Los Angeles pet lovers.
THE Go-To Website To Save Animals’ Lives
By Mark Simmons
What do Edie Falco, Jane Lynch and Katherine Heigl have in common?
They have all adopted dogs from animal shelters and each has hosted an episode of the PBS series, Shelter Me.
Ms. Falco beams when talking about her dog, Sami, in the film.
“She was saved from a puppy mill two years ago and brought to an animal shelter, which is where she came into my life,” she said.
The episode that Ms. Falco is hosting, “Shelter Me: Second Chances,” premieres on PBS in February. This is the third episode in the inspiring series about shelter pets improving people's lives.
In this episode, shelter dogs are brought into a juvenile detention facility where teenage inmates learn how to train them. The results bring a message of hope and provide life-long lessons. A poet delivers an emotional performance about the impact shelter pets can have on our lives. And a professional photographer takes a group of students into a shelter and shows how taking great pictures can get more pets adopted.
The television series is produced and directed by Steven Latham and began airing nationally in 2012.
The stories in the first two episodes included the journey of two stray dogs from the moment they were picked up on the street and brought to the shelter and to the day they were adopted; pairing up veterans with PTSD and shelter dogs; volunteers that take their shelter dogs to a hospital to visit patients; a mobile spay/neuter clinic and shelter dogs being trained for search-and-rescue.
The positive stories told in this series reinforce how incredible shelter pets are and why they deserve a second chance. People have been responding to the upbeat storytelling of Shelter Me. The PBS ratings are great and their facebook page has more than 145,000 likes.
“I created this project because I felt shelter pets were not being properly represented,” said Latham. “All three of my dogs came from the shelter. My experiences with staff and volunteers have always been positive, yet many people have the wrong impressions of animal shelters.”
There’s a well-known commercial with a sad song that portrays shelter pets negatively.
“How do those ads help the animals?” asks Latham. “The only message that’s communicated by those groups is, ‘give us your money.’ Those groups don’t tell you any other ways to help.”
Shelter Me wants to inspire people to get involved with their local shelters.
Change Comes From Inspiration, Not Desperation
Most people have never been to an animal shelter and don’t even know where their local shelter is, nor do they realize how beautiful the shelters are since they have all been remodeled.
“When people learn about the shelters and see all the incredible animals there, they often ask, ‘How can I help?’ says Latham.
One of the most important things for people to do is to visit their local shelter.
“When people visit the shelter and have a good experience, they will tell their friends and family,” said Latham. “We can make the shelter the first place people will want to go to get their new family member.”
When people visit the shelter, they learn that they can donate blankets, towels, newspapers, cleaning supplies and other much needed items. They also learn about fostering, volunteering and spay/neuter vouchers.
Latham said he would hear from people who love animals but haven’t visited a shelter in years.
“A lot of my friends have homes full of adopted animals. They would tell me that they can’t adopt any more animals and don’t have time to volunteer. They just figured there was nothing for them to do at the shelter.”
Latham also wondered about those who care about animals but may not be able to have any because they live in an apartment, travel too much or can’t afford one.
“What about those people? How are we engaging them to help our shelter pets?” asks Latham.
Those questions led Latham to create ShelterMe.com, a website that launched last year and enables anyone to make an online profile of a shelter pet.
ShelterMe.com is a completely free service for shelters and the public. Currently, all Los Angeles City and County shelters and the Ventura, Orange, Long Beach and San Bernardino shelters are on the site. ShelterMe.com is adding new shelters every week and going national this year.
A big distinction between this site and other sites that post animals is that ShelterMe.com is dedicated exclusively to public animal shelters.
Another difference is that it’s an open platform that lets the public, volunteers and staff upload photos and videos of animals at the shelter.
Petfinder.com is a site that most people are familiar with. Most of those listings are done by rescue groups. And only the representatives of those groups can post photos on this website, not the general public.
“There are plenty of sites that list pets from rescue groups,” said Latham. “Our focus is the shelter. We’re empowering the public to be part of the solution to create profiles to get more people into the shelters to help increase adoptions. When everyone does a little, we can help our shelters and improve the lives of the shelter animals.”
ShelterMe.com is a well-designed site that is very easy to use. The profiles have numerous photos, video and a personal description for each pet.
“When someone makes a profile, we want the images and the pet’s bio to be very personal,” said Latham. “What was it like spending time with the pet? When others see the profile, we want them to imagine that pet in their home being a part of their family. And the cool thing is, when you see a profile that you like, you can go immediately to the shelter to visit that pet.”
“We have individuals, families and groups of friends going to different shelters to make profiles,” said Ady Gil, co-founder of ShelterMe.com. “We have seen so many of the pets on the site get adopted. If people weren’t making these profiles, many of the animals would not have the chance to be seen and networked.”
The profiles can easily be emailed and shared on Facebook and Twitter. All of the information for each pet is on one page. This also helps to let people know about their local shelters. There are some shelter names that people are still unfamiliar with, such as North Central, East Valley and West Valley.
ShelterMe.com is searchable so people are exposed to the shelters in their region. People can also search by breed, age, sex and different personality traits. Another helpful function is clicking “Follow Me” on any profile. This creates a page of pets a person has been looking at so you can narrow down ones that you’re interested in. There’s even a MatchMe feature that lets people put in their personality to see which pet is recommended for them.
The site is quickly updated when a pet has been adopted, rescued, fostered, transported to another shelter or euthanized.
The challenge of just posting photos on Facebook is that the information is often pushed down on the timeline. Groups often post a photo on Facebook and then a video on YouTube. This can split the audience, especially when there are comments on each posting. The other challenge is that the postings on Facebook are communicating to the same people over and over. And the different shelters are not searchable on the Facebook pages. When you search for a particular pet on ShelterMe.com, you will see animals from the surrounding shelters.
YOU Can Be The Change
There are many benefits of having the public be involved with their local shelters. Making profiles on ShelterMe.com is one tool that gets people involved and gives exposure to the pets waiting for new homes.
A person can take photos and video with a smartphone, point-and-click camera or a professional camera.
“All you need to do is ask a volunteer or staff member to take a dog out of his or her kennel or visit the cat room,” said Latham.
Latham explains that making profiles on ShelterMe.com has such a positive impact on the pets. Giving the dogs some time in the yard to play, get socialized and to teach some basic commands is essential. When they are returned to their kennel, they are more relaxed after having some exercise and interactions with people.
“We have had many adoptions happen when families walk by the play yard and see a dog having the time of his life,” said Latham. “Often a dog doesn’t show his full personality in the kennel.”
Families have driven from Las Vegas and other areas to adopt pets they have seen and fallen in love with on ShelterMe.com.
Groups of students, Girl Scouts and families have gone to the shelters to create profiles on ShelterMe.com. Recently, students have been going to the South LA and West Valley shelters to make profiles.
“Young people love animals,” said Latham. “And they also love taking photos and being online.”
Many kids are too young to volunteer at the shelter. Latham says that making ShelterMe.com profiles is a great family activity and a way to for kids to have fun and help the animals.
“My editor, Conrad, and his wife have dogs, cats and a rabbit,” said Latham. “They love animals but used to not go to the shelter because they couldn’t adopt any more pets and didn’t think there was anything they could do. Now, they go with their daughter and their daughter’s friends to create profiles at the South Los Angeles shelter on weekends.”
“The shelters have lots of animals,” said Conrad. “But it becomes much more personal after you have spent time with a pet. Creating a profile on ShelterMe.com is a great way to help that pet get noticed and, hopefully, get a loving home. When you make a profile, you start networking that pet. You post the link everywhere and when that pet gets adopted it is such a great feeling. You know you’ve truly made a difference. Then you want to go right back to the shelter and make another profile.”
More than 5,000 profiles have been created on ShelterMe.com and the adoption rate is more than 80 percent. Their mobile app will be launching soon.
“We want ShelterMe.com to be THE place that people go when they’re ready to get a pet, or where they go to network shelter animals in need of a loving home,” says Latham.
For anyone who might be hesitant to go to the shelter or are unsure about adopting, the Shelter Me TV show and ShelterMe.com provide compelling reasons for local shelters to be the first place people go to get a great pet.
The animals in the shelters need our help. There is a need and an opportunity to tell the good things that are happening at the shelter.
“We need to get people to think of the shelters as adoption centers and not the pound,” said Latham. “Communities need to take pride in their local shelter.”
Most people don’t realize that the shelter is full of pets that lived in homes before and were loved and well taken care of. These pets are housebroken and know their commands. You will see “Owner Surrender” on kennel cards. The public needs to know that pets end up in the shelter because an owner is moving, can’t afford the pet any more or the owner may have died. Latham says that these are some of the stories that people need to know.
Latham added, “You always hear people say, ‘the best pet I ever had came from the shelter.’ So let’s tell those stories and work together to get more people involved with their shelter.”
“I have heard and truly believe, ‘Never pity shelter pets. Do something to help them,’” said Latham.
As Edie Falco says, “A pet in a shelter is just temporarily homeless. You can be the one to change that. You may find yourself wondering who is actually helping whom. Please get involved with your local shelter. Give pets like Sami a second chance.”
Episode 3, “Shelter Me: Second Chances.” begins airing throughout the country on PBS the first week of February. Here are some upcoming local broadcasts:
Los Angeles: KLCS
Wednesday, February 5 at 8pm.
San Bernadino: KVCR
Saturday, February 15 at 7pm.
The broadcast schedule is on ShelterMe.tv
People can learn more about Shelter Me by emailing: info@ShelterMe.com or going to facebook.com/ShelterMeTV
(Mark Simmons lives in Los Angeles with his pack of shelter dogs. He fosters pets from our local shelters year round.)
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