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Pet adoption and the fight for the millennial mind

February 8, 2015 10 comments

Woman Watching Television with DogYou may not have noticed, but the pet industry has shifted their attention to a new demographic these days, and they are getting laser focused. Who are they studying with such intensity?

Millennials, the group that is expected to surpass Baby Boomers as the largest generation this year.

And it’s not just the pet industry that is taking notice. Almost every major company inside and outside of the United States is doing the same thing. Why? Because unlike generations past, millennials have influence. It’s not just their sheer size (in numbers) that is powerful, but also their reach. Millennials are more socially connected and more socially influential than any other generation. They are also ethnically and racially diverse, well-connected, technically proficient, and early adopters. They are unlike any other generation that has preceded it. They are the movers and shakers who will be impacting our world for many years to come, much like the Baby Boomers did in previous years.

With a generation this large and influential, it only makes sense that they would impact the pet world as well.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recently published a report on how millennials will change the way veterinarians do business. In “The Generation Factor: How the rise of the millennial generation could mean changes in the way veterinarians do business”, they laid out the differences between Baby Boomers, Gen Xer’s and Millenials, not only as clients but also as employees. The differences are quite distinct. For instance, the work ethic for Baby Boomers has to do with how many hours worked, while Gen Xer’s are about working smarter (not harder), and millennials are all about tasks completed and getting feedback and gaining consensus.

Puppy Wearing BowI am sure many animal welfare groups are taking notice, but I wonder if smaller, local shelters and rescues are as well? I hope they are because there is another reason that the pet industry is taking notice of the millennial generation – they think pet ownership is going to decline with them.  

This means more competition between those who are selling pets and those who are adopting them out, and the adoption side may be facing an uphill battle.

Why? Because millennials are more likely to:

  • Rent than to buy a home – This means more apartment and condo dwellers, the residences least likely to allow a pet.
  • Move frequently – More than any other generation, which makes it harder to care for a pet long-term.
  • Stay in college longer – Millennials have had a tough time in the job market due to the poor economy, so more are choosing to stay in college longer and get their masters degree or a doctorate. Owning a pet and going to college is also a possible deterrent.
  • Be impulse buyers – They are less likely to wait and go through an extensive adoption process to get a pet.
  • Purchase a pet from a pet store or breeder (including online) rather than adopt a pet from a rescue or a shelter – According to a recent survey by Best Friends Animal Society, by almost 50%.
  • Believe that animals can safely stay in shelters until they are adopted – 38% of millennials vs. 28% of the total population.

No wonder the pet industry is worried.

All hope is not lost however, millennials are also more likely to get a pet earlier in their lives compared to boomers (21 years old vs. 29 years old), be single longer (and thus, may seek a pet for companionship), and are more civic-minded and more likely to get involved tomato a difference..

Low Section View of a Man with His BulldogRescue groups have an opportunity to make a difference now. If they are not doing so, they should start working to build a relationship with millennials in their community. Organizations need to be inclusionary and seek their input. They should also be open to new and innovative ideas on how to improve the organization, increase adoptions and connect with other millennials.

Other ways rescue groups and shelters can connect with millennials:

  • Have a strong social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, etc.) and be actively engaged with followers.
  • Make your website and social media platforms a place where millennials can get information and learn something new that can help both them and their pet. You need to be the online expert they go to when they want advice and support.
  • Connect on a person-to-person basis. Two-way communication is important to them.
  • Be open to texting and responding via social media platforms. Millennials are less likely to use email.
  • Make what you provide, and what they are getting from you, is distinct and different. You want it to be share-worthy.
  • Be more customer-service oriented. Millennials are individual social media companies of their own, so what they experience with you will be shared with their network of friends and family.
  • Recognize their efforts frequently. Acknowledge the work done and the benefits experienced by the organization.
  • Appeal to their desire to make a difference. Adopting a pet needs to be less a sob story and more of a motivator to do good.

Despite some of the concerns about pet adoption declining, rescue groups and shelters should be very excited about the impacts millennials can bring to the rescue community. Their innovative and creative ideas, combined with a dedication and desire to help, has the potential to make a real difference in animal rescue.

I know one millennial animal rescuer who is making a difference on a daily basis here in Minnesota. I am often in awe of her ability to motivate people and get them involved in rescue. She is well-connected, uses social media extensively and has saved more dogs and cats than anyone I know. She is a force to be reckoned with. Just imagine what could happen if we had 100 more people like her. 

Resources: 

Favorite Video Friday – Pittie Pattern Baldness is sexy, just ask Neeners

January 23, 2015 6 comments

My vet shared this wonderful video the other night and I just knew it had to be this week’s Favorite Friday video.

Neeners has to be one of the cutest pibbles I have ever seen. He also has the patience of a saint. I don’t know too many dogs who would don a toupee in the hopes it would find him his forever home, but he did.

I love his video, not only because Neeners is so darn adorable, but also because it shows how loved he is by the staff at San Francisco Animal Care and Control. I hope sharing his video it will get him a new home. 102+ days in a shelter is a long time.

Neeners you are one sexy beast, toupee or no toupee. Love you Neeners!

Update Jan 23, 2015 at 12:30 p.m.! Neeners was adopted last night! Yay!

Happy Friday everyone. Please share Neeners.

Adopting Maggie – You need to understand what is involved

November 24, 2014 60 comments

Freshly groomed.This week I learned that someone was interested in adopting Maggie. My first reaction was not what one might think. I was uncomfortable with the idea.

I know some of you will think this means that I have fallen in love with Maggie and just can’t bear to part with her, but that would be incorrect. Yes, I love her, but I have three dogs of my own and the reality is four is more than I can, or want, to handle on a permanent basis. So, I while I will be sad when she is adopted, I am okay with her finding a new home – as long as it is the “right” home.

The real reason my reaction was less than enthusiastic is because 1) I do not think Maggie is ready for a new home yet, and 2) because when it comes to puppy mill dogs like Maggie, I struggle with trusting that the potential adopter(s) truly understands what they are getting themselves into.

I have met people who think they are absolutely the right home for a puppy mill dog only to realize that they didn’t really get it. They had fallen in love with a face, a story, but not with the reality of what life is truly like with a mill dog. They didn’t understand that most puppy mill dogs don’t like to be touched (at least not at first) or that some may never be able to leave a yard to go for a walk. They didn’t get that calling the dog’s name and holding out a treat would not result in the dog running to them with a wagging tail. They didn’t quite get the potential “flight risk” of a mill dog. They thought love could fix all the dog’s fears when the reality is that love has little to do with helping a puppy mill dog. It’s good to have it, but more is required.

That is not to say that there aren’t people out there who DO get it. There are. I have met them as well. They are awesome and amazing people too, and I hope one of them finds Maggie and adopts her.

But, I also know of other dogs who came from Maggie’s puppy mill and who are now lost because someone did not understand the flight risk. I know of one that was sold on Craigslist because the adopter could not handle the dog they adopted (fortunately she ended up in the absolutely perfect home). And I know of another dog who now faces being returned, or euthanized, because the adopter was not told what she could expect adopting a puppy mill dog and she does not want to see her suffer.

Maggie on Saturday, October 11, 2014Puppy mill dogs are special and they deserve a home and an adopter who gets it. I know from experience that adopting a mill dog can be one of the most rewarding experiences of one’s life, but I also know the time, patience, work and commitment are needed to help them thrive.  Not everyone is cut out to for that kind of work, and that is okay, but I want Maggie’s adopters to understand the commitment involved and have the knowledge and support needed to ensure that they, and their dog, are successful.

Maggie (and I) are lucky Minnesota Sheltie Rescue (MNSR) gets it. I know they will make sure that Maggie lands in a home with an adopter who gets it too. They will make sure it is someone who understands the special needs of a puppy mill dog. They will also make sure the adopter is educated on flight risk and how to keep them safe. They will offer support and guidance, as needed, and will ensure that the adopter knows of the resources available to them (like Shy Sheltie Classes) and their dog. Maggie has what she needs to back her, and her adopter, up when the time comes and she is ready for her new home.

Not all puppy mill dogs have that chance. Not all rescues and shelters provide adopters of puppy mill dogs with the support and information they need to be able to help their dogs. I hope this will change with time. Debbie Jacobs, of FearfulDogs.com, just wrote about this in her blog post, “Should this dog be up for adoption?”

PeaceOn Monday, I will be attending a Speaker’s Forum hosted by Animal Folks. The speaker is one of the premier experts on puppy mill dogs and the mental and emotional impacts puppy mills have on them. The speaker, Dr. Frank McMillan, is board-certified specialist in veterinary internal medicine and the director of well-being studies at Best Friends Animal Society (Utah). I am really excited to hear him speak, but I am also excited that both rescue groups and veterinarians will have a chance to learn more about the trauma these dogs suffer and how we can help them when they come into our care. It is my greatest hope that in the future puppy mill dogs will go into homes that are ready for them, and that they too, are ready for their new home. 

I plan to share more about Dr. McMillan’s speech on my blog at a future date, and hopefully, some additional info on how we can all help puppy mill dogs.

In the meantime, here is the latest Maggie video. I share it with you to show you where Maggie is at when it comes to doorways. While Maggie has made great progress, she is still a very scared dog. She had been going through the door on her own all summer long, but then the snow came and she got spooked. Since then she has had a hard time with it again.

I have been using the long line to catch her. Without it I would not have a chance . I have been outside as long as 40 minutes, just trying to herd her inside.  With the long line, she is less fearful and follows me inside easily. I reward her with treats immediately so that she knows going inside means good things. I am hoping that we can work more on doorways so she feels safe enough to go through them again. Cross your fingers!

Introducing a new dog into your home when you already have a dog

November 11, 2014 8 comments

The girlsOver the past couple of months, I have had several friends adopt a new dog into their household. Given the fact that each already had a resident dog in their home, it is understandable that each one of them worried about how to introduce the new dog into their home. They also worried about how the new dog would make their current dog feel and whether they would get along.

I remember how nervous I was in bringing each one of my dogs into my home. (I think you would have to be a fool not to be a little nervous and anxious!) Every dog is different and every situation must be managed to ensure success.

When Cupcake first came into my home as a foster, it was a tough go. Not because she wasn’t an awesome and very sweet dog, but because she felt like she had to establish her place as top dog right away. She claimed the couch and snarked at Daisy and Jasper whenever they came close to her. Jasper and Daisy were intimidated by her behavior. Daisy started staying in her kennel to avoid her.I think it was at this point I seriously considered giving her back to the rescue.

But then, I remembered to use the skills and knowledge I had gained from so many other trainers. I took away Cupcake’s couch privileges to eliminate any snarking. Then, I started enticing Daisy back to the couch with treats and rewarding Cupcake with treats as well to show her that staying on the floor was a beneficial spot to be. Soon, the snarking had stopped and Daisy was feeling less stressed. We worked on other things too: waiting for dinner, not stealing other dogs’ food, sharing toys, etc.

Introducing a new dog into your home when you have another dog can be difficult. I’ve been offering my own advice and suggestions when asked (think baby gates, crates and slow introductions), but then I remembered that I had attended a webinar earlier this year put on by the ASPCA. The guest speaker was well-known author and animal behaviorist, Patricia McConnell (PhD, CAAB, Author). The topic? Multi-Dog Households: From First Date to After the Honeymoon (You can find more materials and information here as well).

It was a great seminar and discussion and one that I suspect would be beneficial to many an adoptive parent and/or rescue or shelter. I’ll definitely be sharing it with my friends. You can check out her presentation deck here

So how have you handled introducing a new dog into your home? What worked? What didn’t work?

The PetSmart Charities Report on Homeless Pets is out. Have you read it?

October 23, 2014 3 comments

Woman Watching Television with DogRecently, PetSmart Charities came out with its 2014 U.S. Shelter Pet Report. The news is encouraging on some fronts and not so much on others.

Overwhelmingly, the message is more education is needed. People still underestimate the number of homeless pets that exist in our society and do not know about breed-specific rescue groups.

For those of us involved in rescue, it can be hard to believe, but every day I come across folks who have no idea what a puppy mill is, so how can I expect them to understand the pet population issue?

More work to educate the public is definitely needed.

Here is a brief synopsis of the report. I really do encourage you to take a look at the whole report (it’s a very quick and easy read).

  • Pet ownership is on the rise – 81% of households now have a pet. (This was 63% in 2009.)
  • 46% of people surveyed consider the homeless pet situation to be very important to them. So much so that 10% have donated their time, 30% have donated money or goods, and 14% have provided another form of support. That leaves 55% who have not gotten involved, but that is actually an encouraging number too. This used to be a much higher number.
  • Pet adoption is becoming a more popular option for many people (66%) vs a few years ago (in 2011, it was 58%).
  • No surprises here, but 25% of people still choose to purchase their pets. They like rescue groups and they like getting a pet that is already spayed or neutered, but they still prefer to purchase.
  • Another unsurprising result? Many people don’t prepare for their new pet (impulse buy?). 40% said they did not prepare ahead of time for their pet. Only 25% researched online.
  • Encouraging news – People hold a high opinion of rescues and shelters.
  • Cats appear to be the big losers when it comes to homelessness though. 27% who said they would consider adoption would not get a cat.
  • When it came to why people did not adopt? The top two reasons were the shelter or rescue group did not have the cat or dog they were looking for or they wanted a purebred dog. [Can anyone remember what Ed Sayres said he would be focusing on when he announced he was joining the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC)? Anyone? “I am especially interested in the challenge of breeding pure-bred dogs on a large scale…”]. More awareness is needed to show people the number of breed-specific rescue organizations there are around the country.
  • There is still a stigma against shelter pets and animals from rescue organizations. People assume they are sick or have behavioral issues. More education is needed to help people understand that the majority of pets in shelters and rescue groups ended up there because of divorce, home loss, family change or getting lost from their original family.
  • Shockingly, 85%of people underestimate the number of pets euthanized annually. 
  • The good news is 86% of pets are spayed or neutered. This is the highest number yet.

As I said, there is more work to be done. Now the question is… how?

Puppy mill dogs – Building a community is important

September 25, 2014 8 comments
Untitled

Puppy mill dogs do better in a home with another stable or “normal” dog and adopters benefit too!

Over the past week, I have inadvertently ended up in discussions with two different co-workers about puppy mill dogs. Each shared their experiences with adopting a puppy mill dog themselves. They shared what they had done/not done to work with their dogs and how the dog was doing now. The outcomes were very different and I suspect that this was directly related to their experiece with dogs and with the support structure they had around them.

One co-worker was an experienced dog owner who had trained dogs previously and had a lot of dog training knowledge, and access to a lot of other experienced dog people. The other did not seem to have a lot of experience or an extensive support network and struggled with helping her puppy mill dog along, eventually euthanizing him because of his biting behavior.

Both examples were great reminders to me about how important it is that those of us who have experience  share our stories with others. Not only share our stories, but also work to build a community where puppy mill owners can share their struggles and victories, and learn how to manage their dogs in day-to-day life. From personal experience, I can tell you that a support network can really help when working with a puppy mill dog. It also makes the process a little less overwhelming.

Dr Frank McMillan of Best Friends Animal Society recently collected data from the foster parents and owners of puppy mill dogs to better understand what works or doesn’t work (Understanding and Caring for Rescued Puppy Mill Dogs).

One of his findings was how much owners can be impacted in the process. Being the owner of a puppy mill dog, when there are no other  dogs in the home, can be frustrating, discouraging, and even disappointing.

In many cases, there is no connection between you and the dog (this is especially true in the early days). The normal behaviors and interactions one expects when getting a dog is not there. There is no wagging tail or happy face or cuddling on the couch. It takes time to build a relationship with a puppy mill dog, and it is even harder when they don’t have another dog to look to for guidance on how to “be” a dog. I can personally attest to this. When I lost my dog, Aspen, I felt very much alone, even though Daisy was there with me.

Maggie searches for treats and finds them! #picstitch #puppymilldog

Maggie is making progress with nose work games.

Even the most wonderful adoptive dog parent will get down and depressed under such circumstances. Having a community to go to during those tough times is necessary. Building a community of people who can support and encourage one another and offer ideas about what worked or didn’t work is so vital. One community worth checking out is the Fearful Dogs group on Facebook. It is a great resource for dog owners with fearful dogs. There is guidance on how to desensitize and counter condition your fearful dog, progress updates on dogs who have struggled, encouragement and advice. It is a support structure that I am sure many a puppy mill dog owner has taken advantage of, but if you have not, please do so. You will find it very valuable.

Even as we work to build that community, we know now (based on Dr. McMillan’s study) that puppy mill dogs are nor are they viewed as a burden by those who adopt them.

When asked if they would adopt another puppy mill dog (after their experience with their current puppy mill dog), adopters overwhelmingly responded Yes (95%!).

When it came to recommending the adoption of a puppy mill dog to others, 53% said Yes, 45% said Maybe and less than 5% said No. (I think this makes sense. Not everyone is suited for a puppy mill dog. Maybe they do not have the experience, time or energy to work with one or they just aren’t looking for a challenging dog.)

Even more encouraging however is how puppy mill dog adopters responded to the question around satisfaction levels. When asked their level of satisfaction for having adopted a puppy mill dog, respondents overwhelmingly said they were extremely satisfied. In fact, 91% said so (7% answered moderately satisfied, 1% slightly satisfied and 1%not satisfied). This is wonderful news. It means that even without a suypport network, puppy mill dogs and their owners are managing to have a connection that is valuable and satisfying.

I wonder how much more this would be the case if they had a support network?

Something to think about for the future. :)

A puppy break for Minneapolis workers

August 1, 2014 5 comments

On Thursday, a friend emailed me to see if I wanted to join her for a walk to go see some puppies on my lunch hour. My Scooby senses tingled. Puppies? Ummmm….YES!!!!

She sent me this article (“Downtown workers take a break to pet puppies.”)talking about the event held the week before and the one my friend and I were planning to attend that day. Dog trainer, Jody Karow from Dog Sense Unleashed, and the staff and foster moms and dads from Safe Hands Rescue, were working together to give workers the chance to escape the workday stress and hang out with some rescue dogs.

It was quite the event. So many people stopped by just to have the chance to meet the dog and cuddle with a puppy. I was happy to reconnect with Jody and get the chance to meet some really great dogs. Here are just a few of the pictures I took of the gathering and the people and dogs we met. Make sure you check out Safe Hands’ video (below) of the fun had by all who came to Peavey Plaza. It will give you a smile.

Minneapolis workers enjoy some@downtime with the dogs

Minneapolis workers enjoy some downtime with the dogs

Just a baby. Bet he gets adopted by the end of the weekend.

Just a baby. Bet he gets adopted by the end of the weekend.

Happy faces. Cute puppies.

Happy faces. Cute puppies.

Puppies making workers happy. #minneapolis #rescue

Puppies making Minneapolis workers happy.

Enjoying the puppies in downtown Minneapolis #rescue #lunchbreak

Enjoying the puppies in downtown Minneapolis.

Well hello there! How are you stranger?

Well hello there! How are you stranger?

A little love from a dog with Safe Hands Rescue

A little love from a dog with Safe Hands Rescue

I think this says it all. Everyone loves a puppy during a work lunchbreak. #minneapolis #rescue

I think this says it all. Everyone loves some puppy time during a lunch break.

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