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This baby purrs!

Canadian shelter gets great mileage from cat adoptions video

From Animal Sheltering magazine July/August 2016

Shelter cats in Alberta, Canada, have a new celebrity spokesperson: Phil the used cat salesman is famous for his cheap suit, greasy hair, cheesy mustache and enthusiasm for hawking “certified pre-owned felines.”

Phil’s road to stardom began at the Calgary Humane Society (CHS) last year, when staff met to brainstorm promotions for the shelter’s August cat adoption event. They batted around the idea of a video with a sales pitch theme, but it wasn’t until a longtime volunteer suggested pairing cats with the lingo of used cars that the idea took off, says Philip Fulton, manager of community outreach.

Fulton, who has a background in theater and drama education, was a shoo-in for the lead role. At home, he pulled out a polyester suit he’d bought at a thrift store for $4.99, a loud tie and a glue-on mustache. A week later, Phil the used cat salesman made his debut.

The video was shot in just one morning. “It was very loosey-goosey,” admits Fulton. “I guess that’s the fun of it—that lends itself to the campy, public-access quality of the video.”

The day after the video went live on YouTube, Fulton and his team realized they had a bona fide hit. “We were like, ‘Oh my goodness, this thing has exploded,’” he says.

People were charmed by Phil, his feline co-stars and the clever script touting cats of “all makes, models and colors—ready to practically walk off the lot.” Upworthy, Buzzfeed and other popular social media sites shared the video, and local, national and international news outlets took notice. “We were fielding calls throughout that week,” Fulton remembers.

A few days later, at its “Cat-tastic Summer Pawty,” the shelter closed the deal on 34 adult cat adoptions, nearly double the average number.

The video has since racked up 772,000-plus views, and the numbers continue to climb. “That exposure is like a ripple effect,” says Sage Pullen McIntosh, CHS senior manager of community relations and communications. “We still see it. People come in and say, ‘Hey, I just saw that video.’”

The shelter’s small communications team has produced several videos over the years, but this was “by far our most popular,” says Fulton. “I guess the moral of the story is that you can’t really predict these things, and sometimes the best ideas are the ones that kind of come naturally.”

Phil the used cat salesman has since appeared on a local TV station during the shelter’s regular pet promotion segment. He also rode in the Calgary Pride parade, where bystanders cheered, “Yay, that’s the cat video guy!”

While he’s had many other requests for public appearances, Fulton is selective: He doesn’t want Phil to become another overexposed celebrity. Still, his alter ego gives him a chance to lay on the high-pressure sales pitch.

Whenever Phil is in the public eye, he urges people to visit the shelter and reminds them that CHS still has many top-quality pre-owned cats—not a clunker among them.

About the Author

As senior editor of the award-winning Animal Sheltering magazine, Julie Falconer writes and edits articles for the sheltering, rescue and animal control fields. Before joining the staff of The Humane Society of the United States, Julie was a longtime volunteer with rescue and animal advocacy organizations in Central Virginia. She spends much of her free time assisting with trap-neuter-return programs for community cats.