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Bully pulpit

Shelter takes on breed rebranding campaign

From Animal Sheltering magazine May/June 2014

Over the course of the “Bred to Love” campaign, 77 bully breed dogs were adopted.

Perhaps no dogs are as misunderstood these days as those commonly called “pit bulls.” These pups have been targeted by everyone from legislators to landlords—but the truth is, they’re far more likely to be lovers than fighters.

Public misconceptions about bully breeds have meant shelters have had a harder time finding homes for the dogs. Enter the SPCA Serving Erie County in upstate New York and its pit bull PR campaign, “Bred to Love.” Based on the Animal Farm Foundation’s Majority Project (which showed images of everyday people who own bully breed dogs holding signs reading “I am the majority”), the campaign was designed to dispel myths about pit bull ownership and increase pitty adoptions. As part of the campaign, bully breed owners were encouraged to download and print a sign reading, “Bred To __________ ,” with one of their dog’s cherished (or hilarious) behaviors, snap a photo, and send it to the shelter.

Shelter staff promoted the effort via social media, direct mail, targeted email, and local media. Soon the shelter’s Facebook page was overflowing with images showing happy pitties and their owners—ranging from infants to octogenarians—proudly holding the “Bred to” signs, on which they’d written touching and funny phrases including: “give kisses,” “be loyal,” “bring me joy,” “hog the furniture,” and “steal treats.” And one especially popular one: “Be my best friend.”

According to Gina Browning, public relations director for the shelter, the campaign was scheduled to run from late March to mid-May of 2013. “Then we heard from our behavior and training department, who said they felt like it was successful, and would we ever consider extending it?”

The team decided to make a last run at it, extending the campaign another week and, for extra effect, adding a “25 for $25 by the 25th” promotion, offering bully breed adoptions at $25 with the goal of adopting out 25 in the final week. The result? Drumroll … “I think we ended the week with 19,” says Browning. “But 19 pit bulls in five days? For us, that’s great.”

Browning said next time they would enhance the effort by having “animal ambassadors” on site to speak about the individual dogs to potential adopters. They found that though many people in the community did not think of pit bulls as fighting dogs, they still were reluctant to adopt one, and Browning speculates that if they’d had that personal touch, it might have helped. “It’s getting them while they’re here on the floor and talking to them about that dog. It’s that piece we would really emphasize next time.” But the campaign ended up with 77 pitty adoptions over its full run, and that’s already something to howl about.

About the Author

Kelly Huegel is a former staff writer for the Humane Society of the United States.