Jill Dyché founded Outta the Cage and she’s on a mission to get hard to adopt animals adopted! Jill talks with us about the importance of great videos and the use of social media. As a software executive, she understands the importance of keeping data on the dogs to help target ways to improve their chances of getting & staying out of the cage! Listen in and learn what you can do to help get your hard to adopt animals adopted!
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Jill Dyché is the founder of Outta the Cage, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people see shelter dogs as individuals. Jill & her team take the at-risk animals out of their cages and into the play yards and parks to capture compelling videos that showcase the animals’ personalities. Posting videos on social media & enlisting help from their supporters are key to helping these hard to adopt animals find their forever home!
Hey Jill, welcome to the program. Hey, Chris, it’s great to be here. Well, I’m so excited to have you here because obviously you and I know each other and I want to know more about you. Tell us your story and how you got into this. Yeah, well, you know, I’ve been rescuing and adopting animals. It seems like my whole life, like a lot of your listeners. And it’s just interesting, because I never thought that there would be a symbiosis between my career and my rescue passion, but I started to volunteer more at animal shelters and see what they weren’t doing. And one of the things they were doing was keeping data. And I thought, “well, what if we kept data?” There’s so many opportunities to apply some proven business principles to animal rescue. And so that’s kind of how I started to blend animal rescue with my day job, and it kind of took off from there. Yeah.
Tell us a little bit more about your day job. What do you do? I am an independent strategy consultant. I owned my own management consulting firm for 25 years and ended up selling that to a software company. And so now I’m pretty much on my own just doing strategy, consulting both for kind of the start-up world as well as the fortune 500 companies. Big companies, yeah. Yes, so doing that, I’m able to choose my clients and run out of the cage. Interesting.
So now, where did Out of the Cage start? Like, how did it start? Out of the Cage started because we would volunteer in animal shelters and see how poorly the animals in shelters were being represented and how they were being commoditized by, you know, shelter staff, shelter management volunteers. A lot of the information we had about animals was only as good as a 3X5 black and white kennel card on their cages. Sure. And we just felt that, you know, those really misrepresented the dogs and cats that were so, you know, they’re individuals, right? And it sounds right in the rescue community. But it’s amazing how few people, even in the rescue world, really recognize and acknowledge that.
So the way we got into it was day after day, we go to shelters and we’d see the dogs inside their kennels and we’d see them blossom outside of their kennels. And we thought, “you know, there’s gotta be a way to capture the real animal here and share that information with an under-educated public when it comes to rescue and show, these dogs primarily in their best light being who they are in being dogs again.” So we started to not only videotape dogs and play yards and in parks. But we started to keep data on those dogs as well. And so we have some really illuminating findings when it came to the differences between a dog and a kennel at a high kill, loud, cooped up in a shelter and a dog and a quiet play yard or park, you know, getting back to himself or herself.
So how did you capture data? I’m curious as to how he started to compile data to start to see trends. It’s evolved a little bit. We were starting to use other sites, and we realized that we really had more data than a lot of other organizations we’re keeping. And so, after every shelter visit, we would go back to our desks and enter in everything we learned about an animal. So we have lying level data on all of these animals that we videoed over the years, and it’s bigger than the animal’s gender, it’s breed type, right? It’s about behaviors. It’s about personality. It’s about likes and dislikes. And so we’ve just as kind of an experiment. We’ve been keeping our own data on the animals that we’ve been videoing over the years, and it’s given us some really interesting information that allows us to change our behaviors and actually optimize the characteristics about a dog and show that dog in its best light.
Tell me more, because now I’m intrigued. Right, so you’re capturing this, and you and volunteers were capturing the characteristics and what they’re like and how they act. What do you do with that? For instance, one of the things that we’ve learned through our data is we’ve been keeping information on where we video the dogs. And most shelters we work with have multiple play yards, and some of them are bigger than others. And what we’ve learned through our videos and through our data, is that small play yards are better for meet and greets. Like if you want to get to know a dog, smaller play yards where the dog can’t be as range-y and can establish more of a proximity relationship with the potential adopter or fosters tend to work better.
However, from a video standpoint from representing that dog and who she is, larger players are better for that, you know, show the dog moving. It’s easier for dogs actually play in larger play yards. And so what we’ve tried to do just to change our own behaviors based on that data is depending on the situation. Request certain play yards for certain types of dogs, for certain reasons. So we video, for instance, people coming to shelters with their dogs, you know, increasingly shelters are allowing you to do, meet and greets with your existing dog at the shelter.
So we’ve videotape those in the different kind of player than we would videotape the a meet and greet with a person. That is really fascinating, because I guess I never really thought about the size of the play yard and then the effects of just by following your notes and keeping track of this stuff. You started to notice this trend. Exactly. Yes. So that was in a big play yard. And hey, all of these dogs, who we videotaped playing in the big play yard got adopted 30% more often than dogs that were videoed in the small play yard. And that’s also by the way, informed which shelters we work with because what choices we have about how to showcase a dog again, the more adoptable that might be.
So now you started this with one shelter. Have you expanded it to other shelters? Yeah, we’ve worked at a couple dozen different shelters, and at this point, we go to where we’re asked to go. I mean, it’s so funny, Chris, when we started, we had to really explain what we were doing. Sure. Shelters were wary like “oh, God, there are people here with the camera. God knows what they’ll see,” you know. So we kind of have to earn the right to do what we do. But now, essentially, the way we people ask, how do you decide which shelters to go to? Any time somebody says, “hey, we’re crowded. We might have to kill for space. Can you guys come here and put a list together of half a dozen dogs?” That’s typically how we choose where we work these days. Interesting.
Now, how big has this grown? Well, you know, we’ve got volunteers all over the place and we’re volunteer based, including myself, and we’re situational and opportunistic. We don’t do the volume that huge rescue organizations or sanctuaries do. But we try to have a longitudinal relationship with the animals so that we’re constantly checking back in and updating people about that animal. So we try to get an animal from its journey in the shelter, all the way to wherever it’s landing and update people about its outcome. It’s been quite an adventure and quite a learning experience for everybody. It sounds really cool.
So do you focus on any particular types of animals? The ones that have been there the longest? I mean, what’s kind of your sweet spot? Yeah, it’s a good question because it’s changed. In the early days, we tried to be very statistically pure, so we would randomly select dogs to videotape and try to get a good mix of breed types and ages and really mix it up so that we had kind of a general population. But as we’ve worked in different shelters and seen the reality of rescue, we know, you know as you do, that the bully type breeds, the seniors, and the medical dogs are really the most urgent and are the most often euthanized.
So we kind of shifted our perspective toward those dogs so that when we’re at the shelter, we can maximize the likelihood that those dogs will get a shot as well. So we’re doing a lot more of the urgency now than we ever did before, which again, in a way, it skews our data, right? Because a lot of these are long term stay dogs, and they will be long term stay dogs. And so one of the metrics we keep is time from video to adoption or time from video to live release. And those times have increased because the dogs that we’ve been videotaping are more urgent and some would say less adoptable than some of the other dogs in the general population at a shelter.
It’s fascinating to me. Just listen, I can hear your data background right coming out in this and trying to make sure it’s statistically done the right way. But gravitating back towards the longer term dogs, the harder to adopt the ones that are stereotyped against. And are you noticing any interesting trends as you start to kind of focus on that population? Well, grey pit bulls. I was just having a conversation with another rescue the other day, and she said, “you know what? We just we cannot be the grey pit bull rescue anymore. I need some other kinds of dogs here,” because just the preponderance of grey pits and that Southern California areas is huge right now and they become commoditized because they’re all in the same kennel and they look the same and none of them gets adopted. It’s like the grains of sand on the beach. Which one do you choose? Those are the sad trends.
The happy trends are that adoption is increasing, Awareness is increasing. The public is starting to take notice. And one of the things that we are hoping for every day is a rescue prestige, right? That it’s not your designer dog that gets you the prestige. It’s rescuing that senior dog or that medical dog that gets you the accolades. And that’s one of the things that we’ve been looking for, is just to try to have a halo effect around any kind of rescue or adoption as opposed to buying a dog. Absolutely. I have to admit that is really kind of a smart way to go about this in terms of your educating, right? And you’re doing this by using video and really, like you said, showcasing their individual personalities. Exactly.
And there’s new data out there that actually I can’t remember where I saw it that says that there is beginning to be an inverse correlation between socioeconomic status and likelihood of buying a pure bred dog. In other words, there’s prestige around rescue. Well to do people are rescuing. You know, Look at Dave Duffield and Maddie’s Fund. That’s his whole mission these days. Now we just have to deal with more of the general public and the awareness that adoption should be the first option.
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So now what do you do? So you’ve got these videos. You’re capturing data. You’re figuring out the trends. What do you do with the information? What do you do with the videos to help them actually get out onto social media? With the videos, we put them on Instagram. We put them on Facebook. We put them on our own website, outofthecage.org and people see them and share them with their friends. And the most of the work we do after posting the video is really around convincing people to share these dogs and getting as much realistic and individual information out as possible about that particular dog. So people have a really good sense of who that dog is.
That must take a lot of creativity to try and tell those interesting stories. I mean, do you guys edit the videos and put them to music? How do you go about really capturing it? You know, it’s a good question and we’ve dabbled in that a lot, but I think we cede to information over form. In other words, our videos can be pretty rough at times. But to us it’s more important to tell people as much as possible about the animal they’re looking at on camera than it is to put it to music and have subtitles and little images everywhere and animation. I mean, could we do that? Sure. Would it distract from everything we’re trying to impart about an animal? Absolutely. Yeah, so in the form substance debate, we’re choosing substance and probably a little bit at our expense. I mean, you’re not gonna find us all over YouTube, but you know what? The more we can share about an animal, and we’ve seen this in our own data, the more data you can share about an animal to higher that adoptable rate is.
So I want to pivot a little bit and tell me more about the Dogifesto. I mean, that was something I noticed on your website, and it just really got my attention. How did that come to be? What does it mean? It’s kind of a reaction to looking at the treatment of some animals at some shelters and realizing that you know it’s not ASPCA or somebody has some kind of animal bill of rights. All of these are good things because there needs to be a baseline behavior conduct out there about how we treat our fellow sentient beings. And so the Dogifesto is really about that. Let’s have some foundational assumptions about our philosophy behind animals, and how we treat them, and how we’re trying to help them.
I really like some of these. I just want to read a couple of them that grabbed my attention, ‘create small moments of joy for shelter animals.’ When you think about it, it can become a job, and one dog is the same, as the next, as the next, right? And just trying to remember that you are saving lives, you’re creating a difference. Part about the Out of the Cage does exactly that. It’s like even with the dogs that didn’t make it, that we’ve videoed. We take a little bit of comfort in the fact that ‘at least we got that dog in the play yard for half an hour and it had a rope toy and it was having fun. And at least we did that’, you know? So ‘the small moments of joy’ I mean, I think that in itself should actually get that tattooed someplace. Cause is it applies to everybody.
Yeah, and I was thinking, you know, you wrote worked damn hard. Three different times there. It is hard work. It is draining work, right? You’re dealing with lives and sentient beings. And sometimes outcomes don’t turn out like you want. And we mourn every one of those. And you know, there are different reasons for those things, too. So one of the side projects I haven’t rescue is this whole topic of shelter, reform and shelter of the future. And I think a lot of that is everybody’s working hard in the rescue world. Everybody’s working hard in the shelter systems, but what does that look like? And what should it look like when it comes to how we spend our time in rescue? I think that that’s a really compelling topic. It could be its own panel session at the next Best Friends conference.
Yeah, I’m sure it could. I mean there is a lot I think from somebody—I have only been in this industry for about five years now, and it’s just changed dramatically in the five years that I have been a part of this, and I’m really excited to see where it’s gonna go, because I feel like we’re getting a lot of momentum like you talked about. And it’s headed in the right direction to the day that we can say we’re no kill. We’re not killing animals for space. But even then, the challenge is not over, and there’s much more to be done. And thanks to companies like Doobert too, right? Because you guys are raising awareness not just of rescue in general, but of the value of transport and its role in rescue and disaster relief and supply and demand of animals that need homes. I think some of the new voices in rescue have become the loudest, which is great news. Definitely.
I think it’s hard when people have been doing things the same way for many years, sometimes in their cases, as many decades and you know things are changing and Facebook has been revolutionary for animal rescue. But it’s also not the only thing. There’s other challenges and problems that need to be solved. And I really love the fact that you’re using data and you’re doing something seemingly so simple. Just getting the dogs out, videoing those dogs so that people can see what their true personality is like and then tracking to show them because people believe data. It’s one thing to say that you’re doing it. It’s another thing when you go, “really? I can show you a 38% decline just by doing these three things.”
To your point. It’s not just about counts and amounts with our data, either. I find that in rescue and in the sheltering system in particular, it’s just about numbers like noses in and noses out, which are really important numbers. But that doesn’t tell you, you know how many of the noses out that weren’t live releases had high energy? There’s the hard operational numerical counts and amounts data, but there’s also data about energy level, and eye contact, and color, and general demeanor, and behavior history, and some of that data that ultimately plays a huge role, not only in whether or not that dog makes it out of the shelter system alive. But how it should be featured when it’s in the system and how it should be talked about treated when it’s in the system. And I think that’s the data that isn’t recognized enough yet in rescue.
So where are you taking this? What’s next on the horizon for this? It’s been our own experiment up until now, Chris. So I think our message about our data isn’t so much about our data. It’s the fact that data is teaching us things that we didn’t know before. And so there’s no such thing as too much data. There’s no such thing as data that’s too rich and diverse, right? The more that we have, the more we can learn and the more we can change their behaviors to get more animals adopted and in to families.
So I’m curious, is this how you thought things would turn out when you started it? You know yes and no. I think one of the hard choices that we made is that we might not scale as quickly as other rescues because we keep these longitudinal relationships with our animals. It’s not just “oh, the animals alive. It’s out. We saved it. And now it’s in a forever home.” It’s “how’s it doing?” And it’s not just “oh video and we’re done.” It’s “wow, Harley’s been at Camarillo Shelter 340 days now. We videoed him back in January. We need to get back out there and get an update.” So we keep these long term hopefully not too long term, but long term relationships with these animals so that we can actually monitor how they do. And so when you ask where we’re taking it, we’re taking it to the war we learn, the more we can actually change our behaviors and help others do that as well.
I’m guessing you’ve probably learned a lot about yourself in the process. Is there anything that you’ve learned that you wanted to share? Yeah, it’s fascinating. I have learned so much just running a nonprofit and being in that world where you think everybody is noble and we’re all rallying around the same vision, and we want to do it in the exact same way. And in that sense, you learnt that a long time ago in your career when it comes to corporate politics, right, But you don’t assume that in the rescue community. So yes, so there are different voices and there’s dissent and their strife and, you know. Right. So it’s just as important to have a strong brand and be data driven in the rescue and nonprofit world as it is in the corporate world. And I didn’t realize the gravity of that when I started a nonprofit. So that’s been a real wake up call.
Absolutely, and I want to encourage people to go check out your website outofthecage.org. Because I think they can read about the Dogifesto and your Animal Bill of Rights out there, which is very interesting. Yeah. They can see the dogs that you guys are making available and showing their personalities and maybe learn something to apply this in their organization as well. Yeah, please come visit.
So, Jill, this has been fascinating just hearing about you and talking about what you’re doing. Is there anything else you want to mention before wrap things up? Yeah, we will be participating in the nationwide Best Friends Strut Your Mutt on October 26. Alright. So everybody come out to Strut Your Mutt in L.A., or go to the Best Friends website and donate, donate, donate to Strut Your Mutt. Very cool. We’ll Jill, thank you so much for coming on today and sharing with us. I enjoyed talking to you. Yeah, same here, Chris. Thanks so much.
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