This morning, I read a “Lost Dog Finds a New Home” article from a major news outlet. Animal adoptions occur in our animal shelters every day. So it is incumbent on animal shelters to be available to your local media on a slow news day.
The media is always looking for news. If you don’t provide it to them they’ll make it up. You can take advantage of slow news days to bring heart warming stories to your community about your animal shelter. I worked in an area where government officials were fearful of the local media. I believed that developing a positive relationship with the media would help in times when things go bad. Since I was the only government official in my county that maintained a good relationship with the media, it was not uncommon for me to sit next to a local reporter during county commission meetings. The commissioners noticed. Knowing that I had a good relationship with the media may have helped my organization during budget meetings.
Anytime you are contacted by a reporter concerning a story at your shelter, groom them to see if they are an “animal person.” Reporters want you to be their go to person when they are looking for a story. You need to groom them into becoming your go to person when you are seeking media attention.
I’ve always wanted to provide warm and fuzzy stories to the media, but hard luck stories seem to have the greatest impact. It is okay to report that your shelter is at capacity; it might cause a family that is on the fence about adopting an animal to come to the shelter. However, announcing an adoption event will bring out people who think adoption events are a good time to surrender their dogs. I’ve experienced times when we received more animals than we adopted at an event. You need to be prepared for that.
Always make your stories educational. When reporting about an animal being hit by a car, let the community know the importance of confining their pets and that having a current license on their pet might make the difference in whether emergency medical treatment is provided at the scene of an accident. It is always difficult to decide if a critically injured stray dog should received treatment costing several thousands of dollars only to never get adopted; but, if the dog is found with a known owner, it is much easier to send the dog off to the emergency veterinary clinic. Pet owners need to be constantly reminded that pet ownership is like being a parent; they need to reminded of their responsibility to keep their pets safe. If you decide to take a chance on an unidentified stray dog, use the media to make a plea for financial assistance; I have never had an incident in which the cost of medical care was not covered by donations.
It has been my experience that new reporters are easiest to approach, they want to make a name for themselves and are eager to be your go to person for their station. People like pets stories, but it is a lot of work to maintain a good impression. Always make sure your kennel is clean and fresh smelling (yeah I know). You want the media and potential adopters to feel good about animals and bad smells and piles of poop distract from that good feeling.
Many animal shelter work out a deal with local television stations to bring an adoptable pet on the morning news. Well mannered pets are always adored by the cast and crew. Make sure you take the time to bath a dog in advance; you don’t want the cast to cover their noses during a live taping. Putting a bow or scarf on the pet is a good touch. Make sure the pet is tolerant of people’s attention; it is not a good time to test a feral cat with people.
The media can be your friend, you just have to make the effort to maintain that relationship.