Great Photos Get Animals Adopted Faster and Reduce Shelter Costs

In my time working with shelters in Texas, California and New Mexico, I've seen a lot. I have actually heard shelter volunteers say that great photos are just a waste of time. I've even witnessed a large city shelter FIRE its entire group of volunteer photographers. Needless to say, I don't agree with either of these. Great photographs are invaluable for getting animals out of shelters. Period.

Since I have something of a penchant for science, here's some data that should help convince you that great images of shelter animals gets them adopted faster. Not only does this reduce the stress on the animals, but it saves the shelter money. The button below links to a PDF of an article from 2014 where authors Lampe and Witte performed a statistical analysis of a large set of images of black Labrador Retriever mixed breed dogs adopted in the United States.

Brief Summary of Results

The quality of an image had the biggest effect on mean days to adoption (MDA) for young dogs. Lampe and Witte found a difference of 29 days between poor and great photos and a difference of 21 days between average and great photos.

Photo Quality Mean Days to Adoption
Great 14 days
Good 28 days
Average 35 days
Poor 43 days
Results for Young Dogs

They found that the quality of photographs as not statistically significant for the adult dog population, although the data showed a similar trend

Photo Quality Mean Days to Adoption
Great 38 days
Good 35 days
Average 48 days
Poor 52 days
Results for Adult Dogs

If you assume $21.06 per day in kenneling costs, the difference between a poor photo and a great one of an adult dog can save a shelter nearly $300 per dog. This number DOUBLES to $610 for young dogs. These figures will obviously vary by location and species, but this is a conservative estimate. So, you tell me, is a great photo worth it?

A strong association between high-quality images and the following photo traits was demonstrated:

  • a non-blurry photo
  • canine eye contact with the camera
  • the canine not being in a cage
  • photo taken outdoors
  • the canine’s tongue being visible
  • the canine wearing a bandana
  • the canine not being small
  • the angle at which the photo was taken

No association between high-quality images and the following photo traits was demonstrated:

  • a toy being present
  • the position of the dog
Subjective measure of image quality. (A) Poor, (B) average, (C) good, (D) great. As a certified professional photographer, I think even the "great" images here, could be easily improved.

If you are a shelter looking to reduce your costs and get animals adopted quicker, please seek out a professional pet photographer. There are a lot of us out there these days. A great place to look for pros and aspiring pro pet photographers is the Hair of the Dog Academy Facebook Group. It is a private group, but drop me a line and I'll post your request. There are always people looking to help and to practice. I would be happy to work with you. Stay tuned for future posts on the great resources out there for shelter photographers, too.

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