OK, so recently we caused quite a stir by offering reduced adoption rates for Halloween. So far we have done this for every holiday or any event we can think of. You see the same marketing ploy in stores across the nation – every holiday or event – there are the sales. Adopting animals is actually about marketing. It is about marketing the animals we have for adoption. You can object to that and you can be outraged but it is the truth.
Let’s look at this. We can start with Petfinder. If you are looking for an animal to adopt and you are browsing through hundreds on PetFinder that meet your criteria, which do you remember?
You of course remember the one with the cutest picture (you’ll remember the one above, won’t you?) or the best write up. You don’t really note the ones that have no descriptions, boring descriptions, or a picture so blurry you can’t tell if it is a dog or a cat. What is that then when we get our friends Becky or Scott down here to do professional photos for us of all our pets for our pages? That’s marketing.
What is it when we change their name when they come to us named “Trouble” and we rename them on Petfinder to be “Snuggly”? What is it when we sit and reword their description over and over to make them more appealing than the thousands of other pets you’re looking at that week, trying to decide? That’s all marketing. Is it wrong? Hell no. I’d rather change Trouble to Snuggly and have him adopted that day then have him sit here for two years because it would be wrong to change his name. I’d rather retake a picture of “Sweetheart” from her GOOD side rather than show the side of her that has all her skin gone as she recovers from mange or abuse. Is that wrong? No. That’s marketing and to me I don’t care a wit about what anyone thinks – if that gets that dog into a good home then I’m going to use every skill I can think of and I’m going to take advantage of every ploy I can to make our animals standout and make you come down to meet them. Because that is what it is about. Getting you down here to meet them and take one home so we can save the life of another one.
So does this mean we just try to get people in the door and stick an animal in their car?
Um…no. In fact sometimes the animal you come to look at is NOT a good match for you. We will talk to you and meet you and get to know you and we’ll be right up front with you, even as you get mad at us and in our face – and we will tell you, “Hey, Sweetheart isn’t a good match for your family. She is super high energy and you people are couch potatoes and she will drive you bonkers within 24 hours, but let me show you Snuggly! He will lay right next to you on the couch and be happy to do so.” And we do that, and most people respect our opinions on it because let’s face it – YOU adopt a dog or a cat probably two or three times in your life and we do it about two or three times a DAY. So most of you respect that, and work with us, and we match you wonderfully with a pet, and as a result our return rate is far, far, far, far less than most shelters.
But we got you down here through our marketing. Our advertising. Our promotion. By putting our best faces forward. And then we got you to help us save a life and we gave you a lifelong companion to offer you unconditional love. Yet …some people still think this is “wrong”. They object to our offering “specials” for deals for any of our animals.
I challenge those people to read the book Redemption by Nathan Winograd. Excuse me for summarizing, he is much more eloquent than I, but a huge part of the problem in shelters today is that shelters put up their OWN blocks to adopting animals. They are their own worst enemy.
Let’s take one example. Not adopting out animals to families without a yard. To that I laugh. Who spends more time with their dog? The family that has a yard? Or the family that walks their pet three times a day? Which dog is more socialized? The dog that goes out three times a day and gets pet by people on the street and meets other dogs on their walks? Or the dog, isolated in a yard?
It has become a mark of PRIDE in shelters and rescues to show how RIGOROUS your adoption process is and how many checks and balances and rules and regulations you have to adoption. Why? Millions of animals die every year while you refuse homes to people without a fence. I hear so many rescues that come up to us at events or for a tour of our sanctuary and brag about how tough their application process is. I smile wanly and shake my head. Occasionally I try to explain or teach them that they are actually HURTING animals with that methodology. They rarely get it.
At Pets Alive we will even adopt to someone who wants to declaw. Oh my god!! Everyone just SHUDDERED and FREAKED out. Let me state that we are vehemently against declawing. It is a cruel practice. But there are HUNDREDS of ALREADY declawed cats in the shelter system. If we have an application for a cat that is wonderful but they want to declaw, we first call them and explain about declawing. We refer them to websites that explain the gruesome process, we try to convince them that this is cruel and inhumane, but some of them have “reasons” and won’t be swayed. We disagree, but other than that this home is absolutely WONDERFUL for a cat. Do we deny them? No. We don’t…but we’ll only place an ALREADY declawed cat with them. I think that is win-win. A cat got a wonderful home, opening up a slot for us to save another and another cat got saved from being declawed. Because let’s face it, our rejection of this home won’t stop them from just going elsewhere and getting another cat and declawing it,or lying on their next application somewhere. Win-win people. It is about doing no harm and about saving lives. And THAT is what our primary purpose is. Not about judging this woman and being disgusted and so not giving her a cat. It is about educating her and if that fails then still finding a solution where no one is harmed and a life is still saved. That cat that we have in our shelter that is already declawed needs a home too, after all.
OK, so we have talked a little about rigorous adoption processes that block animals from finding homes and we’ve discussed how marketing can help save lives, now for the final subject. Reduced adoption rates. Recently I put up some of our all time favorite dogs on our website. All have been with us for YEARS. Yes. YEARS. I promoted them on our website – all dressed up in costume (that is MARKETING!! – you REMEMBER these dogs) and advertised them for an adoption fee of just $25. ::SHOCK:: some of you just passed out. HOW CAN WE ADVERTISE OUR DOGS OR CATS FOR SUCH A LOW PRICE. We just want to”get them out?” We care “less about them” than our other dogs?
Actually no. One of those dogs is my all time favorite dog. Favorite. As in when he leaves I will weep my heart out and the people that take him home will leave me damaged and empty while at the same time I will rejoice and think every day that he is finally where he belongs – being loved in a home. So how can anyone accuse me of loving him LESS? No. Indeed I love him more to be willing to sacrifice the adoption fees that keep us alive and help cover our costs, in order to see him happy and in a good home.
When I first heard of reducing adoption fees, two or three years ago at a seminar, I was aghast. I said NO. Those dogs or cats are NO LESS worth a full fee than any dog or cat at the sanctuary. Just because they are harder to place or have issues does NOT make them any less worthy or valuable than any other animal there. And I rejected that option. I also feared that we would get the “riff-raff”. The “element”. People coming JUST because the animal was cheap. It took me a few years and a number of animal conferences and seminars and speaking with some of the best people in the business to realize I was wrong.
It isn’t about the adoption fee. Indeed every person that has ever come to adopt during a “special” has wound up making an additional donation on top of the reduced fee. I think it was Bonnie Brown that finally convinced me. I spoke to her personally and I said “But you’re going to get tons of people that are just “trash types” to come and adopt and then they won’t have the income to care for the animal if it gets sick or needs care or anything like that.” She smiled at me and said that in their experience (and she is adopting out thousands and thousands of animals a year, far more than we do) the quality of applicants did NOT go down with the adoption fee. She further asked me if I trusted my adoption team. I was filled with pride as I told her we had the best team out there. So why then, she said would you think they would give away one of your animals to any applicant that was less than worthy of the animal?
She is right.
So by advertising my heart-and-soul (Cam) for $25 was not lowering his worth. Promoting him for that price might make people spread the word more – let it go viral. Take his costumed picture and spread it all over the web. And then maybe, just maybe, this very special boy would find someone that looked at him and said “That’s my dog”. Would Erica, or Kerri, or Sue, or Meg, let Cam go to a family that wasn’t good enough for him, or that was just there for $25? No, because that person has to pass the same adoption process. We don’t lessen the application with the price. They still have to have great references and a good vet history for their current or past pets and they still need to meet us and we still get to know them and we still talk to them and see how they interact with our cats and dogs. So why would I think, or YOU think, that the reduced adoption fees mean we are standing on the corner, handing the animals out to anyone with $25 that drives by?
Now let’s move on to Halloween and black cats. We are promoting cats on Halloween for $31 and black cats for $13. People started telling us all about the Satanic cults out there that adopt to kill the animals. Many shelters won’t adopt out cats at ALL during the ENTIRE MONTH OF OCTOBER!! I want to shake these people. I presented a scenario. Please review:
It is two days before Halloween. An elderly woman walks in. She lost her cat a few weeks ago. He was 21 years old and she had him almost his whole life. She is heart broken. She did everything she could for him and she shows you pictures as she cries. She decided that she needs another cat in her life, life is not the same without one, and since she is older she is looking to adopt a senior cat. You show her your cat rooms and you watch as she wanders from cat to cat, room to room, petting and cooing softly to the cats. After some time, she decides on the cat that has captured her heart. It is Shadow. A black cat. So you go out and tell her to come back in a month or pick a different cat.
Does this make sense to anyone? Really? Because it is close to Halloween and Shadow is a black cat she must be denied. Shelter policy.
HELLO??? HELLO? Does anyone see a HUGE disconnect here?
These sort of archaic policies need to be put to bed and left there. EVERY adoption, every person goes through the SAME process, whether it is Halloween, or Christmas or Easter. The holiday does NOT change that if you have common sense and if your adoption team is decent and educated. If a woman came in dressed as a witch and said she wanted to adopt a black cat, any black cat, it didn’t matter – would you give HER one? or a 15 year old boy? No but they would fail for OTHER reasons having nothing to do with the holiday. The first person because we don’t adopt “ANY” animal to “ANYONE”. We wait to see a connection and love blossoming on the face and a healthy interaction between person and pet. That woman that just wanted “any cat” wouldn’t pass that. And the 15 year old boy? Well, he has to be 21, so he fails automatically.
Additionally animals being harmed at Halloween is mostly a myth. Does it still happen? Sure, just like it does every OTHER day of the week. If we see animals that were tortured on Dec 20 do we say it was a result of the Christmas holiday? In April is it a result of Arbor Day? No, but if it happens anywhere in October it is attributed to Halloween. I have spent considerable time this week researching the number of animal torture, mutilation and abuse cases in the course of a year. Know what I found? That October does NOT show a higher percentage of these at all. The media just HIGHLIGHTS it more. The media also continues to do “Keeping your pet safe on Halloween” stories every single year, but yet statistics show that there are no increased cases of this. In fact more animals are injured, lost or traumatized during July 4! But I worked in media at one point and it was always an assignment every year. Halloween and protecting animals. We never thought to question it, just pulled up archaic stories and gave out tips. People – let these die, they aren’t real. But shelters use these stories to “protect” their animals from adoption.
In 1996 a news crew did an intensive study around Halloween to see if any more animals were harmed THEN, than any other time. Result? No. No increase or stories of any cruelty to any animals. And really, let’s face it…do people intent on harming animals need to come to a shelter, give their drivers license and ID, home address and phone numbers, vet information, personal references, and pay an adoption fee to get a cat? Umm, no, you can walk outside most supermarkets and adopt a kitten or go to any feral cat community and trap one. People are not coming to us, knowing we will be doing follow up calls to check on the pets in a few days and then again in a few weeks, and handing over all this personal information so they can mutilate the animals.
If it isn’t logical and it doesn’t make sense, then it probably isn’t a real threat.
So the bottom line is this. We love our animals. ALL of them. We are careful with EVERY adoption. Holidays and every day of the week or month. We constantly try to find good homes, we constantly try to market our animals better and we constantly try to save more lives. We are always on the side of the animals.
We always will be.
– See more at: http://petsalive.com/blog/2010/10/25/black-cats-halloween-reduced-adoption-fees-oh-my/