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Hard-to-Place Dogs

Saint Seton’s Orphaned Animals

A winning program in the 2007 Maddies Fund Marketing Competition submitted by Jenny Edwards, Executive Director, SPCA of the Triad, Inc.


We are an, all breed rescue. Ninety-eight percent of the dogs we place are either purebreds such as Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Boxers and Pit Bulls or mixes thereof. We also place pairs of dogs, black dogs and disabled dogs. The dog depicted in the photo above was burned on his back by someone. He now lives in a posh home. Over the past seven years, we have placed approximately 2000 hard-to-place dogs in excellent homes.

Early on, we did a great deal of marketing research. We employed our application as a survey tool to learn what it is people want in a dog. We learned that a well-behaved, already trained, canine companion was highly desired, and behavior trumped physical appearance in eight out of 10 surveys. We changed our policies and recruited foster homes who already knew how to train dogs or who were willing to undergo dog obedience training. Minimally, we train out submissive behaviors, food aggression, and resource guarding and teach house training and good house manners (no chewing, counter-surfing, etc.). We reinforce the importance of training by contractually requiring basic obedience training within 90 days of adoption.

Our new policies and procedures proved to be highly successful. The training set us apart from other rescue organizations and became our brand. A lot of resources were devoted to advertising our canine good citizens and recruiting the right foster homes. Our policies, marketing and recruitment efforts paid off. In year two of our existence, our adoption rates soared and our return rate dropped to less than 1 percent. When a dog is returned, it has not been because of the dog. That has held true to this day.

Our training philosophy tracks with the ASPCAs findings that behavior (failure to train) is high in the top ten reasons why dogs are surrendered to shelters. For a nominal fee, busy professionals were able to adopt canine good citizens. They also enjoyed the four-week, one day per week, training classes offered by our organization at no charge. It provided an opportunity to ask questions about their new friends, proper care, etc. The classes also solidified the bond between the organization and the adopter. Many of our adopters come back a second and third time for our dogs, and they are our major contributors.

Lastly, our policies involve first weeding out dog fighters, abusers, etc. Then, we strive to make a good match as we view adoption as a life-time commitment. For example, a large dog raised in the country with acres to romp on would be placed in a similar environment. A dog who is aggressive toward cats is never placed in a home with cats. In some cases, it easier to provide the right environment for the pet than it is to train out a behavior. We can modify and control prey drive somewhat but we havent been successful in eliminating it. We are careful to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it so that we do not offend anyone. I like to use the analogy of finding a mate. People appreciate our matching philosophies because they want a dog to fit into their lifestyle (that was number one on the survey).

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