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These Animals Lack Convictions ...

... but the Louisiana SPCA has one: They deserve homes

... but the Louisiana SPCA has one: They deserve homes

It’s a place for hard men with cruel eyes and cold-hearted dames who done someone wrong. It’s governed by the rule of tough wardens, segmented by steel bars. If you end up there, you’ll eat nasty food made by people who’d just as soon spit on you as give you a smile. And if you’re lucky enough to get a bath, you better be careful not to drop the soap.

It’s your local animal shelter!

Well, no. It’s a pastiche of clichés about prison, drawn from film noir and pulp novels and our collective cultural memory. But too many people still think of animal shelters that way—and the Louisiana SPCA wanted to change that.

Even if you’ve never seen Shawshank Redemption or Birdman of Alcatraz or Dead Man Walking, even if you’ve never read a Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett novel, you’ll recognize the images the LA/SPCA mined for its most recent awareness campaign, designed to let the public know what the shelter is not: A prison for animals.

The SPCA discovered the campaign was sorely needed after its first-ever focus group revealed that citizens’ perceptions of the shelter were a far cry from reality. “They really had the old pound image in their heads,” says Laura Maloney, the executive director of the New Orleans animal shelter, a private nonprofit that handles animal control for the city. “We’d had six directors in ten years, and the agency in that time really became all about the control function, so that’s what the public had in their head. They had no idea all the things we do.”

With help from volunteers with professional backgrounds in marketing and advertising, the LA/SPCA developed a campaign that would spring the organization from behind the bars of the public’s misconceptions.

The campaign featured a radio spot in which a sultry woman begs a tough P.I. to help her get an animal out of jail. The investigator—calling himself Sam Spayed—gives her the straight dope: “Listen up, bright eyes, you’re barking up the wrong tree. The Louisiana SPCA is no jail for the cute and cuddly. It’s a compassionate shelter for our companion animals. … Low-cost vet care, spay and neutering programs—and all of it done through the support and donations of great dames like you.”

The woman purrs back, “So it’s not the Big House after all?”

Spayed responds, “Sure it is, baby. The Big House of Love.”

The campaign also included a series of ads, which ran in donated space in magazines all over the city, featuring mug shot–style photos of cute animals holding signs that play on the prison theme, such as “Our Cavity Searches Are for Worms” and “The Only Thing I’m Charged With Is Energy.” The ad that has elicited the most response, though, is the one featuring a big female dog with the sign, “I’m No Prison Bitch.”

“I was hesitant about that one,” says Maloney, “and we did get a couple of calls from private vets who were offended. But the only way you can grab attention is to do something creative or a little shocking.”

Besides, the SPCA has found appreciative audiences in other venues. “We took posters of them around to hang up all over the place in New Orleans, at bars and restaurants,” says Maloney. “The gay bars particularly wanted to hang up the ‘prison bitch’ one—they thought it was hilarious.”

The campaign got the thumbs up from a higher audience, too—it recently took home six silver medals from the Addy Awards, the world’s largest advertising competition.

It’s a true sign that the shelter’s image has been rehabilitated.


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