On our Facebook community, we've talked repeatedly about the impact a photo can have on a shelter pet's chances of finding a home. In October of 2011, we set this process in motion ourselves to see how much of a difference one photographer could make. By playing a Facebook game we created called Bowl by Bowl, our community unlocked a Kicker (a special activity triggered by a food donation milestone) that allowed us to send professional photographer Nanette Martin to take pictures of the pets at the Virginia Beach SPCA.
So, did she make a difference? We caught up with their executive director, Sharon Adams, to see. It turned out that the effect was even stronger than we'd expected. After hearing about Nanette's visit, the local news came down and filmed her at work, which sent a rush of people in to look at the pets they'd seen on TV. Out of the 126 pets photographed, more than 75% had already been adopted by the time we talked. Here are a few of the Sharon's favorite stories.
Shilo was a "teddy bear" of a dog that had been brought back to the shelter by his adoptive family. Oftentimes this makes it hard for a dog to get another chance, but the staff knew Shilo was special. "We adored him. He stayed in the development office," Sharon explained. About a week after the photo went up, he found a new home. "Nanette made him look like the character he really was," she said. "A sweet-natured dog."
A little-known phenomenon exists where black dogs and cats often have a harder time finding homes, simply because they blend in more and their coloration is harder to photograph. Two weeks after Nanette arrived, people started to come in asking for Bayer. "This person who came in was a single man with no kids," she explained, "He and Bayer just connected. It was a dog and boy kind of story."
"Everyone wants a kitten," Sharon explained, "Once a cat hits 4 or 5 it's much harder to get them adopted." For Mao, age 6, it was easy - once she had her photo taken, a family with two kids scooped him up.
Thelma arrived at the shelter at age 14, with her sister Louise. Her chances of adoption were slim. After Nanette photographed her, she ended up on the news and people came in requesting her right away. "We have 150 cats," Sharon explained, "and they requested her."