Tired of sad animal TV ads? Try this ...

If you are reading this, I’m guessing you love animals and are upset and disturbed by images of animals suffering. Me, too — which is why I don’t like those depressing and annoying animal charity TV ads featuring crusty-eyed, shivering dogs, frightened kittens, and a plaintive, almost whiny voice accompanied by sad background music. Not only are these spots annoying, I believe they send the wrong message about shelter and rescued pets, portraying them as damaged goods with too much baggage to reliably take into your home.

Is it any wonder, then, that a significant percentage of the general public, as revealed in a 2013 survey, has the impression that shelter and rescued pets are less desirable than dogs and cats purchased from a store or breeder?

It’s time for a change. Best Friends magazine broke the mold of existing animal advocacy publications in the early 1990s with a principled policy of never using graphic images of suffering animals to make our readers feel pity and guilt, and now we’ve created the following TV spot with the hope that we can disrupt the sad-sack world of animal video appeals with something new, something positive and something entirely Best Friends.

Before Best Friends demonstrated that the public prefers a positive message, the standard fare in animal advocacy magazines consisted of horrific images of animal victims — rabbits blinded by cosmetics testing, foxes in traps being bludgeoned by some human brute, barrels of dead shelter animals, and on and on. The founders of Best Friends, well acquainted with the reality of all this (and more) through their years of rescue work, could not look at these images and consequently didn’t read whatever message the magazine’s writers and editors were offering. And if they couldn’t get the message, then how many regular animal-loving folks could? Not many, as it turned out, because all of those magazines are either out of business or have changed their tune.

I don’t object to the money generated or the cause supported by these negative ads. However, I do object to the use of pity and guilt to manipulate the viewer, along with the subtext that pets in shelters are loaded with problem baggage from prior abuse and neglect. As soon as one of these spots comes on TV, I either flip the channel or mute the sound, because watching and listening to them makes me feel emotionally violated.

But there is a lot more at stake here than the tone or appearance of a video, a mailer or a magazine. If we (as a movement) are to bring an end to the killing of pets in shelters, we need to engage the public on a deeper level than just a guilt-relieving donation. We must convince the animal-loving public to be our full partners in ending this injustice by participating as adopters, providing foster homes, being happy ambassadors of shelter adoption and spay/neuter, and, yes, donating.

I hope you enjoy our new TV spot. Please send us your feedback.

Together, we will Save Them All.

Julie Castle with Sunny the dog
Julie Castle
Best Friends Animal Society