December 19, 2023
Categories: Marketing, PR, and Social Media

This post originally ran in 2019. Mark your calendars for the next Challenge in April 2024, the Open Arms Challenge

In order to find adopters for pets with long shelter stays and compete in the Get ‘Em Home Challenge, Young-Williams Animal Center in Knoxville, TN, developed progressive programming that involved many different areas. Their plan involved the creation of a field trip program, an innovative foster-to-adopt program, marketing pets heavily on social media, increased use of play groups and training for dogs and cats who have behavioral challenges.

Their Strategies

“The purpose of Doggie Day Trips (DDT) is to provide stress relief for long length of stay (LOS) animals while getting them exposure in the community,” says Matthew Lawson, Adoptions Manager at Young-Williams. “We have staff handpick dogs that are showing signs of stress or that may need a break from the shelter and we employ the use of volunteers or members of the public who want to take our adoptable pets out to local spots such as parks, dog-friendly restaurants, etc. Some took the dogs home on rainy days to snuggle and watch movies. The dogs get stress relief and the volunteers actively promote the adoptable dog while they are out. We provide each DDT a bag with treats, a water bottle/bowl, a paper with great spots to take your buddy for the day, and business cards that they can write the animals name and provide interested parties with directions to the shelter. We also employ the use of DDT Outing forms to gather data on behavior and other traits that we can use to promote the animal.”

Their sleepover foster-to-adopt program gives potential adopters a fun alternative to outright adoption that’s a win for the pet even if they need to be returned to the shelter. “As many of our long LOS animals had minor behavior issues, this was an easy way to convince adopters to take a chance on a new pet,” says Lawson. “We had an initial goal of 125 sleepovers for the year but we exceeded that goal and ended up doing 288 with an approximate 80% success/adoption rate. The animals that returned came back with valuable information to help us find a better fit in the future.”

They also worked hard to market pets for adoption, using every possible method. “We took advantage of television appearances and social media, and encouraged the public to like, comment and share our posts for enhanced awareness. Some of our best success stories came from telling a story and allowing the public to share,” says Lawson.

Help for Cats and Dogs with Behavioral Challenges

“We clicker trained our cats! This was so fun and was a great way to get cats to interact with the public,” says Lawson. Young-Williams also re-branded their working cat program with catchy signage and created new relationships by personally reaching out to farms and 4-H organizations.

They worked with a positive reinforcement trainer to train staff members to work with their pets. The company also offered eight in-home training sessions to the adopters of dogs with behavioral issues. “For behavior dogs, we implemented a behavior check sheet that graduated the animal up to ‘ready for adoption’ status. Our behavior team came up with small steps and milestones that our kennel staff could implement to make the animal more adoptable while in their care,” says Lawson.

“We even got a little radical in our play groups by safely muzzling dogs that were rumored to be dog aggressive and allowing them to interact in small controlled groups. Many of these dogs were not dog aggressive, they simply did not have the socialization skills that they needed to be successful. A good portion of these dogs had their ‘no other dogs in home’ limitations lifted as long as there was a successful dog-to-dog meet and greet.”

How the Grant Winnings are Helping

“The grant money we received from the Get ‘Em Home Challenge has had a dramatic effect in boosting and funding our lifesaving programs. This grant has allowed us to provide supplies for our Doggie Day Trip Program, which provides much-needed enrichment activities for our shelter dogs,” says Lawson. “We have been able to provide dogs with behavioral issues training scholarships that convey to new adopters which ensure success in the home. Additionally, we have been able to allocate resources to our Sleepover program, which gives potential adopters a short trial period to see how the animal will fit into their home and lifestyle. This increases the long term success rate of adoptions and ensures each animal finds the right home, and each family finds the right pet for their home.”

So far in 2019, the organization’s average length of stay is lower than it was before the challenge. Lawson tells us, “Maddie’s Fund Get ‘Em Home Challenge inspired us to look closely at length of stay and also where we use our resources in regards to hard-to-adopt pets. The grant money received from the challenge will aid our lifesaving efforts and support our mission of ‘A Home For Every Pet.’ Thank you, Maddie’s Fund!”