‘Territorio de Zaguates’ (Land of the Mixed Breeds) is probably as close as it gets to a real-life doggy heaven. Located in a beautiful part of Costa Rica where the sun shines all year round and the average temperature is a pleasant 22 degrees C, this unique canine haven is home to 900-odd stray dogs with bizarre breed names like ‘Chubby-Tailed German Dobernauzer’ and ‘Fire-Tailed Border Cocker’.
The privately funded, volunteer-run organisation takes in strays from across the country, and and gives dog lovers a chance to spend time with them and hopefully give one of them a forever home. The dogs get to run around all day in a green, grassy, well-maintained outdoor space, but they also have access to a modern indoor facility with cozy bedding and designated feeding and bathing stations. To keep the dogs hydrated, troughs of fresh flowing water are installed at various points on the property.
One of the biggest challenges faced by the organisation is finding people to adopt the dogs, 94 percent of which are ‘zaguates’. “In Costa Rica we have an estimated 1 million abandoned dogs,” said Sergio Chinchilla, dog-lover and advertising professional at Garnier BBDO. “And the problem is most adopters tend to favor adopting pure breeds only.” In 2012, the shelter went through a mini-crisis when the number of dogs it held got to double its original capacity.
That’s when Sergio and his creative team at Garnier BBDO began to think of ways to change people’s attitudes towards mixed-breed dogs. In an effort to disprove the idea that purebred dogs are more valuable, they decided to focus on one-of-a-kind traits in each dog and put a positive spin on its qualities. So although their origins are unknown, each dog is given a new brand – its own unique, personal breed name based on its characteristics.
“We invested countless hours into the campaign; at one point, my colleagues even stepped in to cover my obligations at the agency so that I could focus 100 percent on the Zaguates campaign,” Sergio said. He visited the shelter several times to understand and analyze each dog and come up with new names like ‘Leggy Irish Schnaufox’ and ‘Charred French Pumi’. 600 new breeds were created in a span of four months, but only 15 were selected to be featured in the actual ad campaign.
Héctor Acuña, an artist from the agency, created quirky sketches of these 15 breeds, which were displayed on local TV, billboards, and advertisements all over town along with the message: “When you adopt a mutt, you adopt a unique breed.” The artwork was a huge hit among locals, instantly earning the dogs newfound fame and recognition. The success of the campaign earned the dogs an invitation to participate in a fashion show at the National Pet Fair. And after 45 days of running the campaign, the adoption rate at the shelter increased significantly – from about 10 dogs a month to 150.
Those interested in adopting a new breed are welcome to visit the Land of the Strays in person, spend time with the dogs, and build a rapport before taking one home to be a part of their family. The stress-free environment maintained by volunteers allows potential pet owners to get to know the animals better and even develop a bond. There is no pressure to adopt, though. Because it’s a no-kill shelter, the dogs are extremely happy, making it a wonderful place to simply spend some quality time with the animals.