New York Tails
A Magazine for the People and Pets of NY

Home Page Pet Friendly Housing Pet Law Archives Contact Us Other Sites

Begging For Attention: Shelters Join the Marketing Mix
by Diane West

Visitors to North Shore Animal League are compelled to read an interesting sign as they make a left onto Davis Street, where the shelter complex is located.

Pedigree Puppies!

But the sign does not refer to the 60 year old animal shelter. Instead, it refers to a pet shop just steps away from where dozens of healthy-but-homeless dogs and cats wait for adoption.

That makes Marge Stein, head of public relations at North Shore and a champion of mixed-breed animals, seethe.

"Oh, we have pedigrees, too." She says. "We keep the animal and throw their registration papers away."

Such was the theme behind one of North Shore's recent marketing campaigns, featuring a luminous Marilyn Monroe holding a cute ball of fur on her shoulder. "Love Knows No Pedigree" proclaims the caption.

But Ms. Stein's consternation with the public's love affair with pedigree animals is not to imply that concepts like marketing and positioning are lost on her or North Shore. Indeed, the shelter has come under fire for some of their own methods. In a time when Animal Care and Control of New York City (the erstwhile "city pound") bemoans the fact that they destroy some 25-30,000 animals each year for lack of homes. North Shore imports some 5,000-10,000 puppies from Tennessee and other Southern areas for adoption up here. While acknowledging critics, Ms. Stein defends the practice.

"We were outraged to hear that unwanted puppies are clubbed down south rather than humanely euthanized," Ms. Stein says. "We were told we could have them if we could find homes for them. And we do, because there is a shortage of puppies available for adoption in our area."

While some would disagree, Ms. Stein says residents of southern states have been slower to embrace the spay-and-neuter mantra than those in the North. "So when [Northeastern residents] want a puppy, they spend thousands of dollars at a pet store or go through a breeder. And we want that to stop.

Strategic Positioning

What this area does have an abundance of, according to Ms. Stein and her colleagues, are older animals. The Southern puppies, they contend, help North Shore's older pets get adopted luring people to the shelter and are strategically positioned within the kennels. Visitors who come looking for a puppy are slowly escorted through a maze of cages filled with older dogs, each with their own history and personality card prominently displayed. Heated pads are placed near the front of the cages to encourage the animals to stay where potential adopters can see them better. Eventually, visitors make it to the center room where the puppies are kept, along with some cats. By then, however, North Shore staffers hope an older dog has tugged at a visitor's heart.

"The fact is," Ms. Stein says, "is that we use these puppies to do good adoptions."

North Shore isn't the only shelter system to look outside of New York for solutions to its homeless pet problem. Ed Boks, newly appointed executive director of the redubbed Animal Care and Control of New York City (A C & C) and Ed Sayers, head of the ASPCA, were imported from Arizona and California, respectively, where their records of increasing adoptions were established. It is hoped that their successes will follow them here.

"Selling" people on the idea of adoption is priority one to Mr. Boks, and marketing certainly plays a big part in his approach. "We are creating a campaign to help New Yorkers understand that we are the adoption center of choice." Mr. Boks said during a recent interview with New York Tails. In an effort to stem the number of animals A C & C has to euthanize each year, Boks is calling smaller, private rescue groups to arms in what he describes as a "war on euthanasia." But the effort, deemed "The New Hope Program", may be more structured than what New York City's private rescue groups are sued to, by Mr. Boks' own admission. Still, he believes the end result will be in more lives being saved.

"Rescue groups understandably want to rescue the most adoptable pets," Mr. Boks says, stating that many of these groups get these pets from the A C & C. "But if we (A C & C) are permitted to adopt out the animals that are easiest to place, then we are maximizing limited community resources and saving animals in peril of certain euthanasia, not certain adoption. Our purpose is to maximize all of the opportunities to save lives."

Mr. Boks also hopes that newly-installed pet adoption kiosks located in shelters and other organizations will unite the adoption groups in the goal of increasing adoptions. By using the kiosks, potential adopters can input exactly what kind of pet they're looking for and instantly receive a print-out of a potential "match" and in which organization he or she is currently located.

Mr. Boks also wants to enlist the power of the press in his mission. With help from TJ Public Relations, which is donating their services to the A C & C, the shelter has come up with a provocative ad campaign. Even the choice of a few words or phrases, Mr. Boks discovered, can make the difference between a story being picked up by the press or ignored. One of his first experiments after arriving in New York was to float the idea of deeming pit bulls "New Yorkies" in an effort to change their ominous image; (Mr. Boks later found that the name was already taken.) In another example, merely by referring to a recent overflow of cats in city shelters this winter as a "cat-tastrophy" and cat-aclysim" in a press release made most of New York's major media run the story. In one weekend, and unprecedented 280 cats were adopted from the Manhattan, Staten Island and Brooklyn shelters.

"For two days," Mr. Boks says, "New York was a no-kill city."


Would you like New York Tails delivered directly to your door four times a year?

Click here to send us your name, address, telephone number and the type of pets you have.

Most recent update: 5/14/04
Contact Webmaster: Marsha Henkin at for problems with the operation of this site.