Dallas Animal Services (DAS) was in a tight spot. Like many shelters in late 2022 and despite their best efforts, the number of pets they were caring for had been high for months. They’d been asking their community for emergency adopters and fosters for some time. When dogs began showing symptoms of Upper Respiratory Infections, the situation quickly escalated, becoming critical.
“We discovered that CIV (Canine Influenza Virus) was in our population, and we needed to make a clean break to address the illness and protect incoming population,” DAS Director MeLissa Webber tells us. “Being a municipal shelter, closing intakes was not an option.”
In order to keep the population of dogs exposed to the virus low, an extraordinary number of dogs would need to leave the shelter (150!) over a span of just three days. They would need to think outside the box to make this happen.
“We decided to offer incentives to fosters and rescues,” says Webber. “We arrived at the $150 gift card because we thought it would be meaningful enough amount to truly be an incentive.” DAS consulted with Friends of DAS, who jumped right in and funded the gift cards.
“We placed 160 big dogs that weekend!” Webber tells us. “We were thrilled. The campaign was picked up by all the major networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC) and the Dallas Morning News. What was surprising was how many people came to directly adopt, which carried no incentive, so the campaign drove a lot of traffic that first weekend.”
DAS Manager of Community Engagement Sarah Sheek tells us if she had it to do all over again, she wouldn’t make any major changes. “If I had an extra day, I would have prepped my tracking spreadsheet in advance because the initial incentive tracking was a little messy,” she tells us. “A few weeks later, I now have a well-organized spreadsheet with formulas to tell us when fosters hit two weeks, but I wish I had started the campaign with that ready to go.”
“I think having an outline for how you would implement an effort like this should be part of every shelter’s emergency foster planning,” says Sheek. “It’s a great tool to have in your pocket when you need to drive a large amount of traffic at once.”
“Advice for other organizations would be to just do it. There was a lot of trepidation at first, but I don’t think any of the fears were realized,” says Webber, who suggests, “Continually looking at what’s happening so you can course correct if needed.”