Animal Rescues: Never Underestimate the Power of an Image (or Your Creativity) to Save Lives

Animal Rescues: Never Underestimate the Power of an Image (or Your Creativity) to Save Lives
Pongo was languishing in a local animal control for reasons no one could identify until this single photo ignited social media and found him, along with almost every other adoptable animal in the shelter, a home.

Ready to have your mind blown with some very happy news that I hope will inspire the heck out of you?

Okay, first a little reality check. Let's face it. Most people go into animal rescue work because they love animals, not because they want to be marketing directors. I totally get that. And yet, without the willingness of those who serve our community's homeless pets to embrace their roles as PR managers and marketing agents for their charges, too often even the most out-of-the-box ready to be adopted pets can languish unnoticed. And as much as people don't like to think this way, pet rescues have to deal with merchandising issues just as much as any retailer of any item out there, from shoes, to cars, to breakfast cereal.

Pets that are around too long can start to be passed by just because they've become, in a sense, aging merchandise.

Sounds rather cold, I know, but I have seen people walk into a shelter during low season times, do a visual sweep of the cages and declare, "They don't have anything in here" and walk out, having barely entered the adoption room. I was once in an adoption room that had twelve cats inside, roughly half that room's capacity. A couple came in, glanced around from just inside the door,  surely unable to see the cats that were tucked back in their cages, and declare, "There's nothing in here!" and walk out as though the room were devoid of even one single creature. It was as though the twelve cats present literally did not exist because the inventory 'sweet spot' hadn't been hit.

Of course I wanted to follow them out and shake them silly but I didn't because they taught me something valuable about how tricky rescue work is and how critical it is to understand both business AND the basics of animal care.

That half empty cat room was no different to those potential adopters than if you were to  walk into a store that was having a moving sale and, seeing the shelves emptying, decide the store was empty without ever walking all the way inside. The sad thing is, the 'merchandise' we are talking about here happens to be alive and trying to cope with difficult circumstances.

It's so cute, you can almost forget this is a kennel...

It's so cute, you can almost forget this is a kennel...

Of course, with creative kennel staff such as can be found at DuPage County Animal Care & Control, for example, you can make the adoption space much more inviting for both the animals as well as the public who visit them. If this isn't evidence that there is a lot of love to be found in your local county shelter, I don't know what is.

It would be awesome if love were enough.

Anyone in rescue for any length of time quickly comes to see that all the rescuer's love in the world, and all the pet's deservingness in the world will not guarantee a timely adoption. Without eyes on your pets, they aren't going anywhere. And not just any eyes...eyes that are connected to people who are inspired to help because of what you show them.  And even more...Eyes connected to people who are inspired not only to help this once, but to be a part of a community of support moving forward.

Where the rescue meets the public is where the longevity of a rescue is determined. 

So, even if you are more of an 'animal person' than a 'people person', if you are involved in running a rescue, you have to be willing to cultivate ongoing relationships with your community in order to serve your animals well. You may prefer animals but you need people. The good news is, you have social media to help you! The bad news is, it won't unless you really devote yourself to learning how to use it...and realize that what works is continually evolving. If you don't, you will set yourself up for feeling demoralized and frustrated.

Social media is not a passive "post it and they will come" process.

Social media is chock FULL of animals in urgent need of homes and the reality is that YOUR rescue's urgent need isn't necessarily going to be compelling, even if it is breaking your heart since you know the animal in question. Sure, you are going broke with the animal care costs. Sure, you feel overwhelmed. A lot of people in the world feel (or are) broke and overwhelmed. Get in line. You can't base the running of a rescue on trying to out-desperate the next guy. That may work for an animal or two but here's the bottom line:

Unless you are able to inspire love in others, you are sunk.

And the way to inspire love is to let yourself be in love. And then tell the story of that love.

What is it that touches your heart in this creature you are trying to help?

Bring them and their plight to life in a way that helps me, Suzy Q. Public, see them, even if I've been looking at their photos for months.

And that brings me to Pongo and what one inspired volunteer photographer did for him. He had been up for adoption for almost a year. Tons of photos were up. Technically he didn't need another one.  But it seems he needed the right one. And that is what happened.

The volunteer told his story in a way that inspired a whole lot of people to help him.

And not only him.

After nearly a year in the shelter, that single image ignited such a passion in potential adopters that Pongo and nearly all the shelter's adoptable animals found homes within a week. Within days, only one cat and one dog remained unadopted. Staff member, Jen, explained,

We had hundreds of calls and emails from all over the United States and even one from Canada. Unfortunately we won't be able to return all the calls - we are a small staff and it's just not possible. Pongo had been with us forever and his pal Creda was with us since July so all the craziness was worth it . Now, we literally have one dog and cat for adoption.

Of course, it doesn't take long for a shelter adoption floor to fill back up but imagine the morale boost that was for all the staff and volunteers. Just seeing what is possible when the community is inspired to rally around you had to have them feeling more hopeful for the next pups and cats in line.

And doesn't creativity inspire creativity? Creative sparks are called such for a reason. They are meant to ignite.

And with that I say, Happy New Year! Be inspired and let all that love you have for your critters get those creative juices flowing. People DO want to help. It's up to you to build the bridges so that they will. You never know, the next amazing story could come from YOU.

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