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Melbourne event gets workers out of offices, dogs into new homes

From Animal Sheltering magazine January/February 2015

Looking frazzled and glum in a suit and tie, a businessman stuck in yet another meeting stares out from a poster. “For 9 hours a day he is kept in a tiny box and ignored,” it reads. “He needs to go walkies.”

A gentle spoof of ads featuring sad-looking shelter dogs, the promotional piece—which was posted at bus stops and local businesses, and handed out as a flier at train stations—suggests that maybe it’s we humans who need a lifestyle adjustment. And it advertises a step in that direction: the one-day Human Walking Program sponsored by The Lost Dogs’ Home of Melbourne, Australia.

Held last April in a park near Melbourne’s central business district, the event enticed office-drones to step outdoors for walks with adoptable dogs from The Lost Dogs’ Home. The three-hour lunchtime program drew about 400 people, and all 15 dogs who participated were adopted within a week.

“People loved the concept, the event and just everything,” says Kate Hoelter, a Lost Dogs’ Home spokeswoman. The program, which took place on a sunny, mild day, was the first of its kind for The Lost Dogs’ Home, and it proved to be such a success that organizers planned another walk for late November. A video of the first event went viral.

Developed in collaboration with Melbourne-based advertising agency GPY&R, the Human Walking Program demonstrated that shelter dogs “are not damaged goods or second rate,” Hoelter says, while also promoting the health benefits of people getting out of their offices.

Organizers selected dogs who would be comfortable interacting with lots of people in a park setting. For the walks, each dog had two leashes: one held by the participant, and one held by a Lost Dogs’ Home volunteer or staff member. The arrangement helped ensure the dogs’ safety and let the Lost Dogs’ team share information about the dog, the adoption process and pet ownership in general.

The Lost Dogs’ Home promoted the event through its social media and fliers. Local newspapers and radio stations gave it more advance publicity than the organizers expected, which Hoelter says “just shows
the value of a great creative idea for getting your message out there.”

Worried that the program might attract “too many people and not enough dogs,” Hoelter arranged to have some prior adopters bring their sociable, relaxed pooches to mingle with the crowd. “This way, people still got a doggie fix while waiting to walk a dog for adoption and were happy,” she says.

Think you’d like to use your shelter’s dogs to liberate the cube-dwellers in your town? Hoelter’s advice includes having as many staff and volunteers on hand as possible, devising a smooth system for transferring dogs from one walker to the next, entertaining the crowd and providing plenty of information about who you are and what you do—which can plant seeds for future adopters and donors.

“Even if you start small,” she says, “if it helps just one more dog find a home, it’s worth it.”

Learn more about how to plan such a program at thehumanwalkingprogram.org.

About the Author

James Hettinger is the assistant editorial director for Animal Sheltering magazine at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). He's responsible for editing copy and managing the production of the award-winning quarterly publication aimed at shelter and rescue personnel. Prior to joining The HSUS in 2008, James worked for several local newspapers and trade associations in the Washington, D.C., area. He shares his home with three cats: Edgar, Dana and Vinny.