Senior Pet Adoptions

Seattle Humane Society

A $15,000 winner in the 2008 Maddie’s Fund Marketing Competition, submitted by Brenda F. Barnette, Chief Executive Officer, Seattle Humane Society, Bellevue, Wash.


In June 2006, the Seattle Humane Society changed the policy to eliminate age as a reason to take the life of a shelter guest. Since then weve made marketing older dogs and cats a top priority by developing a comprehensive and vibrant marketing strategy that incorporates media, special events, education and outreach. Now all healthy and adoptable companion animals of any age have as long as it takes for us to find them a home of their own. We are becoming the safety net for senior animals in our community and our senior pet adoptions are increasing.

Bringing people and pets together Weve put older pets in the spotlightliterally. Every month we distribute 2,000 Spotlight fliers, featuring hard-to-place cats and dogs, to veterinarians, kennels and pet stores. Over 70 percent have been senior pets. In the past year, 83 percent of those senior pets who were spotlighted were adopted. Those still with us will have as long as it takes for us to find them a home of their own. Many of those are receiving home care with foster volunteers. Our quarterly newsletter, Chronicles, with a circulation of 14,500, often features senior pets. Our summer 2008 issue was a special edition focusing on The Joy of Senior Pets and included letters from adopters, as well as adoption success stories.

Redesigning our Web site has been one of our most successful strategies. The 40,000 people per month who visit our Web site find senior pets front and center. When visitors search pets available for adoption and sort by age, the results are displayed oldest to youngest. In the past, pets were listed randomly. Older pets are featured in half of the adoption success stories on the Web site. A message from our CEO, Adopting an Older Companion, encourages people to consider adopting senior pets.

The Web site also includes specific information about older pets in Senior Dog Central and Senior Cat Central, where the following topics are featured: common behavior changes in older pets, monitoring your pet for signs of disease, senior pet care, cataracts, and arthritis. Thus our commitment to older pets doesnt end when they are adopted. We provide resources for pet owners before and after they leave the shelter.

We maintain a strong media presence in print, radio, television, and the internet. Senior cats and dogs are frequent Media Stars, appearing on air or in print, where the exposure draws attention to senior petsand gives them a better chance at adoption. In the past two years, over 200 senior pets have appeared in the media, and 90 percent of them have been adopted.

Our marketing strategy for senior pets includes special events promotions. Last May, for Adopt-a-Senior-Pet month, we distributed a press release highlighting the top five reasons to adopt a senior, offering discounted adoption fees and a special, decorative collar. We also created a Senior Pets Are Best poster to promote the month-long event. We saw a 17 percent increase in adoptions in May from the previous year.

Our marketing strategy for senior pets is integrated into everything we do, including our education and outreach events. At our summer day camp, for example, kids learn about older pets and design adoption posters for the older cats and dogs. Older cats and dogs are also a part of visits to workplace giving events, retirement homes, and health care facilities.

The key messagethat older pets are often the best petsis voiced by everyone from our board members to our adoption advisors and volunteers.

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