Picture Me Perfect: How Washington County Humane Society is Saving Lives Through Marketing

When Debbie Block, the Community Relations/Grant Director of The Washington County Humane Society in Slinger, WI, wrote us to report how WCHS had used the Adoption Marketing grant funds we awarded them last year, this caught our eye right away:

“We are very proud of our numbers – we have been helping more dogs in the state of Wisconsin than ever before. We are one of a handful of shelters in the state to pull animals from Milwaukee Animal Control. Our euthanasia rates are on the decline and our length of stay is decreasing as well. We are very proud of our numbers and continue to work harder to decrease the length of stay and increase our educational outreach.

This grant has helped us to think outside of the box when it comes to marketing our dogs. We are able to soften their pictures – make them whimsical and really show a goofy, loving, and rip at your heart strings image! We are still learning about all of our equipment … every day we get a little bolder and braver with our outreach.

In the meantime we are having a wonderful time watching our stats decline due to our Marketing Efforts and our Kennel Enrichment Program. Our euthanasia rate over the past three years is steadily on the decline. In 2013 we were at 9.7, 2014 we were at 8.78, and at 2015 we were at 5.75 – currently we are at 4%…Comparing this March to March of 2015, our length of stay is declining…. and we have been helping other shelters that are overflowing with dogs.”

Debbie also shared that along with the equipment they purchased with the initial $1,000 AFF grant (which included a green screen kit with video lightening kit, props, filters, SD cards, extra bulbs, and batteries, a tent, backdrop curtains and fall screen, flyers and cardboard cutouts of dogs to place in furniture stores), they were also able to secure further support from local businesses. Coldwell Banker donated $1,000 in matching funds for a new camera, lens, and camcorder and the Eagle Scouts have offered to build a photo booth!

We asked Debbie to share more about how WCHS has used their Adoption Marketing grant award to create their Picture Me Perfect project and make big changes for the people and pets in their community.

AFF: Has the new approach to photography and marketing allowed you to reach a wider audience? 

Debbie: Our grant has been so much fun! Our photos are getting shared all the time.

For example: One dog, Dreamboat, continually was overlooked. I saw a photo of Matthew McConaughey driving his Lincoln. It got the wheels turning. Then I saw a photo of Ellen DeGeneres of her in the back of the car. That was when it hit me – let’s put Dreamboat in the front seat! We used the new green screen to make it happen.


I shared the photo and everyone was going crazy! I posted it to Ellen DeGeneres’ Facebook page and people were loving it. We got messages from out of state telling us: awesome job, keep up the good work, and way to think outside of the box.

We’re really just beginning. People in Wisconsin love their Packers, so we put a photo of one of our dogs into the huddle with the Packers. We try to show rabbits in home situations, blooper photos of dogs, and serious heart tugging photos too.

We love that the grant helped spark some new partnerships with other groups, like Coldwell Bankers and the Eagle Scouts, who also recognize the importance of great marketing! How did that come about? Do you have any tips for other shelters looking for local partners on similar projects?

I cannot stress enough that reaching out to your community is vital. Create partnerships and your shelter will go far.

I approached Coldwell Banker about their recent partnership with other shelters and asked them to consider doing something with us. Each Coldwell Banker is a franchise – we happen to be blessed with a volunteer who is a realtor for Coldwell Banker Homesale Realty and has a big heart with helping animals. He has funded many of our projects to help us with marketing and thinking outside of the box.

green screen


If I can give one piece of advice it would be: Make yourself visible, ask for help, talk about how you help the community, and don’t forget to mention to the business that you will help market their business or service as well. It’s all about community!

Along the way you will get a lot of “nos”, but don’t ever stop trying. Come back to that organization next year. Diligence pays off. Remind them of the services your organization provides and how you assist them.

Offer to give a tour or do an educational venue at their organization. Share your vision, as well as the vision of the organization. When you make yourself vulnerable, it’s easy for a company or organization to see you are sincere.

Your fun photographs help adopters to see the cats, dogs, and small animals as individuals. How does this approach help dogs like Moses, who might get passed over in the kennels, to go home faster and with the right families?

From the Grant Report: Moses Makes A Different 1st Impression


Having fun photos or videos helps potential adopters see that animal outside of their cage. Whenever we have a dog that looks or behaves a little overwhelmingly in their kennel, it is critical to have volunteers and staff tell people about that animal and show them outside of their cage. Talk to adopters and the public about what a great animal he/she is. Find out what exactly they are looking for and help them find the perfect fit.

It’s critical to show and share those videos. We do different social media posts every day of the week. Keep things interesting. We post information on dogs that people pass by and suggest that people stop by and treat that dog.


Often times I’ll offer tours with some education; it’s a great time to talk about behaviors they might be seeing and tell people how we are working through the high energy, various behavior issues, and the harder to place animals.

We have fantastic volunteers and staff who work hard every day to make a difference in the lives of the animals that are at our shelter. We are truly blessed. And with their help we will never stop thinking outside of the box, learning, and striving for improvements.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with other shelters and rescues about what you’ve learned through “Picture Me Perfect”?

Just try new techniques – test your audience. Monitor your numbers. Find out when your demographic/followers are watching on social media and follow the stats on your website. These are important numbers and you will then know when to reach out at the most opportune time.


Don’t be afraid to experiment. Some people might not like what you are doing, but then again remember you are doing it for the animals. If people are talking good, bad, or indifferent it’s good! They are watching what you are doing and that’s ok. Your work is getting noticed. Keep doing it.

One thing I can’t stress enough is don’t be afraid to ask for in-kind donations: props, money to create flyers, video cameras, SD Cards, backup batteries, etc.

Show people you are committed and community will embrace you!

Thank you Debbie and WCHS – keep up the great work!


If your organization would like to apply for an Adoption Marketing grant, please see our website. The deadline to apply for 2016 is June 1st!


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