By ALANA GRELYAK, Manager of Marketing & Community Relations, Tree House Humane Society, Chicago, IL

Surly, orange, and double positive: not an easy combination to work with when promoting a cat for adoption. Such was the case of Leonardo Pescatore, a seven year old FeLV and FIV-positive cat who’d been looking for a home for two years.

His fur was rough and he had a few lumps and scratches, but he also had a good side. He liked to lick the air when his back was scratched, and he had an awfully memorable face. Frequently overlooked, this guy was going to need a little extra help from Tree House Humane Society’s marketing.

My background is of the creative variety, from a special-needs pet blog to a comedy YouTube page about cats, and I knew that I would have to pull from all of that to get this guy out the doors and onto the couch he so desperately wanted.

I had recently attended the HSUS conference and was inspired by a talk given by Mike Arms and his team from San Diego’s Helen Woodward Animal Center. “A piece of paper and an idea can save a life,” he said. I had the paper, but I needed the idea. I went up into my attic and searched through my tub of cat costumes and a very simple one stood out to me: a chicken hat. It seemed like the perfect juxtaposition of silly against his surly.

What I ended up with was the Chicken Hat Protest, where Leonardo Pescatore (I gave him a last name, too) would wear a chicken hat, at his discretion, when he felt like it, (I didn’t want to have to be beholden to the hat all the time if he didn’t want to wear it on a given day) to quietly protest his length of stay. I got a great picture of him and sent out the press release. A few news media outlets inquired, but no one aired it, so I turned to my blogger friends. His hashtag #chickenhatprotest started to pick up a little steam, so I made sure to use it repeatedly with our local audience. It appeared on Instagram, on Facebook, on Twitter. I did a full page on Mr. Pescatore in our printed quarterly newsletter and made sure he was in our monthly one, as well.

And then I started getting letters and notes asking about him. One of them said the sender just loved him but couldn’t adopt so she sent along his adoption fee to make it easier for someone else. And then, one came by and asked about “that chicken hat cat.”

And now, Leonardo Pescatore is on a couch with Debbie, loving his new life and being far less curmudgeonly knowing he’s loved and at home.

Leonardo at home.

But I couldn’t let the chicken hat die there. It still had work to do for our FeLV+ friends. So I got another piece of paper…

The point of all of this is that it doesn’t take money to be creative and to get a hard-to-adopt animal into a home. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

1. What do you already have? Costumes? A creative writer that’s also a volunteer? A cell phone with some fun filters? Consider what’s at your disposal and how you can apply that to your hardest to adopt animals.

2. Reach out to the press. Sometimes, a small idea can turn into a movement.

3. It only has to reach one person to save that life. Even if you think you’ve failed, you’ve likely made a valuable impression on one person who just needs a little extra time to think about it.

4. Improve your skills. Use online tutorials, like you’re doing right now. Try photo editing tutorials, video editing sites, or press release how-tos. Most of these are available on YouTube or elsewhere on the internet for free.

5. Focus. Your time is valuable. Choose the most needy of your animals and focus on that one until you see some success. Your audience can only handle so much, and not everyone will see every post you make, so be sure to get your audience to know and feel for that one pet.

6. Use your team. The Chicken Hat Protest brought attention to Leonardo from outside, but it also helped spotlight him on the inside. Our volunteers and staff were talking about him more and showing him to more potential adopters, which helped his chances, too.

7. Don’t be afraid! Did someone laugh at your idea? Good, then at least they’ll remember who you are and how much you care.