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Body doubles

Photo cutouts make connections for cats who aren't crowd-pleasers

From Animal Sheltering magazine July/August 2015

At the MSPCA at Nevins Farm, shy cats can relax while their photo cutouts charm potential adopters.

Mazzie didn’t perform for strangers.

The longhaired brown tabby had been at the Massachusetts SPCA (MSPCA) at Nevins Farm for two months, and she’d been pulled off the adoption floor twice for nipping people. Her Petfinder profile had generated only one inquiry (from someone who didn’t read the part about her dislike of other cats).

“We’d had no success with her,” says shelter director Michael Keiley, adding that Mazzie is declawed on her front and hind feet. “When she gets grumpy, she moves quickly to nipping.”

So Mazzie was living in a staff office. The arrangement suited her better than a cage in the adoption center, but it also meant she wasn’t meeting any potential adopters.

Lindsay was in a similar predicament. The shy gray-and-white kitty had arrived at the MSPCA with a badly injured tail. Keiley took her home to foster, and while she’d grown less fearful over the previous five months, she wasn’t going to shine on the adoption floor.

At a February meeting, Keiley and his staff discussed the challenge of showcasing cats who don’t want to be showcased. Their past strategy involved posting fliers in the lobby, but “they often just get blended into the background,” Keiley says. “So we talked about how when people go to look for cats, they don’t look on the walls and in the lobby; they look in the cat room.”

And Keiley had an idea: Instead of placing photos on the walls, they would put them where people were looking for cats. A few hours later, photo cutouts of Mazzie and Lindsay were calmly inhabiting cages in the adoption center.

“I literally finished tacking a blanket around one [photo] and shut the cage door, stood back to admire my handiwork, and this couple walked by,” says director of development Heather Robertson, who admits that in her first attempts, the photos came out a bit super-sized. “[They] did a double take, turned and looked and said, ‘Wow, that cat is huge.’ And then they looked again and said, ‘Wait, that’s not a real cat.’ And they started laughing hysterically.”

Within days, Mazzie and Lindsay found homes. “Photos speak loudly for animals,” says Keiley. “I think people are getting a weird connection to them this way, too. … It’s more breaking down that ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ area.”

Robertson prints the photos on 13-by-19-inch heavyweight paper, cuts them out, tapes them to a clear plastic flier holder and places them in cages. She adds food bowls and litter boxes to complete the scene, and uses bunched-up blankets or cat beds to hide any imperfections.

Along with promoting harder-to-adopt felines, the cutouts generate conversations with visitors, says Robertson. “I think people are really pleased that we are making the extra effort, and we are trying to be creative to find good matches for these cats.”

And there’s the fun that results when a volunteer tries to feed or water the “new residents.”

“It’s had all of us laughing,” says Keiley. “If we can get a few giggles in an otherwise stressful environment, it’s worth it for that.”

About the Author

As senior editor of the award-winning Animal Sheltering magazine, Julie Falconer writes and edits articles for the sheltering, rescue and animal control fields. Before joining the staff of the Humane Society of the United States, Julie was a longtime volunteer with rescue and animal advocacy organizations in Central Virginia. She spends much of her free time assisting with trap-neuter-return programs for community cats.