19 tips to get more pitbull dogs adopted

I attended a presentation called “Turbocharging pitbull adoptions” by Kim Wolf at the 2012 No-Kill Conference. Kim worked for Animal Farm Foundation at the time.

Kim shared the following ideas in her talk, but this list is not intended to be an outline of that presentation. These are 19 isolated ideas I walked away with:

1. Acknowledge there is no clear definition of a “pitbull.”

When you market pitbulls, keep in mind everyone has her own definition of a pitbull, Kim said. The word used to be a nickname for the American pit bull terrier, but today it is a label that means something different to each individual.

“A ‘pit bull’ is not a breed or breed mix, but an ever expanding group that includes whatever an animal control officer, shelter worker, dog trainer, politician, dog owner, police officer or newspaper says it is,” according to AFF’s web site.

2. Focus on the dog’s behavior, not her appearance.

Some potential adopters will turn away from dogs with a “pitbull” label, Kim said. So, focus on the dog’s personality, energy level and friendliness with other animals.

Example: Daisy loves to play ball! She is good with cats, low energy and loves to snuggle! Daisy would also love to have a dog sister or dog brother to play with.

3. Reject the “irresponsible public” myth.

This was my favorite part of Kim’s presentation, because it is so near and dear to my heart: Shelters have to start trusting the public to adopt.

We need to stop accepting the irresponsible public myth as a reason why we can’t send dogs home, Kim said. This is especially true when it comes to pitbull dogs. Shelters try to protect pitbulls from abuse such as dog fighting by making it extra difficult for people to adopt them.

Instead, we need to “stop regurgitating the myth that dog fighting is an epidemic,” Kim said. When we tell our communities that dog fighting is everywhere, it makes pitbulls sound very scary. This is unfair to the public and to the dogs.

Yes, dog fighting exists, Kim said. It just doesn’t happen as often as we might think.

“To take it too far – to be too protective – we are actually denying dogs opportunities to go home,” she said. “And we’re not fulfilling our missions when we do that.”

4. Scars or cropped ears tell you nothing about a dog.

If a dog has scars on her face, it does not mean she was a fighting dog or a bait dog, Kim said. It does not mean she was abused. It does not mean she got into a fight with another animal. Dogs get scars for all kinds of reasons, often from being clumsy!

Likewise, if a dog has cropped ears it does not mean he was a fighting dog or a protection dog, Kim said. It does not mean he was treated poorly. All kinds of owners have their dogs’ ears cropped, usually for a fashion statement or for health reasons. The shape of a dog’s ears tells you nothing about his behavior.

5. Stop spreading pitbull myths!

Sometimes shelter volunteers spread myths about pitbulls in an attempt to help the dogs, but instead these myths tell the public that pitbulls are different, Kim said.

Ever caught yourself spreading any of these myths?

  • “It’s how they are raised.”
  • “Too many irresponsible pitbull owners.”
  • “The most abused dogs on the planet.”
  • “They were bred for fighting.”
  • “Pitbulls can be great pets in the right hands.”
  • “She has that classic, pitbull personality.”
  • “Pitbulls will do anything to please their owners.”
  • “Shelters are flooded with unwanted pitbulls.”

6. Do not place additional adoption criteria on pitbull adopters.

Breed specific legislation does not work on a political level, Kim said. So why would it work for adoptions? Placing additional criteria on pitbull adopters is discriminatory.

Do not:

  • Place additional screening processes on pitbull adopters
  • Charge higher adoption fees for pitulls
  • Require “past experience” with the “breed”
  • Exclude first-time dog owners from adopting pitbulls
  • Require additional training for volunteers to walk the pitbulls
  • Require mandatory obedience training only for pitbull adopters

7. Do not segregate the pitbulls from other dogs at your shelter.

Some shelters will have an area for the pitbulls and another area for the rest of the dogs, Kim said. What kind of message does this send to potential adopters?

8. Do not conduct home visits or background checks on adopters.

Home checks and background checks can alienate adopters and give off a negative vibe, according to AFF’s web site. Instead, consider less formal, home-based meet and greets or “home deliveries.”

This is what I do with most of my foster animals! It works well! The “home visit” is less formal, and the animal feels more comfortable to have a familiar face transport her to her new home.

9. Use past adopters to market your current pitbulls.

Make sure to send a handful of business cards home with every adopter, Kim said. People love to show off their new dogs, and friends will always ask the question, “Where did you get her?” Make it easy for adopters to promote your shelter!

10. Post happy pics!

Help the adopter imagine herself with her new pitbull by posting pictures of the dogs in a home environment rather than behind bars, Kim said. Take pics of the dogs playing with toys and other dogs. Get pictures of them interacting with people of all ages, going for walks and rolling in the grass.

A picture of a dog behind bars is unwelcoming to adopters, she said. It gives off a vibe that the dog did something bad to end up in “jail” or that he is unapproachable. After all, no one dared to take him out of his cage to get a picture!

11. Keep a toy in each dog’s cage.

Adopters are more likely to show interest in a dog if he has a toy in his cage, Kim said. This is true even if the dog doesn’t touch the toy. If adopters see a toy next to a dog, they automatically start to think the dog is playful.

12. Dress the dogs in costumes!

Even props work well! Halloween is coming up …

13. Reach beyond “pitbull” owners.

Sometimes shelters find themselves encouraging existing pitbull owners to adopt another pitbull, but they overlook the general dog-owning population, Kim said. Pitbulls live with all kinds of dogs, so let’s encourage all types of dog owners to consider adopting a pitbull.

14. Keep a list of pitbull friendly housing and insurance companies.

Kim recommends shelters keep a list of landlords and insurance companies that do not discriminate against pitbulls. Print the list out on business cards and have them handy at adoption events. Some homeowners insurance companies that do not discriminate include State Farm, Farmers Insurance Group and Auto-Owners Insurance.

15. Take the pitbulls on weekly walks in public.

Take the pitbulls into the community every chance you get such as during parades, festivals and other existing events, Kim said. Or, just take the dogs on walks through busy areas. Don’t forget to bring “adopt me” vests and collars as well as business cards.

16. Enrichment activities.

Give the dogs healthy ways to work their minds such as playing with puzzle-type toys, Kim said. These types of activities are essential for promoting healthy behavior and avoiding behavioral problems.

Other mental challenges for dogs could include taking them to training classes, walking in new areas, teaching tricks, offering them new toys or setting up dog playgroups.

17. Post videos of the dogs!

Potential adopters are more likely to click on a dog’s online profile if it has a video, Kim said. You want good photos, of course, but people are more likely to return to a dog’s profile if it has a video. They are also more likely to share the profile.

18. Always carry business cards.

Carry several of your shelter’s business cards at all times, Kim said. Make cards for individual dogs as well as the shelter itself. Have the dogs carry them in public in their “adopt me” vests.

19. Show off pictures of volunteers with their adopted pitbulls.

Kim recommends shelter volunteers hang cute pictures in the lobby that include past adopters with their pitbulls. Arrange several pictures together on tag board to make a cute pitbull poster. Ask volunteers and future adopters to drop off or email their photos.

To the right you will see our flash-foster dog Sammi with her proud parents 🙂

What additional ideas do you have to help more “pitbulls” get adopted?

Note: All the “pitbulls” you see in this post are up for adoption in Fargo as of Sept. 19 – except for the tan and white pittie you see with her parents. She’s been adopted! Click on the dogs for more info.

10/17/12 edit: Some of the featured pitbulls have been adopted!

 

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