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We’re Talking Rescue and More
With special guest Christie Keith of Maddie’s Matchmaker Adoptathon

Welcome back to Off Leash, Bark’s Wednesday open thread, your chance to catch up with other Bark readers and our editors and contributors during a real-time chat. Today, we’re focusing on rescue in anticipation of the Maddie’s Matchmaker Adoptathon, an enormous cooperative adoption effort in the Bay Area this weekend.

Our special guest is Christie Keith, who is in charge of social media for the event. You’ll probably recognize Christie’s name—she’s an editor for PetConnection and writes an online pet-care column for the San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate. She’s also written several pieces for Bark on everything from nutrition and obesity to “no-kill nation.”

This open thread is a chance to gather and share new ideas for promoting your animal welfare cause, including building partnerships (something the folks at Maddie’s Fund do very well) and effectively using social media. We want to hear about your worthy shelter or rescue and how you are contributing—from launching your own breed rescue to dog wash fundraisers to big events like this weekend’s Adoptathon. What’s working? What’s not?

With our rescue and adoption theme in mind, we’ll be selecting at random, one open thread participant to donate 25 Bark subscriptions for the rescue or shelter of his or her choice, which could be used as a bonus for new adoptions or some other promotional effort. Be sure to include your email when you register to comment, so we can contact you if you win.

Please note, Christie will be dropping in at different times over the course of the day—so she may not respond to a post immediately. If you don’t hear back, check in at the end of the day to see if she had a chance to reply.

Please note: We let you speak your piece on the open thread without editing but obscene, abusive, offensive or commercial comments will be taken down. We close the thread at 4 p.m. PST.

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Submitted by Christie Keith | June 1 2011 |

Hi, everyone! I'm looking forward to talking to you about some of the things we've learned about pet adoption -- why people do it, why they don't, and what we can do to convince those who are on the fence to adopt. A few of the most effective strategies we've identified going against the conventional wisdom.

I'll be checking in all day. Thanks for stopping by. And if you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Maddie's Matchmaker Adoptathon will be held all this coming weekend at over 80 locations in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties -- check http://www.maddiesadoptathon.org/ for more info!


Submitted by Gwp Rescue, Inc | June 1 2011 |

Hi Christie,
good information....Our organization does require a pretty in-depth application process, we do not ask to speak to employers unless they are given as a personal reference. We do ask to speak to a neighbor and their current vet. Our dogs come to us for a minimum of 30 days, to insure health and behavioral wellness. Those that are not ready to be rehomed simply aren't. They all live in our homes, so we get to know them quite well. And we do home visits....anyone can give me a call and visit my licensed shelter home to meet the dogs at any time, so I do not think it too much to ask an adopter...

Many of our dogs attend a good solid obedience class, most puppies under a year, and those that respond to in home training and community socialization are usually middle of the road gwp's we work with ourselves.

We also form a strong friendship with our adopters, so they can feel comfortable to let us know if an issue or problem arises...
Mary Murray

Submitted by SaraG | June 1 2011 |

Hi Christie, I am part of a really small organization and I feel like there's so much online that we get pounded by the big websites and bloggers. How can we get attention for the 20 to 30 dogs we place each year?

Submitted by Christie Keith | June 1 2011 |

Sara, are you asking how you can get adopters for your available dogs, or are you asking in general about how to raise the profile of your organization?

Submitted by SaraG | June 1 2011 |

Both. How can we use the internet effectively to get people interested in our dogs--especially when were small.

Submitted by Melissa | June 1 2011 |

Hi Sara,

We just adopted a dog from a small agency, and we found our dog and the agency on Petfinder. I really don't know what is involved in getting your organization on Petfinder, but I do know that many, many people I know look there early on in the adoption process. My sister in law was even looking for dogs in our area on Petfinder, and she lives all the way across the country! It let her have a part in tracking down the perfect pup for her brother and I.

Good luck! Keep up the good work!


Submitted by Christie Keith | June 1 2011 |

I see Melissa got there first with my best recommendation -- maximizing your Petfinder presence!

On Petfinder, the size of your organization is invisible and irrelevent to adopters. They will be responding to the pet.

And as a small organization, you have a lot of flexibility to try new things and really give every pet the full treatment. That means GREAT, clear photos. It means HAPPY, upbeat adoption listings that play up the great personality of the pet.

I wrote something about this for Maddie's Fund:


As for raising your group's profile in general, I would suggest participating in collaborative adoption events in your area, and using media releases and cultivate relationships with local media, including bloggers. Are these things you're already doing?

Submitted by Claudia Kawczynska | June 1 2011 |

Hi Christie—
I have a general question about how best to encourage people to adopt dogs from shelters and rescuers. I am still surprised when I hear that even my friends are still obtaining dogs from breeders, the "adopt" message seems to pass many by. Why do you think this is? How can we encourage more adoptions?

Submitted by Christie Keith | June 1 2011 |

Claudia, one of the interesting things we found doing the research for The Shelter Pet Project, the Ad Council PSA campaign promoting adoption, which Maddie's Fund is sponsoring with HSUS, is that 1.5 million people have made the decision to get their pet (dog or cat) from a breeder in the next year, 5 million have definitely decided to get their pet from a shelter, and 17 million are getting a pet but have not yet made up their mind whether they'll adopt or get their pet some other way.

We only need to convince 3 million of those 17 million to do what they are already considering doing, get their new pet from a shelter, and every treatable or healthy cat or dog in America will have found a home.

By focusing on a message of "don't buy, adopt!", we're kind of shooting ourselves in the foot, because we're not addressing the REAL reasons those 17 million people don't adopt. It's because they worry that pets in shelters have "baggage" -- health or behavior problems. Our competition isn't pets from breeders, it's the myths and stereotypes about shelter pets.

Many of us in the animal welfare movement inadvertently reinforce that negative stereotype by presenting adoption in terms of guilt, or the pets as victims of human cruelty, neglect or abuse. That kind of messaging works really well to get people to DONATE to a cause, and it works pretty well on people who are already involved in rescue, but if we want to expand the market share of shelters, we have to market shelter pets to people who are not already responding to our messaging.

And that means, instead of doubling down on the guilt/grief message we've used for so long, we have to think in terms of making shelter adoption fun and happy. Adopting a pet should be JOYFUL. There should be good customer service, convenient shelter hours, and the pets should be marketed with positive, upbeat messages.

I think we'll find as we shift our messaging that we're reaching a whole new market of adopters. :)

Submitted by Maura | June 1 2011 |

Great response! I'm a HUGE advocate for adopting pets but I find myself getting stuck on both sides that you mention above!
Both my dogs have some baggage and I do tell people they are rescues so they have some issues... I guess all dogs have issues tho, rescue or not, so I should stop pinning it on that and "selling" shelter pets negatively!
On the other side, I compete in Nosework and Agility with my dogs and LOVE showing all the people at trials that rescue dogs are just as capable as non-rescue pups. People show up with there super fancy purebreds and are shocked when my little chihuahua mix beats them across the board! I try to get that message out there in the dog sporting world but it seems like a lot of those people still think dogs from breeders are more "reliable." It very frustrating especially since mix breeds can compete in most dog sports now!

Submitted by Kerry | June 1 2011 |

Maura, great point! I am far more likely to mention my dog is a rescue to explain negative behavior - such as why I think he is barking at you in all of your tallness and baseball cap and sunglasses - than when he is being awesome and sweet. It just doesn't seem as relevant then since clearly his awesomeness has to do with our great rapport and not to his background... :) Going forward, I'll have to think about when I mention he is a rescue and why I'm doing it. I am sure if I look for them, there are lots of positive opportunities that I'm letting slide by.

Submitted by Melissa | June 1 2011 |

Great response, Christie! I've been talking to everyone I know since we adopted our pup, about how wonderful the adoption process was, how great it was to talk to our dog's foster family, who had experienced his personality, had kids over to meet him, and cats, too. We got the best matched dog ever, without ever having met him, just by talking to the people involved in his rescue. It was very joyous, and you are so right...more people need to see that side of things!

Submitted by Carolyn | June 1 2011 |

My small dog was a real mess when adopted from a shelter -- health issues, missing teeth, flea allergy dermatitis, heartworm, thin, scared, etc. Within a few months, she turned into a very cute little dog. I taught her lots of tricks so that she engages people and they think she is so clever and so smart. So you can imagine, they are always shocked when I say she was adopted from a shelter and has turned out to be the best companion ever ... going on 9.5 years!

Submitted by Nancy Klein | June 1 2011 |

This is an EXCELLENT post Christie! THIS story itself of the how/why/why not, should be the central theme for a PSA/other related messaging. Spell..it..out to people in some form of push/pull media. Because this would be TRUE education!

Thanks for your hard work!

On an aside, I lost my lil' girl Kenya, a black fluffy Pomeranian in January - hardest day of my life. She was 16 and definitely my daughter. My birthday is this weekend, Maddie's event this weekend, hmmm could be time!


Submitted by Maura | June 1 2011 |

I am SOOO excited about his weekends event!!! The shelter I volunteer at adopted out over 80 pets last year during this event! What a great idea- thank you Maddie's Fund!!!!

Submitted by Christie Keith | June 1 2011 |

It's a wonderful, inspiring event, Maura! I love being involved with it!

Submitted by Claudia Kawczynska | June 1 2011 |

Another question, I hear that Maddie is going to build a shelter in the Bay Area, is this right? Can you share with us an update? Location?

Submitted by Christie Keith | June 1 2011 |

Claudia, I don't think there has been any decision made yet about location, other than it will be in the East Bay. I'll ask someone from the office to weigh in if there's any news!

Submitted by Christie Keith | June 1 2011 |

Claudia, I confirmed with them at the office that there's no additional news at this time. :)

Submitted by Melissa | June 1 2011 |

Hi. We have 5 rescued cats and a rescued dog. We adopted the cats from our local SPCA over a period of about 1.5 years, and we recently adopted the dog from a small rescue organization in Maine, that works with people in Louisiana to bring dogs to homes up here. We found our dog, Tobin, on Petfinder, which seems like a great resource for small adoption agencies to use.

One of the issues I have seen with adoption from the smaller agencies is the cost. There is a lot that goes into rescuing and fostering these pets, giving them proper veterinary care, getting them spayed or neutered, etc. When I recommend the rescue agency we worked with (which I totally LOVED!), I've had people shy away from the cost of the adoption. They are not considering all that is involved in getting the pet to the point that it is adoptable, plus the costs that they would have to encur themselves if they were to buy a puppy and get the proper care for it. I think that education is important in getting people to accept the cost of adoption....what is paid to the adoption agency allows them to continue rescuing pets, it does not go for profit. We've only had our dog for two months, and I've been quite surprised by the reactions I've heard to the adoption fees we paid for this priceless pup who needed a home. I would have paid much more, knowing what great work the rescue group is doing!

Submitted by Christie Keith | June 1 2011 |

I understand exactly what you're saying -- I often feel this way when I see people "cost-shopping" for spay surgeries. I want to ask them, do you realize this is full abdominal surgery, MAJOR surgery, and that the things you cut out to make it cheaper are the very things that set good and bad medicine apart?

Here's another example. Do you watch any of the real estate shows on HGTV? You always see people who think their house is worth X number of dollars, and then the agent takes them to see market comparables, and tries to get them to understand that their house is not worth what they WANT for it, nor what they OWE on it, nor what they need to buy their next house, but what a willing buyer will pay for it. The market sets the price.

We can rail against these things all we want, but the market -- the adopter, in this case -- will ultimately set the price. You can't really talk someone into spending more if they honestly think it's unreasonable.

We either need to do a massive public awareness campaign to raise the social cachet of rescue group adoption so that people will understand the value added of adopting from a rescue group (the pets are in homes, not kennels; foster homes know the pets and can make better adoption recommendatoins; the pets are given more comprehensive health and behavior evaluations and treatment, etc.), or rescue groups need to accept the reality of the market and find other ways to fund their good works than raising their adoption fees.

Pricing ourselves out of the market isn't the answer.

Submitted by Melissa | June 1 2011 |

Thanks, Christie. I'm leading my little one person, one dog campaign for the added value of rescue agencies here in Maine. My husband had never, in his almost half-century of life, ever had a dog nor wanted one. And now he is in love with our pup, and it was all thanks to working patiently to find the right dog, which we found through what happened to be the perfect rescue organization for us! And we brought the dog into a house with a 6 cats, a kindergartener and a small flock of laying hens. That's a lot for a dog to come home to, but this guy fits in like he's always been here. I love rescue groups!

Submitted by Kate Merriman | June 1 2011 |

One excellent example at addressing this issue can be found in Austin, Texas organization, Emancipet.

They raise money solely to make the spay and neuter piece of this equation more affordable - and they do so very successfully.

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | June 1 2011 |

Hi Open Threaders! Just a quick note about last week's open thread. The winner of the three books was Kate Merriman of San Anselmo, Calif. She has two dogs Grayson, a Catahoula, and Lulu, whom she describes as a "Lab mixed with Harbor Seal." She paints dogs. You can see her work at katemerriman.com. Most of her more recent work features her own dogs, but she also paints commissions. Right now, she's painting to raise money to cover a surgery for Grayson, who was paralyzed in a bad fall. "The good news is that he's walking again—a bit wobbly but getting stronger every day," she tells us. Speedy recovery to Grayson! Enjoy your reading to Kate.

Submitted by Kate Merriman | June 1 2011 |

Thanks Lisa! Grayson is a beautiful Catahoula who was rescued by Catahoula Rescue South Central in Austin, Texas. He was just days from being euthanized when they pulled him. I initially signed on to foster him, but fell in love with him, as did my other rescue dog Lulu. So we're now a unit of three and happy campers.

Submitted by Jennifer Berry | June 1 2011 |

I'd love to share with you an event we are kicking off today! It's RESCUE's biggest and most important fundraiser of the year - Bowlarama! With your help and the help of our animal loving community we will reach our goal of raising $45,000! $45,000 is a lot of money, especially in the current economy. These funds help us save and care for hundreds of dogs and cats. As all you animal parents out there know, medical expenses quickly add up, along with food and supplies. Now add in boarding and hundreds of dogs and cats and you can easily see how those dollars add up. However, with your help we can reach our goal. Every dollar adds up and makes a HUGE difference to our amazing organization. 100% of donations are tax deductible and they go directly towards helping us save and care for the dogs and cats we save from the kill list. Dogs just like Nolan who was recently rescued. As an older dog, he was passed over by the public and since he wasn't 100% purebred the other rescue groups passed on him too. But RESCUE saw a sweet, old soul and quickly snatched him up. He needed to be neutered, have his teeth cleaned with a few extractions and since he was limping on his front leg, we had to run x-rays and blood work on this sweet boy. I'm happy to report that everything turned out to be just fine and Nolan is just the sweetest, gentlest, most loving dog you could ever meet. Here are some amazing photos and and update from his new loving home - http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150274434867494.378046.273795.... As you can see they just adore this handsome boy. Thankfully RESCUE was able to step in to save Nolan and connect him to his wonderful family but this wouldn't have happened without your support!

There are countless other stories just like Nolan's, who through no fault of their own, find themselves homeless and abandoned. With your support we can continue to help save and care for dogs (and cats) just like Nolan. Please make a donation today, of any amount http://azrescue.org/servlet/sponsor02?bowl=1 and please help be the voice for these wonderful souls that need our help by forwarding our email to your friends, family and co-workers, asking for their support and/or posting on your Facebook page. Together we can reach our goal and help save these special creatures!

Thank you in advance for your support,
Jennifer Berry
RESCUE, a registered 501(3)
www. Facebook.com/AZRESCUE

Submitted by Jo Ann | June 1 2011 |

I think part of the reason why some folks do not adopt animals from rescue shelters is due to the application process. Some of them are quite intimidating. I know when I was researching a rescue shelter to adopt my dog, some of the applications required a home inspection, place of employment (of which permission was requested to contact the current employer), references of who would vouch for your capability to take care of the animal and so forth. I think some feel this is an invasion of privacy since they are only adopting an animal, not a child. I even thinned out the list of rescue places as I did not want anyone contacting my employer about my adopting a dog. Why does an employer need to be involved? I can understand why some are more strict than others as they want to make sure the animal is placed in a good stable home, but when it comes to having to divulge what could be considered as private information, I think some folks have second thoughts and move on to another place where the application is not quite so invasive.

Submitted by Christie Keith | June 1 2011 |

Jo Ann, this is part of what I consider a customer service issue, and I think rescue groups and shelters (in somewhat different ways) would benefit a GREAT DEAL, as would the cause of pet adoption in general, if they came up with friendlier, less intrusive ways of getting to know the adopter and ensure a good fit.

One shelter I interviewed a while ago (blanking on which one it was right now) had trained their whole staff in a non-inquisition, conversational adoption process. They ended up getting tons of information and really getting more of a sense of who the adopter was than a lengthy questionnaire could ever have given them, and the person didn't have that feeling they were being grilled and found lacking.

Submitted by Jennifer B | June 1 2011 |

We have a small shelter here and every year they hold a walk-a-thon. Last year they raised just over $1,000 and only had three people walk - me, my boyfriend and the director. It was rainy, windy and cold so maybe that's why nobody showed up, and maybe they ended up getting more money after that day from the folks that were going to walk. As it was, we had collected about $450 ourselves for that day and we're doing it again this year. Every Christmas we empty our piggy banks and donate as well. I approached a member of their board of directors and suggested that they do a facebook page that could be updated daily with pictures and pet stories. I told them I would be more than happy to volunteer my time taking photographs, writing the stories and maintaining the page but I haven't heard a word! It really bothers me when people try to reach out and a door is closed in their face. We still donate because of the animals, and at the dog walk on Sunday I'm going to bring it up again, as well as using pet finder - I saw that in one of the messages on here and that's a great idea!
Thanks for this forum - I've been getting alot of advice that I can use!

Submitted by Christie Keith | June 1 2011 |

This is a tough situation. Since the director walked in the walkathon, it doesn't SOUND like he or she is disinterested in making things better. Can you bring your offer to the director, and say you'd like to try doing some social media for them as a donation, and not phrase it in any way that's a criticism? It may be that the member of the board you approached was just the wrong person.

Because yes, your idea is exactly what's needed here! You're great!

Submitted by Anonymous | June 1 2011 |

Over the past several years I have tried to raise awareness about puppy mills, pet stores, and unethical breeders ( and spay/neuter). I had a woman who rescued her dog from a mill come to a Cub Scout Meeting. Her dog was really emotionally and socially broken. In that case a picture was worth a thousand words and the parents were just as enlightened as the boys that night. I had our elementary school Go Orange for the ASPCA in April to raise awareness. My son started an Animal Club in school and collected blankets for one shelter and raised money for another that the club visited as a field trip. The kids wrote and published a newsletter about adoption and rescue, choosing the right pet and properly caring for it. I also approached my town about allowing rescue groups to join our Township Day fair and I was able to rally almost 20 groups to attend. I was able to get Canine Partners for Life as an elementary school assembly which not only spoke to the dog-human bond but accepting people with disabilities. After all of that people were still supporting pet stores and "breeders" in Lancaster County (notorious puppy mill country). I agree there are stereotypes about rescued animals and hope that can be addressed in the public service announcements. I hope social media can spread the word even more. I encourage everyone to do what they can in their own way. Thanks. Companion of two rescue dogs.

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | June 1 2011 |

Anonymous, Thank you for your efforts. I read about all you've done and do and think, maybe, just maybe, we'll turn a corner on puppy mills.

Submitted by Marie Muscolino | June 1 2011 |

Kudos for involving kids in your efforts. They are the future of the humane movement. The work you are doing now will have an effect for many years to come.

Submitted by Jennifer B | June 1 2011 |

You're doing a great job and a wonderful service to your community. It does make a difference, it just may take awhile.

Submitted by Christie Keith | June 1 2011 |

Wow, what a great animal advocate you are!

When I spoke about avoiding the negative stories, I was talking about adoptions. Sharing the horrors of puppy mills REQUIRES making their horrors public -- these places exist because people don't know how bad they are, or because people get tricked into thinking they're getting their puppy from a "farm" or a home-based breeder, through deceptive marketing practices. Shining a light on the reality is absolutely the right thing to do.

We just need to not perpetuate the idea that all pets in shelters are "broken." And they're not; most of them are perfectly fine, and most of the rest just need the same basic training that any puppy or kitten would need -- don't jump, don't nip in play, don't eat the couch, don't pull on the leash, don't soil the house, etc. Yes, there are exceptions, and fortunately we've all learned their are homes out there for those pets.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 1 2011 |

Thanks to all of you for the encouraging comments. I tell everyone about our positive rescue experiences. A good rescue will spay/neuter, clean teeth, observe, evaluate, and work on training. You also usually know up front what the dog's personality is like and if it is good with children and other animals. And, most importantly, you save a life. What more could you want?
You touched on another point. Many dogs end up in shelters because they were never trained properly in the first place.
A second grade teacher at my children's elementary school did a lot to raise awareness with the children. Every year she did a shelter drive and an animal idiom lesson whereby the animal idiom artwork was auctioned off at a big Animal fundraiser auction in Philadelphia. Together we were also able to get author Judith Kristen to come to our school with her dog Henley and her book of the same name for an assembly. She is a great promoter of human and animal kindness and has visited many schools at no charge to share her message. Sadly Henley passed, but she still makes the rounds with her rescued cat, Mookie, and his series of books.
You may need to get creative but there are ways to integrate the lessons of humane treatment of animals in general with children and hopefully they will remember those lessons throughout their lifetime.

Submitted by Kate Merriman | June 1 2011 |

I've made it known at my company that if anyone wants to learn about adopting from shelters or rescue groups, they can come to me... and I was surprised to find that over the years, many people have!

One thing people seem surprised by is that most breeds have a rescue group dedicated to pulling perfectly wonderful, healthy dogs from harm and fostering them until they can be adopted.

All it takes, typically, is just a Google search involving the breed name and the word "rescue"!

Submitted by Sally | June 1 2011 |

Our rescue has a FaceBook page and a Twitter account. We have a very good following, but how do we get those followers to make the leap and become active volunteers for our organization.

Submitted by Krystle | June 5 2011 |

Offer a fun day out to see what it is all about. Post pictures of your volunteers completing tasks. This will help to put a face to the task and make it seem much more fun. Also, I have done a "call out" for volunteers for specific tasks :) They may not be able to help with what I was looking for, but we usually find something for them to do.

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