Even before The Shelter Pet Project launches, it's already done great things for shelter animals. Research conducted by Draftfcb, the internationally renowned advertising agency that is designing the campaign, has developed statistical and focus group data that will be invaluable to everyone in the animal welfare world.
It begins with a simple math lesson:
There are around 3 million healthy or treatable dogs and cats put to death in shelters each year.
There are 14 million people who have adopted shelter pets already, and another 41 million who've indicated they're considering doing so - we call those the "swing voters," and of them, 17 million will bring a pet into their family in the next year.
We only need to convince 3 million of those 17 million to do what they are already considering doing, get their new pet from a shelter, and every treatable or healthy cat or dog in America will have found a home.
What does that mean for shelter pets? America's approximately 4,000 animal shelters are currently adopting out more than 4 million pets per year - between 2 and 3 per shelter, per day. By simply increasing that by an additional 2 pets per shelter, per day, the 3 million healthy and treatable pets who currently lose their lives in shelters will be saved.
Unfortunately, there's more than math involved. Two obstacles stand in the way of reaching that promised land: Fear and uncertainty.
Many people believe shelter pets are "damaged goods." They're worried that they'll come with too much baggage, that they're sick or have serious behavior problems. They think of shelters as depressing, and can't handle selecting one pet while worrying that those they don't choose will die. What should be a happy family occasion starts to feel like a prison visit.
Those widespread negative perceptions may be about to change. The Shelter Pet Project is designed to transform the way people think about shelters and shelter pets, by destroying the enemies of fear and uncertainty. And they'll do it by enlisting that group of allies discovered in Draftfcb's initial research: the 14 million Americans who are active supporters of shelter adoptions, and who have already adopted pets from a shelter.
Right now, this group is relatively quiet about their support of shelter adoptions. Research for The Shelter Pet Project found that the subject of where they got their pets doesn't often come up in conversation, and when it does, it's in the last few seconds of the discussion.
But people who have adopted shelter pets love them. They realize that the pet ownership experience goes far beyond the shelter, and can speak from an emotional perspective. Their positive experiences can go a long way towards wiping out that fear and uncertainty that's keeping the "swing voters" from voting for shelter pets.
But right now, there's very little opportunity for those shelter fans to talk about their pets and where they came from. Their experiences have been positive, but no one asks them about pet adoption. And without prompting, they don't see a reason to bring it up.
We have the opportunity to provide a platform for those who have adopted a shelter pet; a platform for them to tell their stories and act as teachers and cheerleaders for prospective adopters.
By actively seeking out those people and, in effect, handing them the megaphone of the social media revolution, we're going to spread the news of the love and joy brought into millions of lives by shelter dogs and cats.
We'll be creating a vibrant online community where pet adopters can share their stories, photos, and videos; send adoption announcements to their friends; use the Petfinder.com search engine to find new companions and let friends and family know about available pets; and more.
We'll also be using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to amplify the message being delivered by the print, television, billboard, and radio campaign. The most powerful pro-adoption message ever heard in America is going to change the face of shelter adoptions forever.
In short, we'll be creating a movement to increase the number of people adopting pets from shelters in this country by convincing them that a shelter is the first and best place to find a new animal family member.
Of course, this movement isn't really about numbers; it's about saving animal lives, and revealing shelter animals as the endearing, quirky, friendly, loving individuals they are. But let's close with a number, anyway.
The number is zero: Zero healthy and treatable dogs and cats killed for lack of a home in this country. With the power of The Shelter Pet Project and the enthusiasm and support of the 14 million shelter adopters in this country who we'll invite to join us, we don't just think that goal is possible - we think it's probable.