Campaign Appeals to Pet Owners

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In a two-pronged venture that provides consumers with pet-care information and companies with direct-marketing opportunities, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has launched an information line for questions about cats and dogs.

Callers to the service, dubbed Ani-Med, are greeted by a recording of Roger Caras, president of the ASPCA, New York. They are asked to leave their names and addresses to receive $5 worth of coupons from participating pet-care companies.

The callers can access any of about 140 pre-recorded topics on cats and dogs ranging from bad breath and bladder problems to bite prevention and problem barking. For emergencies, the information line offers a link to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, IL.

Sponsors of the program include Friskies Petcare Co., A&M Products, Schering-Plough Animal Health, NutraMax, PE AgGen, Invisible Fencing and Pet Assure. The sponsors are mentioned at the end of the topics, which last about four minutes. A portion of the proceeds from the participating companies are given to the ASPCA to alleviate the suffering of animals.

Despite a charge of $.75 or less for the calls, about 2,500 pet owners have called Ani-Med in the three weeks following its launch in mid-April. About 60 percent have opted to leave their name and address for the coupons.

"We are relying on our sponsors for funding, and we just don't yet have enough money to make it a toll free call," noted Carl Fergo, president of TeleCare Inc., Manhasset, NY, the direct marketing company that helped create the program. "Hopefully, in the next couple of months, we will have enough money to make it toll-free."

The more than 400,000 members of the ASPCA received a pamphlet explaining Ani-Med in the mail. Ads for the program are appearing in Animal Watch, the ASPCA member magazine, and will run in Dog Fancy, Cat Fancy and Pet Life.

Animal shelters across the country also can receive a free display offering topic directories.

"Not only are we reaching consumers of magazines who already have pets, we are reaching out to animal shelters where people come in and adopt pets - in many cases for the first time," Fergo said.

Although the information currently pertains to dogs and cats, advice on birds, reptiles, hamsters, fish and other animals will be available soon.

TeleCare is working on a similar program with Prevention magazine that would offer health care information to callers, who would be able to receive coupons from related companies. The program is scheduled to debut this fall.

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