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In 2010, Colby Webb was volunteering at an event in New York when she spotted a pile of flyers left by the exit. They were adoption flyers for two shelter dogs, both pit bull mixes. One was a puppy, the other was a skinny, red two year old with soulful eyes and lopsided ears. His name was Dan.
The rest, as they say, is history. Colby adopted Dan and he became the inspiration for Save-a-Bull, the rescue Colby started to help pit bulls and “pit bull type” dogs abandoned or dumped at a shelter.
Sav-a-Bull has adopted almost 70 pit bulls into loving and capable homes. But with almost one million pit bulls currently in shelters, Colby knows she can’t find them all homes. That’s why Sav-a-Bull’s mission includes helping, “restore the image of this misunderstood dog.”
But trying to combat the pit bull’s bad rap is a big job. Fortunately, Colby knows a thing or two about branding; She has worked in the advertising business for 17 years and is now the Chief Marketing Officer for a global advertising agency. We spoke to her about how she started her organization and Sav-a-Bull’s marketing strategy.
“I knew it was important that Sav-a-Bull become a registered 501(c)3, but I was also aware that the process can take a year or longer,” Colby explains. “These dogs don’t have that kind of time. The overwhelming percentage of pit bulls in shelters are euthanized.”
“The ones that aren’t killed right away frequently get sick, so the first step was to find a vet that was willing to board an ill dog while being treated.”
This required pounding the pavement. Or rather, the phone. “I picked up the phone and dialed vet after vet to ask if they would board a contagious dog. I got plenty of ‘no’s’ but some said yes. With veterinary facilities on board, I was able to start pulling one dog at a time out of the shelters.”
FINDING YOUR NICHE
When writing Sav-a-Bull’s mission statement, Colby considered what her rescue would do that set it apart from other groups. “I was sick of hearing people say, ‘Get your dog as a puppy, otherwise they’re not saveable.’ Not only is that idea incorrect, it discourages people from adopting wonderful, mature dogs,” she says.
“That’s one of the reasons Sav-a-Bull is a “full-service” rescue. Getting a dog adopted isn’t the goal. The goal is to find a home where the dog will thrive and the adopters understand the dog’s needs. Each successful adoption helps pit bulls be seen as a positive part of their community. That’s why we provide training, education, and post-adoption support.”
When you visit the Sav-a-Bull website, you’ll immediately notice something else that distinguishes the rescue from others—it focuses on the positive, gentle nature of these dogs and it does it with style.
“We aspire to be the ‘white glove’ pit bull rescue,” Colby says. “People often think of pit bulls as ‘inferior’ because you don’t see them at dog shows or tucked into some celebrity’s pocketbook. But I was struck by their elegant and artful nature. Pit bull type dogs come in all shapes and sizes but are specifically known for their incredible smiles and expressive eyes. All of Sav-a-Bull’s marketing materials are designed to reflect the pit bull’s sophistication.”
All the photos featured in Sav-a-Bull’s branding are professional portraits, some, like the image above, taken by renowned pet photographer Sophie Gamand. In fact, the rescue has published a photography book called 41 Pit Bulls. The book showcases the first 41 dogs Sav-a-Bull rescued with Annie Leibowtiz-worthy photographs. The book will launch this fall, with gallery showing in New York.
Similarly, when Colby learned that 11 dogs were languishing in a Long Island shelter for over three years, she created a short film of each to share their individual stories. She called in favors from creative people she had worked with a produced a high-quality video campaign. Within 24 hours of the video being posted, the first dog was adopted. Soon after, all 11 dogs were in happy homes.
ADVICE ON FORMING A NON-PROFIT
“Put a lot of thought into your Board of Directors when you’re forming your 501(c)3. Don’t just recruit your five closest friends,” she says. “Recruit people who are passionate about your cause but can also contribute to further your mission. It could be financial contribution or with expertise like legal advice or accounting services.”
Running a dog rescue is much more than playing with puppies all day. It’s emotionally and physically draining. But if you have the determination and market your passion uniquely, you can create an organization, like Colby has, that makes a difference.
Thinking of starting a dog-saving org of your own? Find out how to start an animal rescue of your very own.