You’ve always sympathized with the plight of shelter pets. In fact, you often campaign on their behalf. You may even volunteer to care for them. But, if you’re like most American pet owners, your pets didn’t come from shelters or rescues.

You either paid for them or found some other way to acquire them (a gift, perhaps? a wandering stray kitten? a backyard mis-mating placement?). Shelters, I’ve heard many of you say, are not your go-to places for pet acquisition. 

Yet with 6 to 8 million pets remanded to shelter care every year, someone’s got to adopt them. That is, if we’re ever to prevent their otherwise unnecessary death. Currently, 3 million pets are euthanized in shelters every year. You could call it a holocaust if you stick to dictionary definitions and try not to let human politics sway you. 

Unfortunately, it’s these very human politics and perceptions that affect how it is that we “developed-nation” citizens pair up with our pets. Whether you agree or not, shelter pets are overwhelmingly viewed as unwanted-for-a-reason problem children whose health challenges and jail-house digs couldn’t possibly recommend them. In short, let’s just say they suffer from a PR problem.

So says the Ad Council as it prepares to launch a major advertising campaign on their behalf. They’ve studied the problem, Madison-Avenue style, and found that three major perception-based stumbling blocks stand in the way of shelter adoption. According to an article from the May-June issue of Animal Sheltering Magazine, the Ad Council’s partner agency did some market research and found that people tend to approach the idea of shelter adoption based on these three issues:

1. Potential pet parents focus on a pet’s assumed rough past rather than on a positive future

2.People tend to think of the crisis of homeless dogs and cats as a “pet problem” rather than a ‘people problem’

3.People’s experiences at shelters, which can turn an ideally happy journey into a ‘prison visit’

Sad, findings, right? But you know it’s true. In fact, I’ve even added to the problem with posts like this one, urging that you carefully select your shelters and consider the possibility of infectious disease post-adoption. 

Sure, I’ve also backpedaled, disclaiming that shelter adoptions are the way to go if we’re to convince humanity that it’s our problem and therefore our responsibility to do what we can to sterilize and adopt our way out of this mess. Nonetheless, I do recognize that I’m part of the problem––that is, if PR matters.

As someone who holds both veterinary and marketing degrees (and, additionally, as someone who just recently hired a small PR firm for my personal needs), it’s probably no surprise to read that I’m big on perception-altering modes of awareness raising. I’m aware that it works––even on me. 

I recognize that when it comes to shelter adoptions it’s not enough to get the word out with sad puppy pics and caged cat images. We’ve got to do better. That’s why news that the Ad Council will spend $100 million on a shelter adoption campaign (in conjunction with Maddie’s Fund and HSUS) gives me goosebumps. After all, the Ad Council’s good work includes high-profile campaigns well known for their call-to-action effectiveness and significant impact on cultural norms. 

Rosie the Riveter's "we can do it,” “only you can prevent forest fires,” “a mind is a terrible thing to waste,” and “friends don’t let friends drive drunk” are all slogans they’ve catapulted to pop culture icon status with their solid market research and brilliant execution. Shelter pets deserve nothing less than the best and they’re about to get it.

But will it be enough to get YOU to take home a shelter pet?