pit Bull Day (see below) or find opportunities to set up a table at community events, even those that aren’t pet-focused, such as farmers’ markets, neighborhood festivals and parades.
What is a Neighborhood Pit Bull Day? It’s a one-day event that provides free resources, products, education and services to people who have pit-bull-terrier-like dogs. The goal is to get much-needed resources to these dogs and the folks who love them. These congenial gatherings of wonderful family dogs and their owners also help break through stereotypes and myths about what pit-bull-terrier-like dogs are like.
Generally, the target audience is dog owners who are unfamiliar with or cannot access existing spay/neuter and other services (such as vaccinating and microchipping) because of location, cost or misconceptions. Dog owners are attracted to the event because it provides free or low-cost services and products for their dogs in an environment in which pit-bull-terrier-like dogs are celebrated.
If you’re organizing a Neighborhood Pit Bull Day through your shelter, invite shelter staff and volunteers to a meeting to get them on board with planning and executing the event. It’s important that everyone who will be involved has a good understanding of what the event is for and what you are trying to accomplish.
Select a venue that has high traffic and is a pleasant place. Public parks, store parking lots, and churches or schools with large grassy areas all make nice locations for a Neighborhood Pit Bull Day. You’ll need to get permission from the appropriate people to use the space, of course, and work out the details of event logistics (for instance, whether restrooms will be available). Make sure to find out about any special permits or usage fees; liability insurance may also be required. See “Getting permits” in the appendix for more details.
You can also collaborate with other local rescue groups, advocacy groups or shelters to put on the event. Pooling the resources of several groups allows for larger events, which attracts more people.
Whether your event will be large or small, it’s generally best to hold it on a Saturday or Sunday, when most people are off work and kids are out of school. If you’re holding the event outdoors, spring and fall are best since temperature extremes are less likely. Be sure to choose a day that does not conflict with major religious holidays or other big community events.
The goal is to make the day both fun and educational. Here’s a range of services and activities to consider offering:
- Microchip clinic
- Low-cost or free vaccination clinic
- Spay/neuter clinic or distribution of spay/neuter vouchers
- Photo booth (you can rent one for a day) and/or volunteer photographer to shoot family portraits of people and their dogs
- Doggie toy corner (to distribute donated dog toys
- Leash and collar exchange (to exchange chain collars and leashes for free cloth collars and leashes)
- Free dog food and treats
- Ask-a-trainer booth (a volunteer trainer can give training tips and demos)
- Ask-a-vet booth (a volunteer veterinarian can dispense advice on pet health and talk about the benefits of spay/neuter)
- Kiddie corner (face painting, coloring books and/or educational toys for kids)
- Dog costume contest (with prizes awarded to the best outfits)
- People snacks and drinks for purchase (encourages attendees to stay a while)
- Live music or a DJ (to add a festive atmosphere)
- Free dog grooming (done by a volunteer dog groomer)
- Dog agility demonstrations
- Free dog wash
You can also set up booths or tables for the following purposes:
- Registering and welcoming attendees
- Providing information about pet-related services and products
- Providing information about the local humane society or animal shelter
Encouraging people to spay or neuter their pets is a key component of Neighborhood Pit Bull Day, so be sure to include ways that attendees can get it done: arrange with local veterinarians to distribute low-cost spay/neuter vouchers or have a mobile clinic on-site to do surgeries. At the very least, have information available to hand out to attendees and have volunteers talk to them about spay/neuter, in a non-judgmental way, as attendees wait in line to get vaccinations or freebies. The “Spay or Neuter Your Dog” resource contains some basic information about why spay/neuter is a good thing. For more on how to approach the subject of spay/neuter, see “Community Pet Days.”
Neighborhood Pit Bull Day in the San Diego County community of Ramona, held in a grassy public park in August 2011, was a big hit and a day of celebrating pit-bull-terrier-like dogs and their families. People and their pets took advantage of the free treats, toys, collar exchange, dog wading pools, face-painting for children, and a family photo booth, as well as veterinary advice and training tips from the experts on hand. Those who made advance appointments had their dogs spayed or neutered at a mobile van unit, and many attendees had their dogs microchipped and vaccinated. Plus, people were given community pet resource information by San Diego County Animal Services staff, who also registered their dogs.
Once you know what services and activities you’re going to offer on Neighborhood Pit Bull Day, you can make a list of the equipment and supplies you might need. For example:
- Pop-up canopies
- Folding tables and chairs
- Clipboards, pens and paper
- First-aid kit
- Microchips, vaccines and coolers (to store them)
- Large trash bags and trash cans
- Giveaways: collars, leashes, dog treats, dog food
- Raffle or doggie costume contest prizes
- Signs (e.g., “Sign In Here,” “Clinic,” “Free Photos,” “Ask a Trainer”)
- People snacks and drinks (to sell or give to attendees)
- Cash box, change and receipt books
- Bottled water for volunteers and water bowls for pets
- Spay/neuter vouchers
- Porta-Potties (if there are no restrooms on-site)
If you’re going to rent equipment such as canopies, tables and chairs, get bids from several companies and compare them. You may save quite a bit of money that way.
Before recruiting volunteers, make a list of all the jobs you’ll need filled. Depending on the size of your event, you might need to recruit volunteers to help with tasks such as producing marketing materials, spreading the word via the media, arranging for rental of equipment, putting up posters, handing out flyers, registering attendees, staffing the various booths and cleaning up after the event. Depending on the types of activities going on at the event, you might need a couple of vet techs, a veterinarian, a certified dog trainer and a volunteer photographer.
Ideally, you’ll want to recruit volunteers that you’ve worked with before. If you have a database of people who have volunteered in the past, then you’re all set. If not, try contacting volunteer organizations in your community to solicit involvement. You can also contact high schools and universities, social clubs, church groups, military groups and volunteer organizations.
Invite volunteers already working at your shelter to help, and be sure to send all volunteers 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. People who have adopted pit-bull-terrier-like dogs from your shelter can be a source of potential volunteers as well. Send out email invitations or make phone calls to adopters inviting them to help with your event.
If you’re going to rent equipment, have prizes or dole out free products, such as dog collars, leashes and treats, you’ll need to do some fundraising before the event to raise money to cover these costs. Volunteers can hold fundraisers to raise money or even donate items for prizes themselves.
You can also get items to use for prizes and giveaways through donations from local businesses. For tips on soliciting donations from businesses, read “Getting in-kind donations” in the appendix. When a business agrees to donate, be sure to bring a pit-bull-terrier-like 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 after the event to participating businesses.
Since the success of every community 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 eye-catching flyers or posters advertising the event and have volunteers ask local businesses to post them in their windows.
- Create a door hanger and have volunteers distribute them in targeted neighborhoods.
- Before and 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.
Make sure the flyers or posters you create are attractive and will appeal to your target audience. Ask your volunteers and staff if any of them have graphic design skills or if they know a graphic designer who might be willing to donate his/her services to produce attention-grabbing posters or flyers.
Plan to advertise the event by passing out flyers in the targeted neighborhoods 10 days to two weeks in advance. Distribute the flyers at local churches, Laundromats, grocery stores, community centers, veterinary clinics, convenience stores, libraries, pet-related businesses and post offices.
You’ll also want to publicize the event through the media, such as newspapers, television and radio. Newspapers typically provide free online ads or calendar space for community events. Generating a news release and a PSA (public service announcement) for radio and TV will help attract media interest. For tips on writing news releases and PSAs, read “Writing a news release” and “Writing a public service announcement” in the appendix.
After the Neighborhood Pit Bull Day, don’t forget to write a story about the day’s activities and post it, along with photos, on the shelter’s website and social media sites.
Go to Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist and other social media sites and post notices and information about your event. Ask people to share your link to help spread the word. 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 event.
To further promote it, add an event page to your Facebook account. Ask volunteers, friends, family, and fellow rescuers to share the post. Also, go to the free website Eventful.com and promote your event there.
Special thanks to PetSmart Charities® for providing grant funding for the programs from which these materials were derived.
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.
Whether your event will be held in a privately owned facility or parking lot, or in a municipal park, you will need to get permission in writing to have your event there.
Depending on where your event will take place, you’ll need to adhere to certain city and/or state regulations pertaining to large public gatherings. Once you’ve received permission to hold the event, you’ll begin the permit process. You will need to have a well-thought-out plan in order to complete the permit applications. You may be asked to provide information like a specific description of the event, a copy of your insurance policy (or possibly an additional insurance policy for the event itself), information about waste removal, fire marshal approval if there is tenting or fencing, an emergency medical plan, a cleanup procedure, etc.
To put on the event, you might need to get some or all of the following permits. To find out which permits are required, start with a call to the administrative office for your city government. Ask whether there are fees to secure the permits.
Mass gathering permit. To get this permit, you will probably need to show that you will have an EMT at the event, portable toilets (wheelchair accessible), and insurance.
Zoning/traffic permit. You’ll need to prove that you will have enough parking spaces (including handicapped) and that your event is not happening in a residential area or blocking any major access roads.
Temporary business license. Nonprofits have to obtain one, but you usually don’t have to pay a fee.
Fire department permit. The fire department has requirements for tent arrangements, fire extinguishers, and exits in tents. The fire department may want to do an inspection at the event itself. It depends on where you live and what the regulations are there. In terms of the pre-permitting process, the fire department usually will sign off on the zoning or temporary use permit.
Health department permit. This usually falls under the mass gathering permit, but check with the health department to make sure.
Food handlers’ permits. These will be required for anybody who is handling unpackaged foods.
When seeking donations to fund your event, you don’t necessarily have to ask for cash. Some businesses may be more amenable to giving services or surplus goods rather than money. You might get food or drinks donated, or items that can be used as raffle prizes or giveaways, such as dog collars or toys. Be sure to send out thank-you cards to everyone who donates, no matter how grand or small.
Here are some suggestions for getting things donated:
- Have the right person do the asking. It really helps to have someone who is energetic, upbeat and excited about your cause, as well as outgoing and good with people. Not everyone is good at doing this, so make sure you select this person carefully. You could also find out if any of your volunteers have connections to the companies and can make introductions for you.
- Ask the right person at the company. It’s always best to approach a manager or key decision-maker so you don’t get the run-around.
- Ask in person, if at all possible. This strategy may take some additional time, but it will be worth it. It’s harder for the company to turn you down face-to-face rather than via e-mail or phone.
- Approach the company with the attitude that you are going to help them feel good about helping you, not that you are desperate and are begging for their help. Sometimes, a humble attitude helps — the attitude that “I’m not a professional but a volunteer, and I’m calling to take a chance that you might be interested in contributing to our cause.”
- It helps to have literature with you, as well as information about the purpose of the event. It gives the companies something tangible to associate their donation with.
- If you are a nonprofit, be sure to let the company know that, and remind them that their in-kind donation will be tax-deductible.
- Tell them exactly what you would like them to do, rather than saying “Anything you could provide would be great.” This makes your request more meaningful and tangible to them. If what you are asking for isn’t doable, then you can ask them what they would be able to help you with.
- Be sure to tell them what you are offering in return, if anything. Think about different types of publicity and sponsorship opportunities you can give them. Tell them what kind of attendance you expect at the event and what kind of people will be there. For example, if you receive free pizzas from Eddie’s Pizza Pies to sell at your refreshment stand, promote them as “Eddie’s Pizza Pies” rather than just “pizzas.”
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.