Lead with Inclusion, and Other Things Charlie Learned at the Animal Care Expo


Swash Labs’ resident Media Analyst Charlie Hunter recently had the opportunity to attend the The Humane Society of the United States’ Animal Care Expo in New Orleans. Professionals within the animal care industry come from all over to learn about the latest in animal welfare, from animal behavior specialists to marketing executives. We chatted with Charlie to find out his biggest takeaways from the event and how they affect his approach to advertising.

Could you describe the event and its purpose?

The Animal Care Expo hosted by The Humane Society of the United States is the largest international educational conference and trade show geared towards people who work or volunteer in animal welfare (shelters, ACOs, rescues, support organizations, etc...). It's a great conference to attend if you need some CE credits or are just looking to stay apprised of the latest developments in the animal welfare field.

Why did you want to attend?

I've always had a passion for helping animals, whether for work or in my free time. Since Denton Animal Support Foundation is a Swash client and I'm a member of the Denton Animal Shelter Advisory Committee, it made sense to go learn things that could help my work with both.

What was the most surprising thing you learned?

The inequalities in access to basic animal care. A big theme at this year's event was the intersection of animal welfare and social justice issues. An artifact of redlining policies is that many neighborhoods in developed towns and cities are in an animal-care desert, that is, they don't have the ease of access to basic needs for pets, such as pet stores and veterinary clinics.

What was your biggest takeaway? How might that affect your work at Swash?

Two things, really.

a) There's a shift happening in animal welfare messaging, due to the developing understanding of the aforementioned social justice issues. Historically, companies would lead with ads with scared looking animals chained up in a yard or of owners abandoning their pets when they move with a CTA to donate now to help save the animals from these cruel humans. Although effective, it paints a skewed picture. As understanding has developed, many organizations have learned that it was incorrect to demonize humans for being unable to care for their animals in the way that people in the industry expect pet owners to. Instead, messaging needs to be shifted to the model of: Everyone deserves the chance to experience the love that the human:animal bond can bring. Let's work together to get these resources to people in under-served areas so that they too can enjoy puppy kisses and kitty cuddles.

b) Stop leading with perceived hardships and barriers when speaking about adoptable animals. Sherri Franklin (CEO, Muttville Senior Dog Rescue) led a talk about how in trying to be transparent at first contact, many shelter animals never get a chance. Instead of leading with "Fluffy has anxiety issues and will require a lot of special attention" instead, highlight what makes an animal endearing, even the flaws, and get people in the door to meet them. It's easy for people to pass over an animal based on perceived hurdles, but if a person and an animal get the chance to meet without preconceived notions, they can overcome the first and most important hurdle: is there a bond forming here?

These ideas present a seemingly simple shift in messaging that can have a measurable impact on the work that Swash does with DASF and our clients in general. By checking our personal biases and approaching a situation with excitement and inclusion, we can have a more meaningful conversation with the communities we serve.

What was the most fun moment of the week?

The most exciting thing of the weekend was winning a $1000 grant from the Petco Foundation for the Denton Animal Shelter. I'm going to use it towards developmental pet enrichment toys for the shelter animals. They help keep the animals active, learning, and playing. It's easy for animals to get sad and lose hope after being in the shelter for a longer period of time, which starts them on a downward spiral of seeming unadoptable. These toys help keep their spirits up so that their personalities can shine when potential adopters come to visit.

Thanks for the insight, Charlie!

Swash Labs