Marketing Hard-to-Place Animal Companions

Oshkosh Area Humane Society

A finalist in the 2008 Maddie’s Fund Marketing Competition; submitted by Oshkosh Area Humane Society, Oshkosh, Wisc.


There are several factors that can have an effect on whether an animal is labeled as hard-to-place. Some of these include:

  • Age of animal. Older animals tend to get overlooked more often than younger animals.
  • Breed of animal (for dogs). Unfortunately, Pit Bulls, Staffordshires, and other Pit Bull-looking dogs are frequently passed by due to their stereotyped reputation of being dangerous and aggressive.
  • Animals with special needs, including medical and/or behavioral.

Three steps are needed to effectively market harder-to-place animals:

  • Grab the potential adopters eye.
  • Inform and educate potential adopters while appealing to their sense of compassion.
  • Use various types of media in communicating information about the animals including e-newsletters, our Web site, and community media.

OAHS takes these steps with marketing harder-to-place animals in order to increase their chances of adoption with the following marketing strategies.

1) Full-Color Kennel Signs
Every animal has an information card that is posted for the public to see in order that they can get a feel for the disposition and personality of the animal. Additionally, dogs have kennel signs, in full color, that feature a write-up written from the perspective of the dog. The sign highlights some of the positive aspects of the animals personality and lets potential adopters know if the dog is better suited to a particular type of household. The purpose is to try to catch the eye and give potential adopters a sense of the uniqueness of each dog, while also featuring some more natural-looking pictures of the dog outside in a less-stressful environment.

Program Results: Approximately 95% of dogs with kennel signs end up getting adopted.

2) Home at Last/ Best Buddy/ Senior Programs
In order to help older animals get adopted, OAHS has set up the Home At Last (cats) and Best Friends (dogs) programs which feature a reduced adoption fee for senior or other special-needs dogs and completely waiving the adoption fee for cats three and older.

  • The adoption fee for dogs five or older, and/or dogs needing special behavioral or medical attention, is reduced by a minimum of $20, depending on age, medical need, etc. On their kennel sign it says a portion of my adoption fee is sponsored by the OAHS Best Friends Program.
  • Cats three and older have a special card displayed on their info sign, stating the adoption fee for these cats is completely waived through the Home at Last Program.
  • With a yearly community grant we are able to offer seniors (adopters 60 and older) a $50 discount on their adoption fee of any animal. This group is more likely to adopt a calmer, older animal, thus it increases the likelihood of adoption for older animals.

Program Results:

  • Adopted out 16 senior dogs in 2006
  • Adopted out 18 senior dogs in 2007
  • Adopted out 40 Senior Dogs so far in 2008 (Jan. 1 Sept. 27, 2008)
  • Adopted out 145 age-3-and-older cats in 2006
  • Adopted out 149 age 3-and-older in 2007
  • Adopted out 126 age 3-and-older cats so far in 2008 (Jan. 1 Sept. 27, 2008)
  • 3) Breed Information Flyer (see attached files)

    • The most effective way to combat breed stereotypes is through information. On every Pit Bull kennel, we post different flyers with some short facts about the Pit Bull breed along with pictures of loving Pit Bulls and their families.
    • As with all kennel signs, the positive aspects of Pit Bulls are highlighted as much as possible on their kennel sign.

    Program Results: So far in 2008, we have adopted out eight 8 Pit bull/Staffordshire-mix dogs. Unfortunately, we have seen a marked decrease in the number of Pit Bulls who pass the temperament test. However, we continue to promote the Pit Bull as an exceptional breed and try to educate the public as much as possible. We also display posters throughout our building urging people to report any kind of animal abuse, including dog fighting.

    4)Articles about Specific Animals on Web site, E-Newsletter and in Local Paper (see attached files)

    We try to partner with our local media and use our Web site and e-newsletter to educate the community about animals with special needs or situations. Most recently, we had an article in the local newspaper about a dog, Charlie, with Addisons Disease. Charlie requires a monthly shot, which costs about $60-$100 a month, to control the disease. After the story ran about Charlie, we received several inquiries, and he ended up getting adopted into a loving home. Weve also run articles on dogs with severe kennel stress, elderly animals, and animals with other special needs. We have found this to be a very successful way to market our harder-to-place animals.

    We also have a Pet of the Week feature in our local paper with a video on the newspapers Web site. We frequently feature animals that have been here longer or that we know will be hard to adopt. Our local paper has informed us that the Pet of the Week video on is one of the most popular sections of the Web site.

    In addition, we send out a monthly e-newsletter to people in our database (about 1,000 people) and always feature a Looking for Love section with animals who have been hard to adopt out mostly older animals or ones with special needs.

    Program Results: 95% of pets featured either in the newspaper or e-newsletter are adopted.

Comments