“Our goal is to end the euthanasia of dogs and cats in America that are healthy and treatable. To do that we have to place 2.7 million more dogs and cats this year than we did in the previous year: that means 4 more adoptions per week per animal organization in the United States. We think that’s a very doable challenge.” — Rich Avanzino, President of Maddie’s Fund

This is the third and final installment of the three-part series exploring the Shelter Pet Project, a joint effort of the Ad Council, Maddie’s Fund, and the Humane Society of the United States  to end the euthanasia of healthy animals.

In Part 1, I covered the first phase of the Shelter Pet Project, which produced and distributed a series of videos aimed at changing the perception of shelter pets as being inferior. The message: Human problems lead to pets being sent to shelters, not problems with the animals.

In Part 2, I discussed how the project came under the aegis of the Ad Council, and the importance — really, the awesomeness — of getting the Ad Council involved in this cause.

I conclude this series with the latest series of videos, and a discussion of the role that the shelters and the American public need to play in order for the campaign to succeed.

I thought it would be fitting to end on a day that a group of pet bloggers are highlighting other worthy campaigns and causes in the Blog the Change for Animals blog hop. Earlier this week, in the Pet Blogger Challenge, a number of them told us about their hopes for the future of their blogs. Here they talk about their hopes for the future of animals — and the inspirational things that many wonderful people and organizations are doing to bring that future to fruition.


The first series of ads how animals often end up in shelters; here you take a different tack, showing animals in homes observing humans. Could you explain the different messages?

The newest creations, like the first ones, are clever; they just shift perspective. We talk about the quirks in animal behavior,  but looking through the eyes of the dogs and cats out there, it’s clear we’re sort of odd ourselves. I think that when people see the newest commercials there’s going to be a smile on their face and maybe an awareness that this bond that provides us with such love and joy comes with the mutual understanding that we’re different species but that just makes things interesting.

My expectation is that over the years we will have a variety of different messages, because there’s no one size fits all, but all have the central theme that shelters and rescues are the best place to go, that these animals make wonderful companions, and that a person is the best thing in a shelter pet’s life. We want you to be that person and adopt.

What role do the shelters themselves play in the campaign?

Part of the overall effort is to make shelters destination points. If people encounter smells and noise and poor customer service at shelters that’s counterproductive.

We need to put pressure on the institutions and the agencies and the animal organizations to get their act together. If we drive traffic to the shelters and the rescues organizations and they don’t accept the new public  interest with open arms or don’t return the phone calls to people who’ve seen a pet on PetFinder or seen it on the search engine for the Shelter Pet Project, then we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. Sure we have to drive the traffic, but after the traffic gets to their doorsteps, potential adopters have got to be welcomed, brought into the fold. The shelters and rescues have to be there to facilitate that last step in the lifesaving effort.

How do you see that coming to pass?

In many ways. We need to build shelters in more desirable places, not near dumps. The politicians and general public haven’t gotten outraged over the inadequate performance of the institutions that are supposed to protect animals when they don’t work. That’s understandable. A lot of politicians do what their constituents want. We need to make it clear that animals can alleviate other societal problems, help us overcome our maladies, drug addition, depression, etc.

When animals are no longer considered disposable commodities, when we’re not killing 2.7 million dogs and cats and every life is precious and dear and as important to us as our kids are, then you will see them moving up on the priority scale. Animals should be at the top of the list alphabetically, but they’re usually at the bottom when it comes to distributing tax dollars.

The American people say pets are family members on four legs; 60% of us are animal lovers. When asked would we rather be stranded on an island with a two-legged or four-legged being, 60% of pet owners say they’d rather be with their dog or cat. We just haven’t done enough to convince them that the shelter pet is every bit as loving, as joyful and as important in your life as purebreds.

Our hearts as a people are strong and compassionate. We have to work with that instinct within the American people to make for better conditions for animals. I think that will lead to more contributions, to more volunteers, more foster care — and reducing the cost to the taxpayers of killing.

It’s got to be a trickle up, grass roots movement. I don’t see it being forced from the top down. I think the institutions, whether municipal governments or boards of directors, are going to rally when they see people demanding these things.

Are you optimistic for the future?

Oh yes. We as a nation killed 24 million dogs and cats 40 years ago. It’s now down to 3.4 million. In the midst of a recession, we increased the number of animals who got saved last year. We’ve gone from a 27% market share of shelter pets in households to a 29% share in these awful economic conditions, just in the last two years. We reduced euthanasia by 10% in the worst economic conditions of our time in our nation.

There’s great hope on the horizon. All we need is four more adoptions per agency per week. It’s very doable.

20 thoughts on “The Shelter Pet Project, Pt. 3: The Future”

  1. Very good interview. Even one bad experience with an unclean shelter can influence a potential pet owner’s actions. I’d visited a shelter many many years ago, and it was smelly and sad. The puppies eyes were oozing and overall, it did not look like a clean environment. Fortunately I have since visited many other well-run shelters.
    One rescue group locally runs an adoption clinic from an empty storefront in a mall. It’s a great location and they are able to display posters to help educate shoppers.
    Peggy’s Pet Place

    1. Thanks, Peggy. I agree that things are getting better — and that it’s hard to get people to go back after one bad experience. The Humane Society of Southern Arizona has a similar program to the one you describe. They bring adoptable pets to pet boutiques they established in two very high-end malls in Tucson, so that people can see them in “pet store” environments.

  2. Really great interview Edie. It’s funny that the need for shelters and rescues be ready to meet the traffic being driven their way. I just had a comment from someone who said they had to wait a month for a home visit to adopt their dog. I think this speaks to the heart of what Rich was saying.

    I absolutely love the new commercials they’ve been running. I really like their humor and way of showing humans through the eyes of a pet. I always wondered what they thought about us crazy humans!

    I also love the numbers. You can’t beat success like that in a recession. Wow.

    So glad you decided to share your 3rd installment for Blog the Change.

    No Dog About It Blog

    1. Thanks, Mel. I’m glad it worked out too. It turned out to be a nice companion piece to your post! It infuriates me to hear stories like the one you mentioned about having to wait a month for a home visit; I wish they were far less common.

  3. We live in an interesting microcosm that represents the best & worst of shelter situations – we have the largest no-kill shelters in both KS & MO in our metro area – and at the same time, we have one of the most shameful high-kill, city-run “shelters” that exist. And of course, there is the nasty little fact that most puppy mill puppies come from Missouri, too.

    It’s so important to educate the public so that they understand the need for good shelters. And it’s equally important that shelters ramp up their game and do whatever they can to educate, inform and expose the public to the needs of the pet population in their area.

    So many people turn their pets into shelters – not because the animal has done anything wrong, but because the human does not have the basic knowledge necessary to ensure the animal is well cared for. (Kitty not using the litterbox? You might try cleaning it more than once every 2 weeks….!)

    Kudos to the Shelter Pet Project – and their goal: to end euthanasia in America of pets that are healthy & treatable!

    1. You’re so right, RB&A — in some ways these are the best of times, in others they are the worst, with awareness growing about puppy mills and the good qualities of shelter pets but the internet quickly filling in the gap for pet stores when it comes to providing an outlet for puppy millers.

      The Shelter Pet Project brings together such amazing talent and resources. If any group can get the adoption message across, they can.

  4. It’s interesting that Rich points to the need for shelters and rescues to step up to the plate, do more themselves as part of this effort to reduce the number of homeless pets. Very few people dare to mention it, yet it’s of vital importance if we truly wish to see all pets in homes. And without public support of the public shelters, there’s no way politicians will direct enough of the funds needed to establish, maintain and successfully run the shelters. Thanks, Edie, for your detailed coverage of this fascinating project! Besides, we can never get tired of watching these adorable videos!

  5. I love those adoption ads. They are ridiculously cute. I cringe to think what Kolchak would reveal about me.

    I also like what Rick had to say about shelters stepping up. On one hand, *I get it*. I really do. They are over-worked and underpaid and fighting what seems like a never ending battle. Most of the volunteers I know really are doing the best they can with limited resources, but…on the other hand, all too often I have seen people turned off rescuing because of bad experiences. I know there are days at our local shelter where arriving as a volunteer to *help*, I eel like an unwanted intrusion, I can’t imagine how a potential adopter would feel being greeted by exhausted and fed up shelter staff. Then there are the folks so over-eager to get an animal adopting that they *really* glossed over some important things to tell the new family (By the way, your new dog is terrified of small children. Oh you have 2 year old triplets? He’ll be fine!) or who have sent families away completely because the dog they wanted was already adopted or not suitable for them, but never suggested another pup might be a great fit. One shelter here won’t let you volunteer unless you have taken their volunteer orientation. The catch? The orientation is only held at their main facility, six hours away and only three times a year. We have come so far, even in the short time I have been involved, but man, it sees like there is still so very far to go. I love this renewed vigor for it and the trend towards positive and totally awesome advertising for shelter pets.

    1. What you describe reinforces the need for shelters themselves to change lest all these great media campaigns be wasted. It’s awful that volunteers are not better utilized — or appreciated; they’re the backbone of the shelter movement. All the positive campaigns in the world won’t help if potential adopters come to shelters and have a negative experience. In fact, it’ll seem like false advertising.

  6. Its indeed doable. I have already adopted two dogs and i really love them. I’m glad that those numbers have dropped down. I’m still a bit sad though that there are still people who kill these animals without mercy.

  7. I love the optimism. There is still a lot of hope. Our perception of animals has changed drastically over the last century. With more time and effort, it will change further.

    This is the part that struck me the most: “The politicians and general public haven’t gotten outraged over the inadequate performance of the institutions that are supposed to protect animals when they don’t work. That’s understandable. A lot of politicians do what their constituents want. We need to make it clear that animals can alleviate other societal problems, help us overcome our maladies, drug addition, depression, etc.”

    It’s so true. There is so much the public doesn’t know because animal issues are simply off their radar. I do think people will care, and do care, but they just don’t know how large the problems are. This organization is doing an amazing job getting the message across. Hopefully they will inspire other groups to do the same.

    1. I loved the part too where 60% of pet owners said they’d prefer to be with their pet on a desert island than another human being. I don’t know what it says about human society, but it sure says we love our furry friends — and that we don’t want any of them to be killed. We have to let the politicians know.

  8. I love, love, love the Shelter Pet Project! I love that the stats are improving even in the midst of this terrible economy. I love that more people are adopting pets from shelters than ever before. I love that more shelters are stepping up to the plate – realizing that they need to become “animal resource centers” providing low-cost spay/neuter programs, humane education and more. And like Rich, I believe the goal of placing all healthy, adoptable animals is doable!

  9. I love, love, love these ads! As a rescue volunteer, I have the wonderful opportunity of helping to home animals, but I also sadly see animals get relinquished by their guardians as well. It breaks my heart. Though these ads help I view things from the animals’ points of view in a humorous way, I think it also encourages us to remember to look at things from their perspective in other ways – at least I hope! I always want people to consider how the animal feels – it helps us to understand behavior issues and correct them, which is one of the top reasons people rehome. What a great interview ^^ I think it’s helpful to know the stats, included in your last question, to help meet the goal of what rescuers are working towards. We can see where we were, where we’re are, where we’re going and where we want to be. We can do it!

    1. Edie, this interview series is fabulous. The Shelter Pet Project is so ambitious with it’s heart and sense of logic in the right place.

      I’ve worked with rescuers who had such an attitude when it came to judging prospective pet owners. In my estimation, it was less about the quality of an adoption application and more a matter of control. Sad really, the arrogance that gets passed off as passion sometimes. These are the people who need to step up in terms of compassion. They are not even close to the majority, but they reflect poorly upon the process when even one adopter senses that superiority and heads off to a pet store because it’s less insulting.

      Thanks for Blogging the Change,

      1. Thanks, Kim. Although it’s only a small percentage of rescuers who have that attitude, their bad behavior reverberates. The person who had a bad experience tells another person and… more animals are lost. I hope the efforts of the Shelter Pet Project inspire others to realize what’s at stake and mend their ways.

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