a dog licking a woman's face
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/AP Images for The HSUS

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could help get more pets adopted—without spending any money or even getting up from your chair? And have fun while you’re doing it? 

On Thursday, Dec. 7, you’ll have the chance to do just that, when you join The Shelter Pet Project for its Eighth Annual Celebrate Shelter Pets Day.

Nine years ago, I was feeling somewhat discouraged about efforts to grow the cause of pet adoption beyond the people who were already adopting. Social media wasn't as powerful then as it is today, and most of the pet adoption messages shared on social feeds were of the heartrending variety.

Such messages had a tendency to "preach to the choir," and may have actually alienated first-time adopters who were looking for a happy adoption experience and a healthy, well-balanced pet to be part of their family. Social media posts about broken, sad, terrified pets seemed almost tailor-made to reinforce preconceptions that kept people away from shelters and rescue groups.

Then I began managing social media for The Shelter Pet Project, an Ad Council public service advertising campaign promoting pet adoption. Sponsored by The Humane Society of the United States and Maddie’s Fund, the campaign was part of a new wave of pet adoption messages that relied on humor, fun and positive messaging to encourage adoption from shelters and rescue groups.

During the campaign’s first year, the pro bono ad agency behind The Shelter Pet Project’s first PSAs had conducted extensive surveys and focus groups examining people’s attitudes and beliefs about adoption. While they learned a great deal about what motivated people to consider adoption, and what might prevent them from taking the leap, the fact that jumped out at me was this: People are three times more likely to go to a shelter or rescue group when looking for a pet if they've spoken to a friend or family member who's already adopted.

Now, people who have adopted pets are pretty passionate advocates, and that’s a great thing. But, I wondered, just how many people can you talk to in person? What if instead we spread the word through social media, where a single person can reach dozens or hundreds of friends and family members with a single post?

That was the idea behind the first Celebrate Shelter Pets Day in 2010. The concept was "Shelter pets take over Facebook,” and it had a very simple call to action: Post photos and stories of your own adopted pets on Facebook.

Since these types of online campaigns weren’t that common back then, I wasn’t expecting the tens of thousands of posts that were shared to our Facebook page and people’s personal profiles that day. It was overwhelming and inspiring.

The second year, we expanded to include all social media, not just Facebook, and we’ve continued to see increasing awareness of the event across a wide variety of animal welfare organizations and pet-related social media.

Every year we tried to make the celebration fresh and different, but this year, we’re going all in on something new. We’ll be turning The Shelter Pet Project’s Facebook page over to animal shelters across the country so they can live-stream their own celebration of shelter pets and adoption.

This Celebrate Shelter Pets Day Facebook Live event will kick off at 11 AM Eastern Time at the Humane Rescue Alliance in Washington, DC, where they’ll be joined by the Ad Council and HSUS teams.

From there, every hour on the hour, we’ll start a new live stream from another shelter: The Humane Society of the Huron Valley in Ann Arbor, Michigan, will go live at noon Eastern, followed by Austin Pets Alive! in Austin, Texas, at 1 PM Eastern. Next up will be Humane Society Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area at 2 PM Eastern, with the Seattle Humane Society wrapping things up with a 3 PM Eastern live stream.

The key message of the day is that shelters are full of wonderful pets, and that adopting a pet is definitely something to celebrate. You’ll meet amazing alumni pets and their equally amazing adopters, hang out with superheroes, dance with shelter staff superstars, visit cats at work and dogs at play, and more.

In addition to joining the live streams, you can help spread the message that day by posting stories and photos of your adopted pets, or available pets in your shelters, and tagging them with #CelebrateShelterPets.

Remember: People are more likely to adopt a pet if they’ve spoken to someone who has. Be that someone by celebrating shelter pets on Dec.7!

About the Author

Christie Keith

Christie Keith is a communications and social media consultant for a number of animal welfare and veterinary clients, including The Shelter Pet Project, Maddie's Fund, the Million Cat Challenge, the Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida and Dr. Marty Becker of "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show."



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