Last updated: 31 Mar, 2020
Published on: 1 Oct, 2016
How to write a great pet profile
PetRescue is the easiest way to advertise to hundreds of thousands of animal-loving Australians looking for a pet.
Over the years, we’ve come to appreciate the power of the pet profile. It can mean the difference between clients feeling intimidated by the adoption process, or feeling so excited they can’t wait to get on the phone and arrange to meet their new pet.
Drawing on all that we’ve learned about what works and what doesn’t, and why, we’ve created this guide to help you get the most out of your PetRescue listings and use our online tools to build a successful rehoming program.
But first, let’s introduce you to the people who visit PetRescue.
Who visits PetRescue?
Those who visit PetRescue are, by and large, professional people browsing the web at home or work. They’re actively looking to find a new pet online, so generally they have an idea of what they might be looking for.
When they first land at the PetRescue website, visitors are instantly given positive messages about rescue – how great rescue pets are, how to find a group that will meet their needs and many happily-ever-after stories from adopters. It’s the perfect place to start their search.
One thing’s for sure though, all visitors come to the website with very different requirements and ideas about what kind of pet might suit them. Sometimes this is based on incorrect notions about the traits of a particular breed, or information from movies or the media. Part of our job is to help them find a pet that really does suit their needs and lifestyle, focusing on details such as exercise and grooming requirements, the personality of each animal and, of course, the personality of the adopter.
Visitors also come with many different ideas and expectations of pet ownership, as well as differing levels of skill and experience. Some adopters may ask lots of questions, but by spending time delivering positive messages and demonstrating how to do things the right way, you have a chance to help someone become a great pet parent, create more good homes and save more animals.
How to write a great pet ad
The most exciting challenge for all pet rescuers is matching adopters with their new best friend, and when you’re writing your pet profiles, it’s worth keeping that single objective front of mind.
Because we are constantly exposed to suffering in our daily work, it can sometimes be easy to focus on the negatives and use adoption listings to launch an attack on negligent pet owners or bad shelter practices. But put yourself in the reader’s shoes for moment. How do you think a negative profile is likely to make them feel?
We’ve learned a lot from listening
Experience has shown us that frightening and depressing messages often put adopters off the idea of rescuing a pet and only leave them feeling sad or intimidated by the adoption process. Take this visitor’s response as a prime example:
“I have recently adopted a rescue puppy and she is amazing. When we move into our new place we will be looking to adopt a companion for her, so I still regularly scan the pages. However, I am becoming increasingly reluctant to look at the dogs available since seeing postings of puppies who have been put to sleep when a home is not found for them. I just find it really upsetting and don't look on here as often. I am sure there are probably others who feel the same way – potentially decreasing the number of people you can reach. I don't mean to criticise, as you are all doing an amazing job, but there is nothing anyone can do if the poor little dogs have already been euthanized and it is quite distressing.”
Think about both sides of the story
Remember, adopting a pet is a long-term relationship and no one would choose a partner out of pity. Finding a new companion should be a joyous time in a person’s life. In fact that giddy infatuation new adopters feel plays an important role in the bonding process while the pet settles in and eventually becomes a part of the family.
To get maximum interest in your rescue animals, we must focus on the pet and their personality – make them sound appealing and present the adoption process as a fun and rewarding experience.
Engaging your ideal owner
PetRescue listings differ from other forms of advertisement, as they are sought out rather than being thrust upon people. Visitors to PetRescue.com are actively looking for a pet, so the more appropriate information you can give them about your rescue animal, the more curious and engaged they’ll become.
Before you put finger to keyboard
Take a moment to picture the ideal type of owner for your rescue animal and tailor your ad to appeal to their personal interests. An active pet would be the perfect match for an outdoorsy family. A couch potato would be the perfect match for those who prefer their creature comforts. A calm and confident pet would be just the thing a mum would be looking for.
Some people may also come to the website with preconceived ideas about what kind of pet may suit them – based on perceived traits of a particular breed, or information from movies and the media. Our job is to help them open their minds to all possibilities and help them find the perfect match for their needs and lifestyle. So it’s important to include exercise and grooming requirements, as well as personality.
Adopters have dozens of choices, but if you show them how your rescue animal meets their particular needs, you’ll make it easy for them to choose and excited about meeting their new pet.
Stay focused on your audience
It’s easy to focus on the pet’s needs and forget about your adopter entirely. Here’s a classic example:
"Larry is an active boy, so he needs lots of exercise. Larry needs high fences. He also needs a family with someone home during the day. Larry needs your help."
This ad might get Larry adopted, but it forgets one vital detail. Larry has needs, we get that, but what about his potential adopter’s needs? Larry has to meet them too, or else it’s not a healthy mutually beneficial partnership. A better approach would be:
"Larry loves a run, so if you’re looking for a jogging companion or someone to take long walks with, then Larry’s your man. He does need a secure yard with high fences, but his long legs make Larry a very good looking boy. Everyone comments on how handsome he is – he’s a real head turner. He’s also very loyal and will want to spend time with his family, so someone home for part of the day would suit him best. Be Larry’s hero!"
Grab their attention!
The first sentence is your attention-grabber, so make it count. Ask yourself what features of the pet are likely to be of most interest to the type of adopter you want. For example…
"Bess is a young mum who's fallen on hard times but her gentle, nurturing soul still shines through. Ideal for a family with older children, she'd be the perfect companion for a family who wants a quiet, friendly pet with good house manners."
Remember, readers will have already seen a photo and performed a search by size, so details of the breed, colour, coat length etc. can be omitted from the first sentence to showcase the pets' more endearing traits.
While you want to be honest about your pet, now isn't the time to list all their terrible habits. It can be tempting to attempt to weed out less committed carers by focusing on negative behaviours up front. Unfortunately, this can often make the pet’s problems seem far worse than they really are. So it’s best to focus on their positive traits and if you really must mention something negative, choose your words carefully.
For pets not suitable for small children
‘No kids under twelve’ makes a dog sound like it eats kids for breakfast! Even people who don't have kids of their own won't want to take on a pet that might hurt a small child.
For a big dog, try:
"I'm a big boofy boy with a strong waggy tail, so am not suitable for small children."
"I'm a goofy bundle of enthusiasm, so I need to join a family with adults or older children."
For small pets
"I'm only small so I find small children a bit intimidating - older families only please."
For high-energy pets
Being exuberant and clumsy will make the pet seem endearing to a high energy adopter. But rather than using words like ‘excitable’ and ‘requires large amount of exercise, which can make the pet sound mental, or worse still, seem dangerous, try something like this instead:
"Sarge is an active and incredibly smart boy who likes nothing more than to stretch his legs at the beach or the park. He'd suit an active person who wants an outgoing and friendly companion - if you can lob a tennis ball you'll have a friend for life."
For abused or neglected pets
Now is not the time or place to share the terrible life story of your rescue animal. Focusing on the negatives tends to put people off, so stay positive. And, if special care is required due to abuse or neglect, engage your more nurturing adopters by listing the pet’s best traits before explaining that you are looking for a special person. For example:
"Daisy is a quiet, thoughtful girl who, once she gets to know you, will smooch and happily show you her tricks. She is looking for a caring and compassionate home that will help build her confidence and understand she is a bit shy when meeting new people."
"Steve is a gorgeous, smoochy dog with a big smile. He's great with new people and loves everyone he meets. He is looking for someone who understands that at some point in his life he didn't have anything, so he finds it hard to share his toys and food sometimes. With a little trust, you'll find he's a fantastic and loving companion."
"Sarah is a sporty girl who can fetch, sit, drop and comes when called - the perfect outgoing companion for an active family. She is also great with other dogs, so is a joy to take to the beach or dog park and she just loves riding in the car. She bonds incredibly strongly with her ‘special person’, so becomes worried when she is left alone for too long. She needs an understanding owner who can work with her to become more independent and who has time to be home with her for part of the day."
Remember your call to action
Don’t let your ideal adopter get away! Encourage them to respond with a clear call to action. Spell out exactly what you’d like them to do next, and do it with flair.
"If think you have the perfect family home for Billy, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact us now on XXXX XXXX."
"We’d love to find out more about you. Please fill in our adoption questionnaire and we’ll get started on your new pet adoption."
"Since we’re usually out rescuing, our email inbox is nearly always full. If you’d like more information, please contact us by phone and leave a message telling us that you’re interested in Sammy and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible."
Read it back, out loud
Read your ad out loud to yourself or anyone who’s willing to listen to check the flow of your piece – it might also highlight where there is room for little improvements and creative flourishes. And remember, you’re only human, we all make mistakes, so use a spellchecker such as Word to check for simple errors and add in paragraph breaks for clarity.
A quick checklist of Dos
- Do give your rescue animal a name – Even if you have to make one up, based on how the pet looks, this helps potential adopters connect with the pet.
- Do be honest - Tell the truth, but try to focus on the positive, rather than the negative aspects of the pet’s personality.
- Do include the reason the pet was surrendered if it reflects well on the pet – For example, if the owner has moved, died or was put in a nursing home. It reinforces that the pet has been cared for and not surrendered for behavioural issues.
- Do try to differentiate your listings – Grab the adopter’s attention and engage them with a compelling ad. If you always write ‘more information coming soon’ or ‘contact us for more information’ your ad will be skipped over in favour of those with more detail.
- Do make time to meet the rescue animal – Whenever possible, spend a little time getting to know the pet before you write their profile. This will help you understand who they are and who their perfect adopter would be.
- Do highlight the most desirable features first – This pet *is* great, you know it, so make sure you communicate that from the start.
- Do use listings to drive traffic to your other rescue animals – There's real value in using listings of pets on trial to direct potential adopters to other suitable matches. Even if ‘Fluffy little Jennie’ is no longer available, that adopter might be interested in other pets you have available with a similar look and temperament. So keep a list of your available pets by the phone so you can suggest another pet that may be of interest to them.
- Do change the wording and pictures over time - If you’re advertising a pet for a second, third or fourth time, or the listing has been online for a while, potential adopters revising the site may think there is something wrong. Don’t be afraid to pull your listing down and start again from scratch, with a new start date and a zero ‘counter’. Ads are most effective the first time they run.
- Do update your group’s PetRescue profile – Refresh and update the information about your group, your goals, achievements and logo. This builds confidence in potential adopters that you are a professional and legitimate organisation looking to help them find a great pet.
- Do track your ad responses – When someone responds to your ad with an enquiry, don’t be afraid to ask where they heard about you and your pet. If you're getting good responses from your PetRescue listings, you'll know it’s a good use of your time and energy. And likewise, if you’re generating more response from posters or other sources, you'll know you should focus your time on these.
- Do remember to have fun – The more profiles you create, the easier the process becomes, the more confidence you gain and the more pleasure and fun you’ll get from writing them. And when you enjoy writing them, it will show in your listings, so your audience will enjoy reading them too.
A quick checklist of Don’ts
- Don’t focus on the negatives – Stay positive and promote the pet’s best traits.
- Don’t use words that turn off regular potential pet adopters – Avoid terms and phrases that evoke sadness and helplessness, such as ‘death row’, ‘urgent’ and ‘she hasn’t got much time’ or graphic details of past abuse. You want your audience to feel empowered and excited about adopting a rescue pet.
- Don’t include an expected euthanasia date – As part of our policy to promote adoption as a positive experience, this is not permitted on PetRescue.
- Don’t include the reason the owner surrendered the pet if it reflects badly on the previous owner – Not only does this leave you open to prosecution for libel, it also intimidates potential adopters. It’s important that you remain upbeat and appear approachable.
- Don’t just write ‘contact us for more information’ as the profile – that won’t engage your ideal adopter or encourage them to act.
- Don’t use abbreviations or industry terms – Your adopters might feel confused or intimidated if you use industry terms they do not understand such as LWF, DSC, due date, HD, PTS. So make sure you communicate clearly and simply.
- Don’t overuse capital letters – THE OVER USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS MAKES IT LOOK LIKE YOU ARE SCREAMING AT YOUR READER!
- Don’t write in the pet's voice – Writing from the pet’s perspective can actually distract from your key message and confuse your reader. It is extremely hard to strike the right balance and tone with this approach and requires advanced creative writing skills. Only attempt it if you’re really comfortable and confident in doing so.
Some top dog profile examples
"Gismo is a good looking dog who is well behaved. Gismo loves to play ball and is very good at bringing it back and handing it to you. This little boy is good on the lead and travels well in the car. He has a good nature and a good temperament and would be suitable for anyone."
"If you want a really athletic dog that can keep up with you and just LOVES FRISBEE, then look no further! I fell in love with this pup the minute I laid eyes on her. Cass will need a family or forever home that is aware of her need for exercising and training. With Cassy's ability already in the frisbee catching department, if you’re looking for agility potential, this girl has it in bucket loads!"
"An absolute sweetheart of a boy, Hamish is affectionate and quiet. He is looking for a quiet home where he'll get a daily walk and be allowed to live inside as a close member of his family. He has basic obedience and is very well behaved. The perfect dog for inner city life!"
A couple of cracking cat profile examples
"Maisie Mouse is adorable! She’s tiny for her age but has a purr a lion would be proud of. She’s wonderful with kids – playful but gentle. She would be perfect for anyone wanting lots of smooches and a great companion."
"Tabitha is a really pretty, feminine kitten who loves a bit of an adventure out in the garden, but will also be a purring, affectionate smooch on your lap and in your bed with you at night. She lives with lots of other cats and dogs and will quickly adjust to any pets that you already have."
Need help writing a great profile?
If you need help and inspiration to build your confidence and writing skills, take a look through the listings on our site to see how other people are engaging their readers. We also have a library of great pet profiles to inspire you;
See also: How to snap a great pet photo