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Pop Goes the Website

Some shelter websites make good use of an often irritating tool

"See What You’ve Been Missing!” “Free DVD Waiting for You!” “Is There Porn on Your Computer?” Pushing everything from online dating sites to hot travel deals, pop-up ads annoy Internet users the world over.

It’s hard to ignore pop-ups, those browser windows that appear when you visit certain websites. Your eyes usually manage to read them before your finger can click them away. But several shelter sites are using this fact to their advantage, and what they’re promoting has far more societal value than typical pop-up wares.

One such site belongs to the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA ( For a short period before Valentine’s Day, site visitors were greeted by a tiny black dog in a frilly pink tutu lying next to a big box of doggie gifts. The window inquired, “What are YOU doing this Valentine’s Day???” and linked to an ad for special treat boxes for dogs and cats. The San Diego Humane Society received all of the proceeds from these boxes, made by a local bakery that caters to the four-footed.

Not surprisingly, fundraising is a popular use for pop-up ads. The Auckland SPCA in New Zealand ( features a pop-up that welcomes visitors with a dog flanked by two puppies and a message that begins, “For as long as there is an SPCA there will always be hope for the abandoned, lost and neglected animals.” The ad promotes the HOPE program, which allows donors to give to the SPCA through automatic monthly debits from their bank accounts.

But pop-ups can do much more than raise money. Shelters can use them to publicize a wish list, feature a pet of the week, or get the word out about shelter events and programs. Accessing the homepage for Petaluma Animal Services in Petaluma, California (, opens a colorful window highlighted by a cartoon boy holding a happy brown puppy. “Improve your dog’s manners—and have fun doing it!” the window proclaims. The ad provides details for the shelter’s dog obedience classes and includes a link to an online registration form.

Though useful, pop-up ads have their share of detractors. Growing numbers of frustrated Internet users have installed software that blocks these ads. Last year, AOL ceased carrying pop-ups on their sites, claiming that the company was responding to customers’ distaste. Many large companies like Amazon are reducing their use of these ads or even eliminating them from their sites.

The Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Auburn, Maine (, did just that. Donations to the shelter didn’t significantly change after a pop-up wish list was added to the site, says director Steven Dostie. “A lot of people complained that it kept on popping up at them,” he says. “And that’s the reason why I took it down.”

The San Diego Humane Society recognizes such risks but still finds pop-ups useful in small doses, says Gigi Bacon Theberge, director of marketing and public relations. “A lot of times when people are coming onto our site they are repeat visitors, especially when they are using the site to look for an animal,” she says. Visitors are likely to grow weary of a pop-up when they are exposed to it frequently.

The key to success with pop-up windows lies in using them sparingly. At the San Diego shelter, the Valentine’s Day promotion—like previous pop-ups—had its few days of fame before settling into the scenery of the home page. “The way we’ve used them is to bring attention to some sort of promotion for a very short period of time,” says Bacon Theberge. “And I think if you can do that in a really fun and creative way, and not overplay it, then it can do really well.”


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