do the ASPCA commercials make you want to hang yourself?

My friend, April, recently posted on Facebook that she always mutes the TV when the ASPCA commercial comes on because it brings her to tears. She asked if anyone else mutes the TV. She got an overwhelming response, and no one said "I always watch them and then call in to donate money." Responses ranged from "I turn the TV off," to "I change the channel," to "I fast forward on my DVR." I explained that I shut my eyes, plug my ears, and sing "la la la, la la la, la la la..." My conclusion was that not too many people are watching these commercials, and my friend who started the post asked how effective the commercials could be if everyone was turning away. That got me thinking. Us die-hard animal lovers probably already donate to some sort of animal-saving organization, perhaps local or, in all likelihood, the ASPCA. We know the horrors because we probably think about all the animals we can't save on a daily basis. We volunteer hours and we open our pocketbooks. We even write blog posts. Most of us can't bear to watch, and certainly can't keep the tears at bay when Willie Nelson sings to us about love as the pitiful, sad faces in cages stream across our TVs.

I found the ASPCA commercial that is currently airing with Willie Nelson and Kim Rhodes on


When I pulled up the commercial on the computer for the purpose of this post, the littles even had a strong reaction. Campbell, my 4-year-old daughter, said "awww" every time the picture changed, and then declared "we have to save all those animals. I want to get them all." Yeah, Cam. Me, too.

Porter, my six-year-old son, said "those animals all need our help? When can we get a cat?" Once again, I explained to him why we don't have a cat.

And, of course, I was crying. These commercials are depressing. Does anyone actually watch them? is pretty cool because you can track the statistics on the commercials. Like when it last aired and how many times it's aired and which programs it interrupts. What you can't track is how effective it is. In a 2010 blog post, writer Franny Syufy reported that she asked the ASPCA directly about just that and they responded that "the ASPCA measures our success by the number of animals we are able to help and by how efficient we are at raising the money that allows us to help those animals." They went on to say that they see significant revenue growth surrounding these ad campaigns. Yes, the same ones that are making most people I talk to turn away. So it appears that they do produce enough revenue to justify the cost of advertising. I won't get into the debate about whether or not the ASPCA is a good organization to donate to because we all have our opinions about whether we should donate to national or local organizations. Suffice it to say that the ASPCA is a highly rated charity. Donating to a legitimate charity is a wonderful thing to do and a personal choice.

So I'm thinking these commercials can't be targeting people like April and I (and all of her Facebook friends), because we're just turning them off. We already understand the atrocities and don't wish to be saddened further. So who do these commercials target? Who knows? But somebody is watching and donating because of them, or the ASPCA wouldn't keep airing them, right? For those of us who don't turn away, pulling at our heartstrings is effective.

But why not add a bit of positive into this advertising campaign? April put it perfectly:

I would much rather them show heart-warming stories of animals that have been impacted by the support. Showing them in loving homes, etc. I think that would have a much better impact than sad music, injured animals and stories of them being tortured.

She makes a great point, doesn't she? I would totally watch a commercial like that!

Whether you're turning away or opening your pockets, both, or neither, find a cause that you can support wholeheartedly and go for it! Helping animals in need, or anyone or anything in need just makes you feel good, even if the commercials make you want to hang yourself.

Finding Rover: the new app that changes the game for lost dogs

Facial recognition software has played a key role in solving some of the most publicized and critical criminal cases, including the Boston Marathon bombing case that shocked us so recently. Last Tuesday, this technology was released to dog lovers the world over in the form of a free mobile app, Finding Rover. According to a press release out of San Francisco,

More than 10 million pets go missing each year, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Finding Rover's state-of-the-art facial recognition technology helps reunite more dogs with their owners by enabling anyone to instantly identify a missing dog on the spot by taking a photo on a mobile device.

I spoke to CEO and founder of Finding Rover, John Polimeno, about Finding Rover and the adventure that was its creation. If I could use one word to describe Polimeno, it would be "infectious." His desire to save every dog is childlike, yet with the use of the most advanced technology available–newly developed just for his vision–will likely come close to getting the job done. "It was a dream I committed myself to," he beamed. And now it's happening.

WM: I can't even tell you how excited I am about this app. As soon as I heard about it, it was downloaded on my iPhone, and I created a profile for my dog. It is amazing, and is really going to change things for lost pets and their families.

Polimeno: I'm really excited too! The app was released on Tuesday at 5 p.m., and we had over 2000 downloads within 24 hours.

WM: That's fantastic. How did you get the idea for Finding Rover?

Polimeno: Well, my wife, Kristie, and I were sitting at a coffee shop.

(I couldn't help but think, "of course...isn't that how all genius ideas begin?")

Polimeno: We saw a lost dog poster, and we remembered the trauma of losing our own dog. How we drove the kids around and how awful it was. A dog is a beloved family member, and if it goes missing, it can be devastating to everyone involved. We thought that there has to be a better way.

WM: Had you ever created an app before?

Polimeno: (chuckling) No. I was in the construction business, and I was going to retire.

WM: So how did you develop Finding Rover? How long did it take?

Photo courtesy of Finding Rover.

Polimeno: It took three years to develop. I started by taking the idea to five different facial recognition technology companies around the world. They all said 'no, we do people.' So then I took it to universities. At last, University of Utah's Software Development Center said 'we do people. It would be really hard to do. But we'll give it a try, if you'll fund the research.' So I funded a year of research. The technology is based on facial recognition software, but was created to work specifically for dogs, and specifically for this app. You can put 100 German Shepherds in the group, and yours will pop up. The software is very complicated.

WM: Wow. To me, dog faces are much harder to distinguish between than human faces.

Polimeno: The software doesn't know it's a dog.

WM: When I downloaded the app, I noticed registration on Finding Rover is incredibly simple.

Polimeno: It's not intrusive. We wanted people to be able to register their dogs and not have to enter in a bunch of personal information. Only when you lose your dog are you asked for your phone number, just so people can contact you. The app is clean, and we want to keep it that way.

WM: This must have been an expensive venture, but the app is free. Will you eventually charge for it so you can recoup your costs?

Polimeno: No. Never. The app will always be free. I haven't figured out how to recoup costs, and I'm not even thinking about that right now. I just want to help people find their dogs. Maybe there will be sponsorships or something in the future, but right now, the goal is to get 50 million dogs registered. It was just released Tuesday, and people are already finding their dogs. That's so cool.

WM: That is cool.

Photos courtesy of Finding Rover.

Polimeno: I want anyone in the world to be able to use it, so it will always be free. Currently, the app is available on iPhone, but there are plans to release an app for Android this year. People who aren't smart-phone savvy will be able to register on the Web site. It's all about your dog, and it's about bringing people together to help each other.

WM: What if I haven't downloaded Finding Rover, yet, and my dog is lost. Is there anything I can do?

Polimeno: Yes, you can upload a photo that exists in your photo library. Even if the photo isn't suitable for facial recognition, you can still post any picture of your lost dog for others to view.

He went on to explain that even if you don't have a dog, you should still have the app. People often hesitate to pick up dogs because they think they might get stuck with them. If you can find the owner on Finding Rover, it makes it convenient to do a good deed. And it goes beyond the individual. Shelters and vets can also use Finding Rover to quickly reunite owners with their lost pets.

WM: So, would you recommend Finding Rover over microchipping?

Polimeno: No, no. Pet owners should do everything they can. Finding Rover is free, and there is a cost with microchipping. That might make a difference to some people. Our goal is to rescue every lost dog.

WM: This is awesome. You have such a fantastic energy.

Polimeno: Well, it's positive! It's all about dogs and helping people.

It is positive. And we need positive in this world right now.

Polimeno is genuine. He is so excited to help people find their dogs, he can hardly contain himself.

Photo courtesy of Finding Rover.

Finding Rover also has some fun features. You can create and/or join a "pack," a group of dog owners who have something in common. If the shelter from which you adopted your dog has a pack, you can connect with other pet owners who have adopted a dog from the same shelter. Or perhaps your neighborhood or office could have a pack. The app also offers a "tips & tricks" tab, where you can ask and answer canine-related questions. There's even a place to just post cute photos of your dog. Social media for dog owners. What more do we need? Polimeno explained,

people are turning to niche social media platforms, such as Finding Rover, as a way to communicate with people with similar interests. Finding Rover is for anyone who cares about dogs and wants to make sure they find their way back home, regardless of if they own a dog or not. Our goal is to be an essential part of dog lovers' day-to-day routine that they can rely on in the event of a missing dog.

My experience with the app has been great. It is easy to register your dog, and Finding Rover even takes the difficulty out of getting that perfect face-front shot. You just align your dog's eyes with a line on the screen, and if you can't get your dog to look, just hit the "bark" button, equipped with two sounds sure to get your dog's attention. Snap! It's that easy.

I believe that Finding Rover will change the face of the lost-dog problem. And with John Polimeno at the helm, it can't lose. Download Finding Rover now, and join the community. Share this exciting news with your friends so there are no more lost dogs.

Blog the Change for Animals: Lost Our Home Pet Foundation

Phoenix is one of the cities hit hardest by the real estate and economic crisis. The many who have lost their homes here can't always bring their animals with them, wherever they are going. Pet owners may be unable to support their animals, financially, and are at risk of surrendering them or abandoning them. Lost Our Home Pet Foundation has come to the rescue. "Our mission is to be a resource for real estate professionals and other members of the community who discover an abandoned pet, and to provide options for pet owners faced with difficult economic circumstances while promoting the spaying and neutering of pets," stated Jodi Polanski, founder of Lost Our Home (LOH) Pet Foundation. The organization was founded in 2008 "as a grassroots response to the thousands of pets in need as a result of the economic downturn in general, and the Phoenix-area foreclosure crisis in particular." Thousands of dogs and cats have been abandoned in yards and homes, surrendered, or underfed. Lost Our Home is the only organization in the Valley of it's kind. Not only do they focus on the animals they rescue from foreclosed homes or after evictions, but on the owners and the human-animal bond, as well.

LOH's programs include:

Food Bank: In these difficult economic times, sometimes even providing food for your pet can seem impossible. LOH understands the trouble pet owners are going through and takes pet food donations to individuals in need of assistance.

Temp Foster Program: Foreclosure or a forced move can prevent people from keeping their pets. The LOH Temporary Foster Program provides care for pets whose owners need to stay somewhere temporarily so that they can be reunited.

Pet Friendly Rental Program: LOH's realtor-volunteers help pet owners find pet-friendly rentals so they can keep their pets when they need to move. 100% of the commission earned (usually $200-$300) is donated to cover pet deposit fees.

Rescue Assistance: If pets are in need of immediate assistance, LOH helps to place pets whose owners are in crises up for adoptions or consider them for other programs.

To keep these programs up and running, LOH relies on the help of incredible volunteers and and donations of money and supplies for their shelter or food bank. The foster volunteers are one of their most valuable resources. The more foster families the organization can rely upon, the more animals they can save.

I asked founder, Jodi Polanski, to tell me about one of her most memorable adoption success stories. Though she had many tales to draw from, one recent adoption, in particular, was very dear to her: Shea.

Shea is a gorgeous male cat who has been through a lot. He was found as a newborn cowering under an oleander bush in Phoenix. Jodi explained, "his eyes and body were infested with fleas, and he was extremely ill. He was so young that he had to be syringe-fed, and it was not certain that his eyes–or life–could be saved."


Shea pulled through, but his chances of being adopted seemed slight. One of his eyes had to be removed, and he had limited vision in the other. "And he is black," said Jodi. "Black cats and dogs are often the last to be adopted and, if they are not adopted, they are often euthanized for space."

Shea beat the odds.


Shea's strong will to survive and loving personality won over everyone around him, and, finally, won over Travis and Michelle, who adopted him two years after he was brought to Lost Our Home. "I dreamt about him after we visited the shelter," said Travis, "so we knew we had to adopt him."


Shea is now happy and healthy, loving life in his new home with Travis and Michelle. But if not for the tireless volunteers, vets, and supporters of LOH, Shea may never have made it out of that oleander bush.

It's about compassion for animals, first and foremost, which is sometimes difficult and contested in such a time and place of economic crisis. When a family is struggling to feed themselves, and survival is the stress they hold every minute of every day, tough choices have to be made. Some families give up satellite TV. Some don't have electricity. Some are so desperate that they surrender or abandon their pets–their family members. Lost Our Home Pet Foundation has recognized a desperate need in our community and has taken action to help furry family members stay with their pack. And when that just isn't possible, they help the animals find new forever homes. The organization is an advocate and miraculous resource for so many animals and people.

LOH needs your help, and there are many ways do donate. Please consider helping. And if you're looking for a new addition to your family, consider pets who, through no fault of their own, are tragic victims of this crisis in our economy. Think about adopting a Lost Our Home pet.

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