A lively, upbeat event like a talent show can help you connect with a variety of audiences and showcase dogs who are available for adoption.
"This type of event does a wonderful job of showing the public how great shelter dogs are, and helps to overcome the perception that animals are in shelters because there is ‘something wrong’ with them," says Lourdes Bravo of the ASPCA Adoption Center.
What You’ll Need
Staff Time & Resources
1) Decide who your audience is and how the talent show will help you connect with them. For example, your talent show could be:
· A donor appreciation event
· A media event with a selective guest list
· A fundraiser for the general public with an admission fee
· A component of an adoption event for the public
2) At least three months before the show, round up a panel of judges. Consider anyone on this list:
· Big donors
· Outstanding volunteers
· Staff or board members
· Prominent figures in your community
3) At least two months before the show, recruit dog trainers. Staff or volunteers make great handlers—they just need to make the time to teach their dog a trick or two and be available the day of the show. At the ASPCA Adoption Center, several animal care technicians volunteered to be handlers.
4) One month before the show, you have to focus on the stars of the show—the dogs!
Who's a good candidate for the show? ASPCA behaviorists selected dogs who wouldn't have a negative reaction to strangers, cameras, different noises, and other dogs. "If a dog doesn't feel comfortable in those types of situations, the chances are they will not perform, even if they know the trick very well," advises Bravo.
Dogs rescued by law enforcement and long-time shelter residents were given preference, too. "Many of these dogs just need an opportunity to strut their stuff," she says.
Select more dogs than you think you'll need. “We try to round up about 15+ dogs at the very beginning to participate in the training," says Bravo. "By the day of the show, we usually have several adopted. Ideally, we like to have about 10 dogs competing."
Hold group training classes. The ASPCA held classes five days a week for 45 minutes. The trainings were supervised by a member of the behavior department. Handlers were required to attend at least two classes a week.
Discover Fido's hidden talent. For example, Doug Becker, an ASPCA Animal Behavior Counselor, chose a baseball theme for his canine partner, Prince. "Prince loves playing with balls, and he is such a great catcher," says Becker about the three-legged pit bull. Your behaviorists and trainers should work with the handlers, offering techniques on how to effectively train their dogs. Bravo says, "Once the trainer has identified the trick that the dog is best suited for, we try to create a little story to make it more interesting."
Try these tricks on for size. Some of the themes in the ASPCA talent show were:
o Fire safety: Tiger taught the audience how to drop and roll.
o Carnival: Stormy wowed the crowd with her "juggling" skills-and was adopted after the event.
o Forgot his lines: Eugene wasn't sure he liked the excitement, but the crowd still loved him.
Who's in charge of wardrobe and props? Designate one person to compile costume pieces and props for the show.
No such thing as too much practice. The handlers were encouraged to work with the dogs on their free time to reinforce the tricks. This prepared the dogs for the show, and provided a nice change of pace. The dogs had the opportunity to get away from their kennel for a while and receive extra one-on-one attention. "They had a great time, regardless of how well they learned their trick," says Bravo.
5) One week before up until the day of the show, tap the media.
Pinging the public, part 1. If your event is open to the public, send the info to listings editors up to three weeks in advance—or more, depending on the news outlet's lead time (a monthly magazine may have a three-month lead time, for example).
Pinging the public, part 2. Don't forget your direct communication channels to reach your supporters: your website (and enewsletter, if you have one), Facebook page, and Twitter account. These are great venues for "save the date" messages and last-minute reminders for events open to the public.
On the day of the show, make sure you check all these tasks off your list:
A half-hour before the show, the handlers and dogs gather in a designated "green room" near the performance space. The canine competitors should be given water, light snacks and plenty of hugs to keep them relaxed.
Once the audience in place, the emcee should introduce the judges and explain the judging criteria: overall presentation, dog's attentiveness to the handler and creativity of the cues learned.
One by one, have the dogs enter and showcase their talent!