Build an Owner Support Event

Support your community, Change the world 

Supporting dog owners can bring immediate change and ongoing benefits to under-served communities. Clinics don't have to be big or fancy to be effective! Even small groups of dog advocates can offer any combination of these give-aways: vaccinations, microchips, spay/neuter surgeries and/or vouchers, leashes/collars and training/behavior counseling. These events can reduce the spread of disease, strengthen an agency’s relationship with underserved dog owners, spread important humane care and owner responsibility education, support the human-animal bond and can even begin to help curb the number of dogs that enter the shelter system. 

Video: See how the events work, from the inside out. 

The ingredients to a good event:


1. Location, location, location

Bring your event directly to the communities that need resources the most. Locate a park, community center, parking lot, church or business in an area that is centrally located in your chosen neighborhood and can accommodate a large number of people and dogs. Where possible, grass, shade, accessible parking and public restrooms will make the experience much nicer for all. Get permission from the owner or the city to use their space.You may be asked to pay a permit fee and should expect to buy a one-time special event liability policy from your insurer.

2. Choosing best dates for your event

Try to avoid weather extremes when you plan your event. Hot pavement can cause problems for dogs and rain/snow can cause problems keeping paperwork dry. Be aware of other events that may be coinciding with your chosen date such as sports events and community functions, as well as events that other shelters or rescue groups may be holding. Be aware that holding your fair on a Sunday morning will clash with the schedule of church goers in the community.

In general, a two hour event that does not include on-site spay/neuter surgeries will involve six hours of time, including set up and break down. It's normal for clients who are nervous about securing resources to arrive hours early and some will show up at the closing time (and after). If you include same-day spay/neuters in your event, ask those clients to arrive two hours before vaccinations-only clients arrive to allow your team time to process their dogs. Your veterinarian will let you know how many surgeries she can perform in one day, so depending on your goal, you will need to plan to have a small team available until the very last dog goes home - long after the vaccination focus has ended.

3. Define your goals - All breed or targeted focus?

There are pros and cons to both. Inviting all neighborhood dogs regardless of breed can be a great way to build good will and develop a positive relationship with any community. You will need to budget for several hundred dogs if you go this route. If you have a smaller budget, and/or you're hoping to reduce the population of over represented breeds such as pit bulls or chihuahuas, breed-focused events can be very effective. As breed advocates, our 'TLC for Pit Bulls' events have allowed us allow us to capitalize on pit bull owners' pride of ownership and open doors of communication via our shared experience much more quickly than the all breed events we have done. (We don't turn non-pit bulls away though when neighbors drop by for help, however!) To keep the tone of the event positive and supportive, shelters who prefer a targeted focus may want to enlist the help of breed specfic rescue partners to gain credibility and more traction in their community. Regardless of your approach, it's important to note your goals in your promotional materials along with a reminder that resources are limited in order to manage expectations. 

Be ready for CROWDS. An all-breed focus can attract up to 600 pets, so plan accordingly. Events that service specific breeds such as pit bulls or chihuahuas can attract up to 300 clients, depending on the community you're serving and the amount of flyering you do.

Photo right: Be ready for a big response. We had never serviced this neighborhood and hoped to attract a couple of dozen clients for free services including same-day spay/neuter surgeries. Reality check! Over 75 local pit bull owners and their dogs were already waiting for us when we arrived to set up. Having pre-printed spay/neuter vouchers saved the day, although in general, only 50% of s/n vouchers are typically redeemed so organizers may be challenged to select out dogs who are at a higher risk and clients with bigger challenges (transport obstacles, etc) to ensure that their dogs can get their surgery completed.


4. How to advertise

Word spreads quickly when neighbors learn that free and low-cost pet care resources will be offered in their area. We recommend against creating slick, professionally created ads in favor of home grown flyers. The simple approach helps set the tone for interactions that are down to earth and accessible. During rainy season, it's smart to create door hangers from glossy stock that can withstand a degree of moisture.

Organize small teams of volunteers to distribute flyers to doorsteps, laundromats, corner stores and schools in a given neighborhood at least two weeks before your event. Invite community leaders (city council reps, church leaders, popular neighborhood business owners and personalities) to join you and to help you get the word out.  It's important that flyer teams represent the event to area residents in a friendly, welcoming way. The goal is to create a relationship with any given community rather than 'sell' the services that will be offered, and since canvassers may be the first contact, their approach is especially important to the success of the event(s). Small business owners such as corner store owners can be instrumental in getting word out, so plan to spend a few minutes chatting with each to gain their support and, hopefully, to get their help with flyer distribution to their customers.

If you choose to advertise widely via news articles and radio spots, be aware that you will very likely end up attracting dog owners from outlying communities and will need to plan for larger crowds to avoid supply shortages. In our experience, events that stay focused on serving just the residents of smaller, select neighborhoods keep the event size manageable while maintaining a friendly, neighborhood atmosphere.

Right: Sample flyer in two languages. Prominent use of the words 'Free Stuff' was the attention grabber.

4. Use a communication style that opens doors

Want lasting change? Reinforcing your common bond with local dog owners is your doorway to being a trusted, positive influence. That common bond of course is your appreciation for the dogs you will be serving. Advocates who make building healthy relationships with dogs owners a priority will get more done in the long run than those who resort to shaming or preaching. Some of our bigger lessons below.

Lesson One: Build it and they will come.

To access some of our community's neediest dogs, it's far better to go to the community rather than wonder why they aren't coming to us.

Watch a video from an event and let the clients tell you why they participated. West Oakland Event








Lesson Two: Listen, Don't Preach

Listening gets you much farther than talking ever will. In this photo, BADRAP team member Anita Joe is learning why this gentleman is unsure about spay/neuter as a healthy option for his dogs. By listening, answering questions and then by helping him with what he will accept for his dogs (vaccinations, training advice, nail trim), we can get much more done than if we push an agenda through a one-sided, hard-sell approach.

In this situation, the dog owner was very grateful for resources offered and walked away looking forward to our next visit to his neighborhood. He noticed that many of his neighbors were in line for a spay/neuter surgery for their dog and recognized that it's becoming an increasingly popular option in his circles. 


Lesson Three: Do Not Judge

Scary dog living on a chain with an insensitive owner? Nope. This dog's owner was forced to move into Section 8 housing that does not allow dogs. His new caretaker was a Good Samaritan who told us the owner cried his eyes out during their good-bye. He was working to find 'Hero' a new home when we met.

The chain leash? No big deal. We happily exchanged it for a better leash, neutered the dog and gave him his vaccinations. Some things are easy to fix compared to the hard stuff.


Want More How-to Info?

BADRAP holds internships several times a year in conjunction with our outreach work so interns can experience an 'owner support' event from the inside out. To learn how you can join us, please contact us for more info: Event Trainings

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Securing the future of America's 'blocky dogs' as a cherished family companions.