September 17, 2019
Categories: Foster Programs

Being completely transparent with potential adopters about pets’ history and behavior is critical. However, telling all of pets’ flaws in the pet’s adoption marketing often leads to long shelter stays because certain phrases act as “stop signs,” even for the perfect potential adopter.

To keep this from happening, we’re sharing targeted techniques for separating marketing from adoption counseling, making the way potential adopters meet pets similar to the way humans form relationships. For an overview of this technique, we suggest you read our blog on this topic. (In this blog post we’re focusing on pets that have minor, if any, known behavioral history. If a pet has caused harm to humans or animals, the organization caring for them needs to evaluate the actions taken.)

Finding an adopter for a pet that legitimately isn’t comfortable living with other pets or children can be a daunting task. You might think, “It’s going to take forever to find this pet a home,” and often it does.  Adopters who don’t have kids or other pets seem almost like the unicorns of animal welfare. We think they might be out there, but where are they when we need them?

The Data on Unicorns

Kelly Duer, Maddie’s Fund® Foster Care Specialist, did a little sleuthing to find out whether they’re really out there, or if they only exist in my mind.  First, she looked back at the 18 dogs her family fostered during Kristen Hassen-Auerbach’s study of behavioral foster care in Fairfax. Here’s the breakdown of their placement:

Clearly, adopters with no kids and no other pets exist. Here’s the kicker: it took an average of only three weeks for the dogs in the study to find the homes they needed once they were in foster care!

Three weeks. How could this possibly have been done? The dogs were marketed vigorously, with social media posts going up on the shelter’s main Facebook page at least once a week. Adoption counseling was kept separate from the marketing. Instead, she contacted each potential adopter and discussed the dogs’ personalities and behaviors, one-on-one, in context. As the adoptions were required to be completed at the shelter, the shelter’s adoption counselors worked with the adopters to make sure they understood the dogs’ histories and needs as well. This meant the dogs’ adopters got twice the support and guidance they would normally get.

Adopters without other pets or children not only exist, but there are quite a few of them! They just scatter like cockroaches in the light when “stop signs” are placed around pets.

Targeted Marketing

When we talk about removing stop signs from marketing, the first question Duer is usually asked is, “Doesn’t that mean you’ll be contacted by a whole bunch people who aren’t the right match for the dog?”

“Your time is valuable, and this method will most likely save a lot of it,” said Duer. “Consider the amount of time staff will spend on keeping a pet walked, fed, enriched and their kennel clean for possibly a prolonged shelter stay vs. the amount of time it will take to answer the inevitable questions about kids and other pets. There is no contest. Additionally, you can minimize this by targeting the specific audience you’re looking for in the pet’s adoption marketing material.”

Consider the story of Sweet Jane. Duer’s family worked as a team with another couple to foster her, and all of them worked hard at marketing her. While they believed Sweet Jane’s ideal placement was with older or no children and without cats, these stop signs were not included in the marketing or in her biography.

Lots of families inquired about Sweet Jane, and every one of them had children and/or cats. After several months, they began to get frustrated. “We began to discuss adding some adoption counseling to the marketing… but first, we took one last look at how we’d been marketing her to see if we could identify anything that needed to be changed:

The problem is pretty obvious, no? Sweet Jane was very attached to my 20-year-old daughter, Annie, and we’d used an array of adorable pictures of the two together in their marketing. However, Annie looked like she was closer to age 10 than 20, which meant we were accidentally marketing her straight to families with children. We immediately started a new marketing campaign focused on adults.”

This time, the results paid off!

And what of the families with children who inquired about Sweet Jane? This was the perfect opportunity to show them the shelter’s great customer service and get some exposure for other shelter dogs who might be a better fit for them. It wasn’t time-consuming. In Sweet Jane’s case, Duer identified several dogs in the shelter who had lived or interacted positively children and kept a list handy. When a family with children contacted them, she made sure to refer to this list. Several of these families ended up adopting the dogs they referred them to.

Harper was adopted when they referred one of Sweet Jane’s potential adopters to her.

Keeping marketing separate from adoption counseling can help facilitate finding adoptive homes for pets with special needs. Making a few adjustments to your marketing to target the adopters you’re looking for and referring potential adopters who aren’t a good fit for a pet to others who are can save time for you and the dogs in your care.