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According to the Facebook page of Young-Williams Animal Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, Bootsy is a popular middle school cheerleader who loves Taylor Swift and hates rap. She’s also a black-and-white cat. “This cat and I are the same person,” deadpans a commenter, tagging a friend.
That’s the point, says marketing manager Courtney Kliman: The creative Facebook and Instagram posts are designed not only to grab people’s attention, but also to make people see themselves in the adoptable animals.
Kliman is the human voice behind dozens of similar animal biographies, including dog Winslow, who is “Dolly Parton’s cousin who’s been drinking too much of the family moonshine,” and cat Wanda, who has two kids and shops at the mall on weekends “after a very stressful week of doing Pilates and watching the Real Housewives.” Paired with personality-filled photos by visual coordinator Hannah Overton, the quirky posts get more likes, comments and shares than the traditional pet profiles the shelter once used, Kliman says, and have increased Young-Williams’ followers by 30,000 people in just six months.
Kliman isn’t trolling social media or dating sites for profiles to adapt—in fact, the former news reporter writes the biographies based on a combination of the animals’ real personality traits and people she knows. “I really am trying to reach people in Knox County or the surrounding counties who may be looking for a pet, and I want them to say, ‘Oh, this exactly is my lifestyle,’” she says with a chuckle, adding that she incorporates and pokes fun at current trends. “Each one has a little truth to it.”
More recently on Instagram, blocky-headed mix Alice Cooper “cannot wait for Taylor Swift’s new single to drop Friday (haters gonna hate), feels the need to sing ‘Bad Blood’ at the top of her lungs on repeat in her car all day every day, loves Barre class and drinking organic energy drinks, [and is] waiting for her new family and a forever home at Young-Williams Animal Center.”
The accompanying photo shows a happy dog in a festival-worthy flower crown, a product of Young-Williams’ biannual “prop nights,” during which volunteers make floral headpieces and other photo props. A peek at the shelter’s Instagram page reveals a handsome grey dog in a dragon costume (“wears his dragon costume in support of House Targaryen every Sunday, has a theory of how Game of Thrones will end but refuses to look up spoilers, tried reading the books before watching the show but didn’t have time to finish them while he was in obedience school”) and a chunky canine wearing a lion’s mane (“But the sun rolling high, through the sapphire sky, keeps great and small on endless round. It’s the circle of life! And it moves us all ... do you like my singing? I’m single, body builder, looking for a permanent sidekick”).
The biographies aren’t the only thing that's changed at the Knoxville shelter—as the only open-admissions facility in Knox County, Young-Williams has been transitioning to a return-to-field approach for community cats and serving as a pet care resource and counseling center. Staffers recently had to close one of its locations for the first time in the shelter’s history because every animal was adopted out for two weekends in a row. Kliman says she can’t credit the online biographies for the shelter’s successes, but in general, more likes, shares and followers translate to more volunteers, adopters and donors.
“It’s a good distraction from the sad situations that are happening worldwide,” she says. “People will comment that it’s the highlight of their day. It’s just fun to provide a little break from everyday.”