Bark and Purrtect

Animal Welfare, Rescue and Advocacy

Bark and Purrtect
Creating a Positive Image for Shelter Pets

By: Paris Permenter & John Bigley

We remember clearly the first photo we saw of our Irie. We were headed the next day to a shelter about two hours away to look at an Australian cattle dog (who turned out to be too high-energy for our household) and, while we waited, we decided to look through the photos of all the other dogs at the shelter. In Irie’s shelter photo, she was smiling, her mouth open and relaxed, her eyes looking directly at the camera. It was a happy photo that could have been taken in a household or at a doggie day care; there was no evidence of a shelter setting in the shot.

We all know that, unfortunately, those happy shelter photos aren’t the only ones out there. Many shelter photos are taken through kennel doors with fencing or bars obstructing the view of the pet and giving the photo a sad sense of desperation. Other photos even have catch poles or other restraints evident in the shot. The effect is one of a pet in a location that’s not appealing. Those photos don’t invite sharing and social networking like a happy photo and can, in fact, deter adoption efforts.

Recently we talked with Maria Brennan, Assistant Manager of the Purina ONE Shelter Program, about their efforts to improve adoption rates. The company surveyed pet lovers, trying to discover why many people don’t adopt. “We need to help change the perception of shelter pets,” says Brennan. The answer: the company partnered with professional pet photographer Nanette Martin to create an online toolkit to help shelters learn how to improve their photography and convey to the public all the great animals waiting for a home.

The result was, an online resource for shelter workers about how to promote a new view of shelter pets. With new, free resources added every few months, first launched with tips on better shelter pet photography.

One shelter that has undertaken the task of improving their photography is the Animal Protective Association of Missouri. During the creation of, Nanette Martin came to the shelter and provided simple tips on photography and low-cost equipment, from a seamless muslin background to a table with adjustable legs.

The results were immediate. The shelter is seeing increased engagement, with people spending more time on its website, visiting more pages, and forwarding more photos.

“Everyone’s morale is up,” says explains Steve Kaufman, Executive Director.

“It’s a little investment with a big payoff.”

 Photos courtesy Purina ONE is North America’s largest non-profit pet adoption web service. We help homeless pets at more than 13,600 animal shelters and rescues connect with the millions of potential adopters visit our website each month. To date, we’ve facilitated hundreds of thousands of lasting connections between great people and loving animals.

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