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I can haz adopter?

Creating memes for shelter and rescue animals

From Animal Sheltering magazine November/December 2014

 Sven the Anatolian Shepherd was the size of a small horse. We created this one for him.Mocha’s high energy level and need for mental stimulation made life in a kennel particularly hard for her. During a weekend foster program, my family was amazed at her ability to find buried and hidden toys that we hadn’t seen in years!Roxy’s pout in this photo was priceless. We solicited input from several people to come up with a meme that might help her connect with a potential adopter. This meme was created for an adoption promotion, “Black Fur-Day,” which coincided with Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving, which kicks off the winter holiday shopping season) and featured black and dark-furred animals.Bam Bam had been at the shelter for several months, despite the fact that he was a wonderful dog. During Bam Bam’s stay, staff and volunteers noticed that he seemed to be more comfortable around men. My husband came up with this meme’s text.Hemi’s meme was shared on Facebook more than 100 times, prompting several families to come to the shelter specifically to meet him. Two days later, his new family filled out the application to adopt him.Rigley was deaf, and he’d been in foster care for several months. This meme was created after learning more about the way his foster family communicated with him.Tyson was available for adoption from FCAS during October, and his giant, floppy ears were just calling out for a meme.Using Photoshop to lengthen his ears and subtly change their position made him the perfect Halloween bat.

In 2013, the Fairfax County Animal Shelter (FCAS) in Fairfax, Va., more than doubled its rate of dog adoptions, and cut euthanasia numbers in half. Fairfax County is currently the largest municipality in the United States with a live-release rate above 90 percent—and so far this year, it’s riding even higher at 96 percent!

The shelter’s success can be attributed in part to our popular, cutting-edge social media campaigns, in which Internet memes play a large part. Internet memes can take a variety of forms, but in our campaigns, they’re typically images that contain text and are intended to connect with the viewer. Because they not only advocate for shelter pets, but also entertain people, they have a high potential for social media sharing and thus for building awareness of our adoptable animals.

FCAS’s Facebook page was launched in May 2013. Since then, it’s gained more than 12,000 followers and has an impressive rate of user engagement, with posts typically receiving up to 100,000 views per week.

But more importantly, due to that engagement, animals are finding homes.“People come in all the time, saying, ‘Is Bert here? I saw him on Facebook yesterday and fell in love with him!’ It’s incredible. We’ve more than doubled dog adoptions in the past year, and much of that can be attributed to using memes, which catch people’s attention in a way that a bare photo simply can’t,” says Kristen Auerbach, director of communications and outreach. “Around here, we say, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words, and a meme is worth a thousand more.’”

The shelter’s memes have been featured in the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, and by ASPCAPro, the Animal Farm Foundation and the Shelter Art Foundation. Social media followers regularly respond to the memes with comments and emails such as, “What a fantastic job FCAS is doing with social networking your adoptable dogs! You guys are writing the book on how it should be done!” and “I love the creativity of this shelter. You guys are an example to all shelters!”With the following basic guidelines, your shelter or rescue can start creating memes of your own to be used for a variety of purposes, including animal advocacy, announcements and event promotion. For each type of meme, you’ll see examples that may help get your ideas flowing in the right direction, along with some examples of memes that FCAS has posted and how they came about. The last section lists additional places to look for inspiration.

What Makes This Animal Special?

When creating a meme to advocate for an animal’s adoption, there are several areas on which you can focus. The two most basic are an animal’s appearance and his personality. We’ve also found some successful strategies for promoting the adoption of animals who are victims of breed discrimination or who have special needs. As you’ll see in the surrounding examples, these strategies can also be combined in various ways.

The Animal’s Appearance

One of the simplest ways to create a meme is to focus on appearance. Your meme can highlight one or more of the animal’s features, his facial expression, the position of his body or a combination of these.

Things to think about:

  • Does the animal have any prominent features? How can they be spun in a positive way? Does the animal’s appearance remind you of anything, and if so, what can you do with that?
  • Does the animal’s facial expression look particularly “human?” If the animal could speak, what might she be saying? More importantly, what could the animal be saying that would help her connect with a potential adopter?

The Animal’s Personality

Getting to know animals will allow you to use aspects of their personalities and behavior to create a meme that will help potential adopters connect with the animal.

Things to think about:

  • What kind of energy does the animal give off? What are her personality quirks? Does he have any behaviors that are sweet, amusing, funny, etc.? What is the animal’s energy level? What funny things might she do that are similar (or different) from other animals of the same type and age?

You might also consider these questions, especially for animals who have been on the adoption floor for a while: What are the factors that might be preventing this animal from being adopted? Is he barrier-reactive? Is she more comfortable with people of a particular sex? What positive behaviors does this animal have trouble displaying in the shelter environment? What positive behaviors does this animal display when he’s not feeling stressed, or after he’s become comfortable with someone?

Victims of Breed Discrimination

Creating memes for victims of breed discrimination—such as so-called “pit bulls”—requires taking a few additional things into consideration. Be sensitive to the negative perceptions the public may have of the animal you’re promoting, and make sure your meme doesn’t unintentionally reinforce these. By introducing an animal to the public in a positive way, you’re helping people to see the animal as an individual. Memes can be a great way to help combat breed discrimination while also helping animals find adopters.

Things to think about:

  • What do people think when they see this animal? What negative thoughts may they have, and why? How can you take this negative association and make it positive? What are the positive aspects of this animal’s personality? Most importantly, what makes her an individual?Hemi was a very laid-back and gentle pit bull-type dog whose large size and closely cropped ears deterred some adopters. He waited for months to find an adopter, only to then be returned to the shelter through no fault of his own. When he came back, staff and volunteers expected another long wait. A volunteer posted Hemi’s photo on the group’s Facebook page, referencing his ears. This sparked the idea for the above meme.

Animals with Special Needs

The trick here is to pinpoint what aspects of this animal’s special need might make it difficult for her to find an adopter. Find a way to turn this negative into a positive, or show the public that their perceptions might not be accurate.

Things to think about:

  • What negative thoughts might an adopter have about this animal’s special need? What are the facts about this animal’s particular special need? What accommodations will an owner of this animal have to make? What are the positive aspects of this special need—both to the adopter and to the animal? What aspects of this animal’s personality make him resilient? What makes this animal an individual?

Announcements, Events and Promotions

Along with showcasing specific animals for adoption, memes can also be used for announcements, events and promotions. Get ideas flowing by thinking about the details of the event or promotion and what’s going to make it fun and interesting. If the event is on a holiday, think about how the holiday is traditionally celebrated. Do a Web search to see what words and phrases your search engine pulls up, and use them to brainstorm.

Things to think about:

  • Is this announcement related to a particular shelter program, and if so, where can you find more information? Is it a recurring event, and if so, what information can you find about past occurrences?
  • If you’re creating a meme about a holiday-related event or promotion, there are even more ways to generate ideas. What things do people like most about the holiday? How can you highlight this in a new and different way? What are the things people like the least about the holiday, and how can you spin this in a positive way?
    Other places to find inspiration:
  • Song lyrics
  • Movie quotes
  • Greeting cards
  • Internet searches
  • Calendars
  • Other memes
  • Other people!

FCAS’s Facebook group for fosterers and volunteers is a gold mine of meme ideas. If your shelter has a group like this, I highly recommend joining it. On FCAS’s group page, staff, volunteers and foster families can interact. Members post photos and videos of animals they’ve worked with, tell stories about them and get feedback. Fosterers and volunteers often post information and meme ideas. If I’m not familiar with an animal and need some input for a meme, I’ll post a question, and I generally get several answers the same day. We’ve used the photos and information posted by volunteers in several memes, and I often go through the posts when I’m looking for ideas.

Check out more shelter animal memes on the FCAS’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter sites:

About the Author

Kelly Keulduer is an avid shelter volunteer, foster parent and a board member of the Friends of the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. She lives in Fairfax with her husband, two children and four rescued pets.