Our local animal shelter is full.

Many of our local animal welfare organizations are overwhelmed.

For the good of our community and the good of these animals, we need to do something.

I had an idea that I thought would at least get local adoptable animals a little more visibility.

I probably should have run this by our county officials and the people at PAWS before writing this column but I didn’t. I hope it’s OK.

One of the issues the people at PAWS face (as well as other organizations) is that even though many of the animals there are adorable and smart and very adoptable, it’s tough to show that to the public. They try to take photos of happy animals but oftentimes these animals are scared and lonely or they’re depressed and most of the time we end up seeing photos of them behind a kennel door. There’s not a lot they can do about that. PAWS staff do their best but they’ve got a LOT to do and a lot of animals to care for.

I thought that maybe we could start a local social media campaign where we try to show animals at their best. We flood social media with adoptable Rome animals photographed with people — ideally, well known and well respected people. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. I just thought it would put these animals in better context to see them next to smiling people of all sizes, ages, races and backgrounds.

This would do a few things:

1. It would give the animals a little more interaction with the public. It helps them socialize (safely, of course) so that they’ll hopefully be a little happier and maybe a tiny bit more comforted.

2. It might give people a better idea of what that dog might look like if adopted, for example, by a senior adult or by a young, athletic person or by a family with small children. Of course photos can’t truly relay what an animal will be like but at least it gets people thinking ... hmm, that looks like a good size dog for my mom to have in her apartment. Or ... that dog looks like he’s young and energetic, perfect to take on hikes and camping. Or ... that cat seems not to mind being held and cuddled.

3. Just having more people at the shelter interacting with the animals MIGHT increase the likelihood that one of those people will want to adopt an animal they see there. They were just there to be photographed with an cat but they fell in love with a kitten while they were there.

4. The more people we get to be photographed with animals, the more likely it’ll be that those people will share those posts on social media. And their friends and family will share those photos. That could lead to thousands and thousands of views of that one post, increasing the likelihood that someone somewhere might have a home for that dog or cat in the photo.

5. As someone who cares about animal welfare issues, I’ve seen (and shared) so many shelter photos where the animals are just inside a kennel looking scared or timid. I know that’s only because they’re in that place. But many people bypass those photos because the animals don’t look “fun” and “lovable.” Well it’s tough to be happy when the family you loved abandoned you and now you’re in a lonely kennel all day. I’m hoping “Picture Day” might possibly allow the pets to look a little brighter and maybe get that tail wagging a bit.

There are so many animals in our shelter (and so many more being surrendered) that we have to help alleviate it. A long-term solution is to make sure we spay and neuter our animals but that’s another conversation for another time. Right now we need to get animals out of those kennels. Many have been in there for weeks or even months. That’s no way for an animal to live.

The Rome News-Tribune (which sometimes is kind enough to go along with my hair-brained schemes) has agreed to run full spreads of these photos when we get them. And of course to share them on our social media platforms.

We could start off with one “Picture Day” and try to get as many of the animals at the shelter photographed as possible. If we see any success after that initial effort, we would decide if it’s worth doing it every few months or just whenever there’s an unusually big need for visibility.

I’m imagining local doctors, teachers, law enforcement officers, business leaders, first responders, lawyers, city and county officials all lined up on “Picture Day” to be photographed with adoptable animals. And then those images being shared all over social media.

Of course this is all assuming that county officials and our local shelter staff would be OK with this. But it could work at other animal welfare organizations too. Set up a day and time for photos, invite the people you’d like to be photographed with the animals, and have one or more photographers available to take the photos outside (or against a nice backdrop if animals have to be kept inside). Then post the photos with as much info about each animal as possible. Somebody out there might see and fall in love with that basset hound or chihuahua mix who’s been at the shelter for weeks, or those kittens who were left on the doorstep in a cardboard box.

I don’t know if this will lead to more fosters and adoptions. But I do know we have to do something. The wonderful animals at our local shelter won’t magically find homes on their own. We have to help them.

Severo Avila is Features Editor for the Rome News-Tribune.

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