When Lynette said she had a dog called Summer up for adoption, I told her casually to make sure the picture was cute, in focus and of a reasonable file size. When it arrived, all I could say was, “Squeeeeee!”
I’ll say it straight out: I am not a pet rescuer and I never will be. It takes a certain mindset to deal with strays day in and day out, and it’s not something I have. Even pictures of dogs that need to be adopted make me worry about their future.
On the few occasions I’m faced with a stray that needs a home, I’m aware of the overwhelming odds that need to be beaten. There are currently about 7,600 pets up for adoption on Petfinder alone, never mind the hundreds sitting in shelters all over the country.
Also, we’ve nowhere to keep strays, so they need to sit in a kennel somewhere while we look to friends and friends of friends to find suitable homes. It’s cruel to keep a pet in a cage (just imagine yourself being locked up in a bathroom for weeks on end!) and it costs a fortune so if we can’t find a place, there’s the knowledge that a perfectly healthy pet may have to be put down.
Feeling the pressure yet?
So I was thinking, this picture of Summer is absolutely terrific. It just screams, “Adopt me!” And it got me thinking, what are the golden rules for advertising a pet looking for a home?
When looking for advice, it’s best to turn to the pros, so I called up Andy Koh Chun Hoh, founder and CEO of Petfinder Malaysia (http://www.petfinder.my), the Internet-based organisation that specialises in linking people with new or lost pets. They’ve had almost 23,000 success stories in the six years since they’ve been founded, so I asked if he could share the secrets.
“A photo speaks a thousand words,” Andy confirmed. “It’s possible to just fill in the basic profile that states age, sex and where the animal is and just put up a nice photo and get some responses.”
By a “nice” photo, Andy means a high-resolution picture taken by a DSLR camera (not a handphone!).
“Angle is vital,” Andy says. “It’s important to get down to the animal’s level when taking your shot so that it’s not top-down. Also, shoot up and to the side and take tonnes of pictures so you can get the cutest angles. When you’ve got something that looks good, use editing software to sharpen, highlight and retouch.”
Also, an attractive backdrop is essential. “The rescuers with the best success rates are those who decorate backgrounds and add fun and energy to a picture,” Andy reveals. “If you have a black dog, it’s difficult to showcase features so you might use a nice toy, a bright collar or some other prop.”
If you have several good photos, all the better. “An album of five or more shots showing the whole dog, the face, and some action is ideal,” Andy thinks. “And if you can put up a short video of the pet playing or being cute, even better!”
The text that goes with an ad has to be carefully thought out, too, if it’s to be effective.
As far as Dog Talk Adopt Me boxes go, the focus is on short and snappy. There’s the name, age and contact as well as a sentence on the character of the pet. These are the essentials that help an animal get a good match with an owner. However, online there is much more space for information.
“We’ve got two kinds of people,” Andy muses. “Those who stick to the photo and those who go all out with the descriptions. I think the most effective ones are the where the rescuer talks about the pet’s needs and character. For example, you might have a very active dog who can’t be kennelled and must have a lot of long walks. Or you may have a dog who loves cats – or not!
“Some rescuers use before and after photos so that adopters can see how much work has gone into rehabilitating a pet. That can be useful, because rescue is a very expensive business and some people need to see why there’s an adoption fee.”
“I think that if you’ve gone in for behavioural training, that should go in too. Rescue isn’t just about the physical, it’s about mental health, too. An adopter needs to know whether this was always a highly social dog, whether it’s a shy dog and so on.”
What’s the bottom line?
“Communicate,” Andy says. “Put it all out there, leverage all your contacts, all your social media, and expect to go over all the details again and again when you get calls.”
Ellen Whyte is currently ruled exclusively by cats but she sneaks out to talk to her dog friends.