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Approaching adoptions from a fresh perspective

What do social media pet stars Toast Meets World, Keyboard Cat and Hamilton Pug have in common? They’re the latest Internet phenoms featured in the new round of public service announcements (PSAs) from The Shelter Pet Project.

Partnering with Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council, The HSUS helped launch The Shelter Pet Project as the first national PSA campaign created to bring together animal welfare organizations across the country for one unified goal: to increase pet adoption.

This campaign is designed to change the negative thinking and assumptions sometimes made about shelter pets, so that people see them for the amazing pets they really are. Through the hashtag #StartaStoryAdopt, we’re asking adopters across the country to share stories of how their shelter pet changed their life for the better and to encourage potential adopters to search for their next pet.

Since its launch in 2009 the campaign has received over $272 million dollars in donated media reaching more than 11 million people through broadcast and cable television, radio, out of home (such as billboard) advertising, print and interactive media. Thanks to all the great work by everyone in our field, the data shows increasingly positive attitudes towards shelter pet adoption: On average, 68 percent of potential pet owners would consider adopting their next dog or cat from a shelter or rescue group. In addition, 73 percent of prospective pet owners have visited a website to get more information about adopting a dog or cat from a shelter or rescue group.

Despite these positive trends, we hear almost daily stories of potential pet adopters being turned away from shelters or rescue groups. Stories like those of Liz Baker, executive director of, who was turned down as a potential pet adopter three times over a 20-year period. “I actually appreciate the care that goes into ensuring that pets are matched with suitable homes,” says Baker. “Sadly, as in my case . . . oftentimes well-meaning volunteers make a bad or unreasonable call, losing site of the goal—which is to get pets out of shelters into loving homes.” We hear stories from friends and colleagues who have been turned down because they travel/work too much, don’t have a fenced yard, have young children, let their cats outdoors . . . the list goes on. Sadly, experiences like these often force a potential adopter to an Internet breeder or pet store (which often source their animals from inhumane places like puppy mills) as their next option to acquire a pet.

Everyone who works in, for or on behalf of shelters and rescues has the same goal—finding a loving and happy home for every pet in their care. Our field is closer than ever to achieving this goal. While organizations are finding new and effective ways of promoting pet adoption, our colleagues in the animal welfare field are conducting research to evaluate old ways of thinking and investigate the success of new strategies. What we once considered progressive policies have changed over time as we accumulate new experiences and evidence.

Adopters Welcome highlights an approach to adoptions that embraces community members, encourages them to adopt and helps them and their pets succeed. The approach also acknowledges the connection among all local adoption agencies and the impact that adoptions, or lack of adoptions, can have on all of the animals in a community. In the Adopters Welcome manual, we challenge adoption policies that The HSUS itself promoted decades ago. We, like you, know that serving animals requires a commitment to ongoing honest reflection and constant evolution. Through resources like Adopters Welcome and the many examples of successful adoption campaigns in Animal Sheltering magazine, we’re preparing you for the millions of potential adopters coming to shelters and rescue groups each year. Use this opportunity to approach adoptions from a fresh perspective, leading to greater adoption success in your community. Please share your stories in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you on how you’ve increased adoptions in your community.


About the Author

Kristie Stevanus Troha is the former Director of Marketing and Corporate Partnerships for the Companion Animals section of The Humane Society of the United States. Kristie holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism and an Integrated Marketing Communications Graduate Certificate from the Reed School of Media at West Virginia University.