2016-06-30 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Visibility can make the difference between whether a shelter pet gets adopted or not. Visibility can also lessen the time a dog or cat has to spend in a shelter. The Internet, especially with the advent of Pet finder and Facebook became the game changer for showcasing homeless animals. However, there are other ways to enhance visibility and adoptability.

NYS municipal shelters are most in need of pet publicity because they are mandated by law to accept all stray dogs, and influenced by compassion and ethics to house as many cats and owner-surrender dogs as possible. Except for huge facilities like North Shore Animal League, most town shelters hold many more animals than private shelters. For example, Last Hope with a dog capacity of 20 is next door to Town of Hempstead Shelter with a dog capacity of over 120. Town shelters like Babylon and Brookhaven tend to be in industrial, hidden locations. As for Nassau and western Suffolk, only Smithtown is on a main road, while only Hempstead is in a residential/commercial area. Often residents are unaware their town has a shelter.

“Teddy” in an “Adopt Me” vest at a street fair. “Teddy” in an “Adopt Me” vest at a street fair. This is the reason we launched “Pets” in the Beacon 33 years ago. Time was absolutely crucial back then. We wanted the buried treasure hidden in our remote town shelter discovered by caring people. I didn’t enter my town shelter until 1981 when I followed an Afghan in the back of a police car to the old location on Edison Avenue. We adopted this fellow “Alfie.” Being there opened my eyes to other amazing dogs with a week at most to be adopted before being euthanized. I called Irish Setter Rescue about a beautiful Setter next to Alfie. The woman on the phone blurted: “We’re full. What do you want me to do?” Epiphany moment: You want something done; you’ll have to do it yourself.

Poster pets: These photos remain so important in “Pets.” Give the dog a catchy name. Better yet- dress him up. Hopefully, someone will notice him in the paper and rush down to the shelter. We needed instant photos. Back then the only method was Polaroid. If the dog moved, the photo became trash, at a dollar per print. Hopefully, there’d be at least two good shots out of 20. Other usable Polaroids were put on posters in stores to increase the chance someone would see the pet in time.

Digital photography has zoom, editing features and put an end to Polaroids and the posters. Short videos online or on Pet Finder and websites introduce potential adopters to the pet. At Last Hope we’ve viewed these videos to decide which dogs to transport from Southern shelters. You get a glimpse of their soul. People reach out to shelters states away if their idea of the perfect pet shows up on their computer screen. Years ago Babylon Shelter had a cardiologist adopter from NYC who insisted the Shepherd mix picked up in one of the Wellwood cemeteries had eyes just like his late Shepherd mix.

Stay up front: A terrified dog huddled in the back of the run or a cat crouched in its litter box will not be noticed by the public. When volunteers or staff members spend time socializing and assuring the scared pets, their whole demeanor can soften and make them more desirable.

Creative use of space: Oyster Bay Shelter has a huge lobby. They were able to add a few cat condos to the lobby and still had enough room for a dance floor. These cats are the first pet you see entering the building. Babylon’s lobby is smaller but it has become the cat ante room. Everyone, even canine customers, meets the cats and kittens as soon as they walk in.

Less is more: In 2010 the ASPCA did a study to determine if limiting the number of cats shown at one time would increase adoptions with the hypothesis- “Shelters are so often bursting with cats that it is possible that people who come through the shelter doors with every intention of adopting might find the sheer number of available cats overwhelming and they go home empty-handed.”

The ASPCA study was conducted at a Colorado shelter. Visibility was reduced by 40% without reducing the number of cats housed. Colorful wrap covered these cages. Results showed more than twice the number of people who came in the door to look at cats actually walked out the door with new cats.

Without knowing about this strategy, Babylon Shelter used the technique Saturday during an adoption open house. Some of the newly neutered kittens were held in the back, and brought to a cage in the lobby as soon as others were adopted. Having more adoptable cats “waiting in the wings” may help them get adopted faster.

I fear the same factor may be at work when people walk through kennels packed with frustrated, jumping Pit Bulls that have been waiting a long time. You see so many so they all blur in your mind. That’s why the “shoe store” approach may be help. Show visitors Pit pictures, and then bring the dog out to the people to meet.

Location, location, location: Cats in eye-level cages tend to be seen faster than those on the top or bottom row. Retail stores like Petco and PetSmart partner with rescues, and never sell dogs or cats. They provide satellite adoption centers inside the store at no cost to their designated rescue. These cats move into homes faster if the adoption area is located in a portion of the store seen by every shopper.

Off-site adoption events are an excellent way to bring homeless pets to the public. We began bringing Babylon Shelter dogs and cats to the summer Craft Fair at Town Hall in the early 1980s. Shelter Link volunteers take Babylon dogs to many events now. Street fairs are a great way for dogs in “Adopt Me” vests to meet new people too. Adoption events at non-pet venues are so innovative. My favorite was at Palanker Chevy in W. Babylon. One person adopted a Babylon dog and purchased a Corvette the same day.

Poster Kitties at Babylon Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: Both are about 10 weeks old, already spay/ neutered, vaccinated, vet checked, wormed and microchipped. “Honey” 6-233 is in the refillable lobby cage, while “Rusty Staub” 6-255 is part of a gorgeous long-haired litter.

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