Category Archives: Pet Adoption Tips

Pet Adoption Tips: Good photography places pets.

With exceptional resources like,, and, it is easier than ever for people to see and choose adoptable pets.  For potential adopters who get overwhelmed with emotion when walking through shelters, or who are sensitive to the sounds or smells of crowded facilities, these resources prevent the need to step foot in a shelter until a potential match is found.  Websites such as these have made it possible for people to “visit” many shelters at once, scanning hundreds of animals in just a few clicks, without having to drive from place to place.  With the help of the internet, foster-based rescue groups have emerged as an incredible force in  animal adoptions, all made possible because of their ability to present their animals on the web for people to see. This media outlet- what I like to call “virtual shelters”- comes with a couple limitations.  The sheer number of animals available to choose from when searching online can be such that it is easy for pets to get overlooked and so first impressions are a must, and in that vein, a picture really does say a thousand words.  When scanning pages on Petfinder, for example, you see a pretty simple list without a lot of personal detail, and you must click to read more detailed biographies.  What makes the difference?  Tiny thumbnails.

Here you have one dog straining on the leash, disengaged, one dog that has no photo at all, two photos that don't stand out really well in thumbnails and have typical shelter backgrounds (leash, half-bodied volunteers, Helen looks a little nervous...) but Tasha's photo stands out AND she looks happy.

Here are some tips that will help with your pet photography in general but especially when concerning adoptable pets.  You do not have to be a great photographer to take great pet adoption photos!  These tips are for anyone at any skill level or with any camera.

  1. Get up close and personal.  Especially when petfinder thumbnails are concerned, you need to fill up the space with a nice shot that will draw someone in.  Engaging the viewers with a soulful glance can make a huge difference.
  2. Get down on their level. Typical top-down photography is a staple among shelter volunteers, but this can really create a disconnect.  Top-down angles are generally unflattering, and without a zoom (or an edited crop) they create distance between the viewer and the animal.
  3. Watch your lighting. Natural lighting is always best.  Try outside on an overcast day for best results, or in a well-lit area.  Good light will eliminate blurry photos and give you a great opportunity for action shots. Sunshine is not always your friend, although sunny days can bring out the shine and features of black animals, especially.  Be sure, though, to use an indirect angle.  Do not put the sun behind the animal you’re photographing, as you may end up with a pet silhouette in front of a glaring bright spot.  Be careful when using a flash so that you do not end up with unflattering “laser eye” effects, which creates another disconnect.  A direct flash can also wash out features or create distracting shadows.  That’s not to say that there aren’t great opportunities for wonderful flash photography, especially when you are going for action shots or the dog is backlit.
  4. Catch the side of the pet that you want to promote.  Candid shots of animals having fun are sometimes the best, most engaging photos.  Don’t show dogs straining on a leash, barking, jumping up, or cats hunkered down in a litterbox or hiding in the corner.  Playing with toys, showing off tricks, running and having fun, all these things are great ways to show off what this pet has to offer.  It may take some time to get an animal to warm up and come out of its shell, but it’s good for them to have that interaction and it’s worth the time in order to help them present better in their photos.  Happy expressions will make people happy but sad, depressing photos of animals that look like they want to shrink into nonexistence will not win anyone but the saddest saps (yours truly!) over.
  5. Editing can be your friend, just don’t overdo it.  A photo doesn’t have to be perfect right off the camera in order to make a great web shot.  A few minutes spent adjusting color and exposure, cropping, editing out intrusive background distractions, etc, can make a huge difference.  If you have Photoshop or a similar program and some extra time, try removing leashes, clutter, even people if possible so that your photo looks more natural.   However, not every problem can be easily fixed and some things are just best left the way they are.  I have seen an increasing trend lately where enterprising photographers use something like Microsoft Paint or other basic editors to basically paint black irises over the “laser eyes.”  This doesn’t look so bad at thumbnail level, but it becomes pretty obvious when the photos are enlarged and can give a creepy look to the photo.

    Borrowed this pic from a shelter on Facebook

  6. Look behind/around the pet.  Staging photos doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it does pay to practice and learn and to really examine what’s going on in the viewfinder before you snap a picture.  Leashes and cages and concrete floors make for dull scenery- just adding a colorful backdrop can make a big difference.  Taking photos in kennels or cages with urine or feces present is a huge turn-off for people- if you get home and find out that there is some waste in your photos, use a photo editor or toss those pics and try again.
  7. If you have multiple photo slots, use them wisely!  Don’t take multiple similar photos and load them up.  On Petfinder, for example, you have the option to upload three photos.  I suggest you try to have a head shot (as we covered!), a good profile or other body shot that helps people see what the animal looks like, and then a just plain for-fun shot.

Good luck and happy shooting!


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Pet Adoption Tips: “Furever” means FOREVER.

Pet Adoption Tip #2:  Understand the definition of “commitment.”


[kuh-mit] , verb

“To bind or obligate, as by pledge or assurance; pledge: to commit oneself to a promise; to be committed to a course of action.”

When you bring home a new pet, you are making a commitment to fulfill the needs of that animal for as long as it lives.  You are obligated to provide for it, at whatever cost, in sickness and in health,’ til death do you part.  You may have to pass up on the new apartment you REALLY want because you have to find one where your furry family members are allowed.  You might have to rent a commercial carpet scrubber and pay extra vet bills because your cat has a bladder infection and has been soiling outside the litterbox.  You might have to read some books on dog training or even take classes so your dog will be a better canine citizen.

Shortly after Nola's adoption, her new "mom" got more than she bargained for when it was discovered Nola had Cushing's disease. Sending her back to rescue never crossed her mom's mind. She thrust herself into Nola's care, providing top notch holistic and internal treatments. Four years later, she is thriving!

On my application there is a question that asks, “Under what circumstances would you give up this pet?”  It’s a trick question.  Sitting innocently at the bottom of the first page, you don’t realize that the purpose of the query is simply to determine whether or not you understand the commitment you are making. The answer to this question can end the adoption process.  I have added to my application a question asking what you think the life expectancy is for this animal, to see if you are aware how long your new pet may be in your life.  For cats, life span can max out at 15 to 20 years.  Dogs average 8-15 years depending on breed.  Rabbits, anywhere between 5-10 years.  Guinea pigs, 3-7 years.  Rats, 2-3 years.   To us, the amount of time we have these animals is very short even from baby to old age, but it’s “forever” to them.  (Then there are the long-lived pets; small birds such as parakeets can live to 15 years or more and large birds, like macaws, can live to be a hundred.  Are you really sure you are ready to commit to spending the rest of your life with this animal, meeting its needs through all your life changes and aging?  If not, don’t!) Ask yourself where you’ll be in three years, or seven, or ten or 20 and whether or not you see that pet in that future image.

Willow was surrendered to our rescue for urinating outside the litterbox. It was discovered she had a urinary tract infection. 10 days of antibiotics later and she's doing well and she has never failed to use the litterboxes in her foster home. This surrender could have been prevented with simple veterinary medication.

Adoption contracts state that you understand that this animal is now your responsibility and you are the caretaker, protector and provider.  So when you see “Under what circumstances would you give up this pet?” on my application and you respond with “Not housebroken,” “Going outside litterbox”, etc, you are showing me that you don’t understand what a commitment is.  Housebreaking is something you must teach.  Litterbox issues are most often related to medical problems.  This is par for the course with pet ownership and you should expect to have to provide training, veterinary care, and meet the basic needs of this animal.  How can you expect perfection from a pet when they can’t expect basic responsibility from you?

In my last Pet Adoption Tips blog post, I talked about “return policies” and how having a “temporary” mindset sets adoptions up for failure.  If we go into adoptions with the firm understanding of what our responsibilities are and the attitude that we will be there for our pets for the rest of their years, there will be no issue that we can’t overcome.

Adoption groups call us “forever homes” for a reason.

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Pet Adoption Tips: Animals are not shoes

Pet Adoption Tip #1:  Don’t ask the Customer Service Desk question

“What is your return policy?”

While this piece of information is important and in fact the answer can help you distinguish good rescues from bad rescues, asking a question like this needs to be handled far more delicately.  When you ask in this way, it gives rescue workers the impression that you are already in a temporary or disposable mindset, as though you are already concerned that the shoes you’re buying aren’t going to fit once you wear them for a little while.  When something starts to go wrong with a recently adopted pet, your first question should always be, “how can I make this work?”  There can be no expectations of perfection, all adoptions come with a learning and growth period that can be short-lived right up to a lengthy period of major stress and worry.  When someone is entrusting you with what is to be a new family member, they are expecting that you are already committed to trying to make it work, just as you would commit to any other long-term personal relationship in your life.  If you have done your work before choosing a pet to adopt (this will be a future blog topic,)  there should be a good chance that your new pet is not completely incompatible and that any problems that crop up are resolvable.  This brings up an interesting point, though, that is worth taking note of whether you are the adopter or rescuer:

Some adoptions are going to fail no matter what you do.

This statement is not permission or justification for giving up because your new cat has a bladder infection or your new dog is eating your sofa.  There are, however, legitimate situations in which you may be forced to part ways with your beloved new pet; I am talking about totally unforeseeable circumstances here, not “we decided to move and haven’t put the time into finding a place where Samson is allowed.”  In these situations, you’ll need to know what to do with your adopted pet.

Rescuers, it is your job to stress to adopters that they need to contact you if some horrible circumstance should necessitate the return of their pet.  Adopters, please be sure to use wording that does not lead to the panicky assumption by the rescuers that you’re setting the adoption up for failure before it’s even begun.  If you are truly committed to an adoption, the first question you ask should not be “how can I return this pet?”  If that’s weighing on your mind, take a step back and make sure you’re ready to give 110% (or 310% or whatever it takes!) to this new pet.  And if what you’re worried about is getting your money back from a likely non-profit organization that probably paid far more in vetting than your adoption fee could dare touch, then you really aren’t ready.  That money that you’re about to drop is a like a pledge; an investment in a shared future.

Questions you can ask instead might be: what sort of support do you give your adopters and what do you expect of them?  Can I contact you if I need help with anything?  Can you tell me more about the adoption contract?  (the rescue should have included a clause addressing returns.)

Pets are not shoes.  They are living creatures that experience stress and with that can come  illness, trauma  and confusion.  Never move an animal from a situation in which it is comfortable unless you are going to give it everything you have.  That means asking yourself where you intend to be in the next x years (where x = potential lifespan of the pet you wish to bring home), how you plan on making arrangements if you have to move, what will happen if behavior problems pop up (which may involve expensive behavior and training consultations), how you will budget for veterinary care and emergencies, etc.  You may be giving up a small part of a greater whole, but your animal is giving you its whole life.

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