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Saving Pets is a Business

Why Shelters Are Failing Animals

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Mike Arms - Blogpaws Keynote Speaker

Mike Arms - Blogpaws Keynote Speech on UStream

Blogpaws UStream Video
Mike Arms, president of Helen Woodward Animal Center, spoke at Blogpaws West, a conference for pet bloggers and pet professionals. He is an accountant by training, animal champion by choice. He is a compelling speaker with message that is tough to hear. The message is a fresh perspective that I feel is necessary to raise awareness and affect positive change for animals everywhere.

Arms believes that to truly help animals in shelters, we need to start thinking of sheltering as a business and market as such; bringing value to each life, and get away from the "disposable" attitude so prevalent today.

More: Watch Mike Arms keynote speech (have tissues ready).

The Business of Marketing

It surprises me, how shelter animals are perceived. I've always felt that animals in shelters are on the wrong side of the human race - it isn't their fault, they deserve a loving home just like any animal. But public perception differs. Untrained, unhealthy, and "less than" are common misconceptions about animals in shelters. Why is this?

Arms says it is because we do a poor job marketing these worthy beautiful animals to the public. Think of how much money goes into creating an ad campaign for a bag of dog food or a can of soda. Lots of money.

When I look at available dogs and cats on adoption shelter and rescue sites, I often see quick-shot photos that may or may not capture that animal's personality (varies with the site, but often not the most flattering photo). I am regularly frustrated by the lack of information about the animal in the description. They don't stand a chance of being adopted. Their time will run out, waiting for someone to "see through" that low quality photo and no description.

Old Ways of Thinking

I used to think that by donating money and materials and inspiring others to donate to shelters would help solve the problem. More food could be purchased, animals would get more "time" to be adopted, and things would improve. But would it? Necessary costs and funds, yes, but this isn't re-marketing anything. It isn't changing anything.

Where Do We Start?

Here is an excellent "case study" of how one person helped a shelter better "market" their adoptable animals. The Washington County SPCA adoption web site averaged about 2,000 views to their adoption site. A local photographer stepped in and donated 3 hours a week of her time to take more appealing photos of the dogs and cats. A simple act, but the results were astounding. The page views rose to 12,000 a month, and people are now coming in from a large area, asking for animals by name. Watch this news story on You Tube.

Related video: Before and After photos of shelter dogs in Los Angeles.

I have seen many of the "before" type of photos on a variety of sites. They fuel the poor public image of shelter animals. Isn't it amazing what a good photo can do for the viewer's perception of that animal?

Just a few days ago, I was at the county fair. The local shelter had several cats and a couple dogs that were up for adoption. I noticed several "adopted" signs on the cat enclosures, and the dogs were doing their best to meet-greet-and-win-people-over to earn their forever home.

I went home and checked out the shelter's Facebook page - adoptions are up, thanks to the presence at the fair. That's all it takes. Marketing. In a shelter situation, animals will bark, be rowdy, hide in the corner or hiss due to the noise and stress. Get those animals out of the environment (that they don't want to be in in the first place) and show them off.

Better yet, change the environment.

Shelter Makeovers

Another shelter in my area benefited from a "makeover" by a local business who donated supplies, time, and people to spruce up the shelter. The fresh new look created a way for the shelter to better market themselves to the public. The makeover culminated in an open house that was well attended.

Here's a photo tour of how another team got together to do a shelter makeover.

Don't have time, money or photographic talent?

Start small. You can help change the perception of shelters and help animals find homes by the words you choose. Mike Arms reminded the audience of the terms "orphanage" and "old folks home." We now have "adoption" and "assisted living" centers. Positive words are powerful. Adoption centers and assisted living centers really ARE much better places than they were years ago.

Arms doesn't use the words "mixed breed" at his facility. The non-purebred dogs and cats are referred to as "blends." A simple shift, modeled after popular coffee names, but a choice of words that grabs attention and maybe a smile. In fact, he doesn't have a "shelter," that is a vision of harsh, cold, dirty, unwanted. He has an animal center - featuring many types of animals, worthy animals that deserve a home.

How Will You Start?

Another big point Mike Arms made is that it is obvious we love animals. Love isn't enough. Animal shelters started out as a good idea. However, overpopulation and poor public perception have made helping animals a problem. Without change, the problem continues. We have to truly care about each animal's welfare and well being to change things.

We need to view saving lives as a business. How will you help?

Related Reading:
Blogpaws West Veterinary Track

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