How can a stunning image campaign promote animal welfare? Discover how the nonprofit organization Foster Dogs connects shelter animals with loving homes by using powerful photographs of dogs in need.
Image via Robert Stoetzel for @shop_dog_and_co.
A long time ago, a petite pit bull named Onyx was tied to a pole and abandoned. After she was rescued, she waited for six years without finding a family. One day, a kind-hearted person brought Onyx into her home temporarily so that she wouldn’t have to spend her days in an animal shelter. After months of living with Onyx, however, that person realized she never wanted to part with the little dog. In 2016, Onyx was officially adopted.
This is just one of the many joyful endings made possible by Foster Dogs, a nonprofit that connects homeless dogs with people who want to help. Every year, an estimated 6.5 million companion animals enter the shelter system in the United States. Some of them find homes quickly; for others, it takes longer. About 1.5 million of these animals are euthanized due to overpopulation. Fostering saves lives, giving animals the chance to live in a calm and loving home environment until that “forever home” comes along. The rescue organization or shelter responsible for the animal takes care of any medical expenses they might have.
Sarah Brasky founded Foster Dogs after having the life-changing experience herself with a rescue chihuahua and later a pit bull. In addition to offering support and resources to foster families, Foster Dogs hosts adoption events (including Puppy Parties), and their Fospice program places senior and terminally-ill dogs in homes so they can live out their final weeks, months, or years in a safe and happy place.
Foster Dogs has a large social media following, hosts a blog, and regularly works with photographers to share their available dogs with the world. Through soulful, adorable, and moving imagery, Brasky’s team has paired dogs with caring foster and forever homes and raised awareness about the benefits of fostering for dogs and humans alike. We asked the Foster Dogs founder to tell us about how she uses pictures to promote the incredible animals in the program.
What’s the most successful campaign you’ve launched, and why do you think it was so effective?
“Our most recent photo shoot about ‘Overlooked Black Dogs’ was the most visually striking campaign we’ve produced thus far, though competition is fierce among our other amazing campaigns over the years. #OverlookedBlackDogs is the brainchild of photographer Shaina Fishman, based in New York.
“We both felt that black dogs get overlooked in animal shelters, thus having a harder time finding a home. I found many black dogs of different shapes and sizes, all of whom are now adopted and were once in foster care. One litter of stunning Black Labrador mix puppies were in foster care during the shoot and found their forever homes immediately after their group photo debuted.
Image via Shaina Fishman Photography.
“Shaina also shot a one-of-a-kind eleven-dog group photo in 2014, showing off the joy of fostering and adoption. Each of the featured dogs was once in foster care, and all had been adopted at the time of the photo shoot. While each dog was photographed separately in a quiet space, the combined group in the edited final edition is simply jaw-dropping. There are dogs in animal shelters for every person; don’t shop, adopt!”
Image via Shaina Fishman Photography.
What’s the biggest misconception out there when it comes to marketing and rescue?
“One common misconception I encounter is that animal rescue organizations should show a sad, injured dog in order to raise funds. While this is indeed a way to tug at heartstrings, and it can work, Foster Dogs focuses on another angle. We highlight the positive impact that you, the foster caretaker, would have by bringing the dog home.
“We’ve helped dogs from all types of scenarios while they were in the care of local animal rescue groups. We brought a Creative Director, who is a skilled professional photographer, into our Steering Committee. We also have spent years building wonderful relationships with incredible New York-area photographers who donate their time and skills to our efforts. We use beautiful images and show our foster volunteers that fostering can be so beautiful and positive.”
Image via Stacey Axelrod.
“Old dogs can be glamorous too! With our incredible Fospice program for end-of-life foster care, we’ve organized natural-setting shoots in-home or at a beautiful nearby setting: Kayla by Stacey Axelrod, Princess Leia by Leslie Leda, and many others. We want to show these dogs in a positive light and express how comfortable and loved they truly are!”
Image via Leslie Leda.
What’s the one thing you wish you could tell people about fostering dogs?
“If there’s one thing I can say about fostering dogs, it’s ‘You can do it.’ Sure, you might have a small apartment, or you might have other pets, or you work full-time, or you are worried about saying goodbye once the dog gets adopted. It’s all solvable, and it’s all going to be okay. As long as you are a flexible person who can roll with some unexpected factors (e.g. dog enjoys peeing on your rug, dog barks at passersby on the street, dog is super-attached to you, etc.), you will be fine.
“We at Foster Dogs have seen it all, and we want to help you get through this and to inspire you to want to do it again and again! We have a support group on Facebook called a ‘Foster Forum’ to share tips, experiences, and even materials so that fostering can remain free for those involved. Many people don’t know that when you foster with a shelter or rescue group, you won’t be paying veterinary bills. You get all the joys of having a dog without the long-term commitment and financial obligations. And you get to save a dog and help him/her find happiness with a forever family. Win-win!”
What role has Instagram and social media in general had in building your brand?
“Instagram has played a huge role in our organization’s reach and impact. Our friend Milla Chappell of @realhappydogs featured Foster Dogs in January, telling our story one post at a time, over an entire week. People were drawn in to learn more about what we do and why we do it. Our Foster Roster database connects available foster volunteers with local rescue groups, through our facilitation. We’ve also created many happy endings when it comes to posting dogs on Instagram.
“We posted a feature on the @fosterdogs Instagram about a beautiful white Pit Bull mix Luna Lovegood, both on our feed and on Stories. By sharing on both platforms, we can have a static post with information and an easy-to-share option for tagging and sending to friends. And through Stories, we can have fun with her coloring and her personality and animate her search for a home even more. Blue Heeler puppy Barry was posted to our Instagram, and he was the last of his litter to find a home, despite his adorable looks. After posting and receiving countless ‘I want!’ comments, Barry found a home and how has his own Instagram account (@bentobleu).”
What’s your biggest Foster Dogs success story?
“Foster Dogs has been around since 2009, and we’ve posted over 3,500 dogs to our website, along with dogs on our social media and promotion at our adoption events. It’s such a fulfilling experience being able to watch these dogs get fostered and adopted, often due to our efforts. We’ve had more success stories than I can count, as we work in cooperation with hundreds of rescue groups in New York and around the country. Here’s one of them:
“When their previous Fospice dog Max passed away, Aubree and Laura reached out to us for another match when the right dog came to our attention. Exactly one year ago, New York foster-based rescue group PupStarz needed a Fospice home for their gentle-giant Brett, a super-senior German Shepherd mix. We connected Aubree and Laura with PupStarz Rescue, and this amazing couple committed to keeping him as their ‘forever foster’ before they even met him. Upon arriving, they knew it was the right decision. Now, he has a cat and another large dog and to keep him company. And a beautiful backyard in Brooklyn! He got to celebrate the marriage of his two moms, who love him deeply.”
Image via Marshall Boprey of @bopreyphoto.
What do you see for the future of marketing?
“In the future, I believe that marketing will be all about one’s experience and personal connection. With every year that goes by, we are using our phones more and more. But there’s something to be said for a hands-on, uplifting, life-changing experience. Fostering an animal in need is that experience!
“Word-of-mouth makes this organization a success. Foster Dogs is a nonprofit organization with a robust and high-quality social media presence, a beautiful website (redesign coming in March!), excellent advertising campaigns, and a dedicated volunteer staff who work in various professions. We have our finger on the pulse of dog rescue, and we run a wonderful organization that builds the most amazing foster community in the world.”
How can people get involved and help shelter dogs in their communities?
“There are many ways to get involved with helping shelter dogs and our foster program. We encourage donations via fosterdogsnyc.com, which help support our efforts and thus support all the rescue groups we work with. Your donation supports so many dogs at one time! If you’re in New York City, apply to our Foster Roster database to hear about dogs who are great matches for your lifestyle.
“You can also get involved with your local shelter by going to their volunteer orientation and helping onsite or behind the scenes. You can also help your shelter start a small foster program for their higher-needs animals who are not doing well in the shelter environment, or you can check out local foster-based rescue groups in your area and apply to foster with them! There are many ways to help, and it’s all about what you feel comfortable doing and how you feel you can best help.”
Top Image by View Apart.