An Empty the Shelter event is much like any other large scale adoption event; what sets it apart is its lofty goal: to find homes for every animal in the shelter. The events can create a public groundswell in support of pet adoption and a media extravaganza.
Each shelter puts its own spin on an Empty the Shelter event, but most have the following things in common:
The goal of the event is to find a home for every animal at the shelter during a short time period, usually one to three days
Adoptions are fee-waived or reduced-fee during the event
The key to success is conveying its urgent goal to the public
Why They Work
Empty the Shelter events are brilliant marketing campaigns, capturing the hearts of the public and the attention of the media, and uplifting staff and volunteers.
Empty the Shelter promotions appeal to community members, empowering and inspiring them to help solve the problem of pet homelessness. Many shelters do fee-waived events, but according to Andrea Blair, communications director for KHS, these generic fee-waived events don't have quite the same impact that an all-out Empty the Shelter event does. "I think it was those three magic words – 'empty the shelter'– that got people excited," says Blair. "Potential adopters responded to the thought that they could help us literally empty the shelter, even if it was for just one day."
Blair adds that the publicity from the events can create "collateral advantage" in which adopters are moved to adopt regardless of the price or location. She says KHS staffers saw numerous adopters go to their offsite locations and pay full price for their new companions, rather than wait in a long line for the fee-waived animals at the agency's main campus.
People love a feel-good story, and emptying the shelter certainly fits the bill. In fact, MSN online listed DFW Humane Society of Irving's Empty the Shelter day as #13 on its Good News Stories of 2014. MSN reported that the event "was a success and the shelters were all but cleaned out by prospective pet owners."
"Many reporters want to do their part and they are more than willing to let the public know how full the shelters are and what the community can do to help," says Tori Fugate, manager of marketing and development of KC Pet Project in Kansas City, MO.
Blair adds that "individual TV producers and reporters got very excited about the results, and felt that they had personally contributed to our success by promoting the event." This, Blair says, created closer relationships between the shelter and local reporters.
In a city like Chicago it can be hard to attract the attention of the media. But David Dinger, vice president of The Anti-Cruelty Society (ACS) says he found "a number of media outlets that grabbed the 'Empty the Shelter' theme. It was concise and 'sexy' enough for them."
As effective and inspiring as Empty the Shelter events are, overdoing them can cause the public and the media to get burned out. Fugate says her agency only does Empty the Shelter-type events "when we're so full and out of options."
Blair says that KHS limits Empty the Shelter days to once a year and recommends that communities with multiple sheltering agencies collaborate on promotions to prevent the public and media from getting fatigued with the idea.
Staff and Volunteers
Agencies also report that Empty the Shelter events improve staff and volunteer morale, as they experience firsthand how much community members appreciate their hard work and are willing to help solve the problem of pet homelessness.
"You could feel the buzz of positive energy from each and every volunteer, and I think the pets knew that something big was about to happen, too," says Teri Loftus-Emery, a volunteer for DFW Humane Society of Irving.
Dinger says ACS held an Empty the Shelter event after a busy summer, giving the staff and volunteers a chance to end the season on a high note. He says many staff favorites found homes during the event, "creating a festive atmosphere where every department worked toward a common goal."
Ann Barnes, executive director of HSNT, says her staff and volunteers initially had concerns about how committed to their pets fee-waived adopters would be. However, Barnes says, "Everyone was pleasantly surprised when they saw that the public was there to be a part of the event, to help empty the shelter."
And, she adds, her staff was thrilled when the return rates after the event were even lower than normal.
Photo at right courtesy KC Pet Project in Kansas City, MO