Advice from the Experts – The Most Effective Strategies to Increase Shelter Cat Adoptions


Good graphics, a great photo, and a catchy, relevant slogan are wonderful tools to help get cats adopted. With the current popularity of the NetFlix series, “Orange is the New Black,” this cat-centric spin is sure to get some attention!

If you’re part of the cat world, you’ve probably heard it a thousand times – there are millions of cats in shelters waiting to be adopted. With June being Adopt a Shelter Cat Month, you’ve probably heard the message a thousand more times via assorted social platforms. Adopt a Shelter Cat Month is a great concept, but what exactly does Adopt a Shelter Cat Month mean? Cats don’t magically get adopted just because we bequeath a special month to them.

Making the decision to adopt a cat is a lifetime commitment and people have varying reasons as to why and when they are ready to do so. Some people might have made peace over the grief of losing a previous pet cat and feel ready to adopt another. Or for some, they may have never had a cat before and decide they would like one now, or some might want one as a companion for a child. Some people might not even be consciously looking for a cat, but circumstances evolve that cause that person to consider adoption. Whatever the reason might be, how can a rescue organization steer that person to potentially adopt from them? Are there certain tactics and methods that shelters and rescues use that work better than others?

Is it posting gut-wrenching pictures with an expiration date on Facebook, indicating the cat will be put down by the end of the day if you don’t come down to the shelter to adopt it? Is it seeing a rescue cat in a cage at a pet related store that causes someone to go home with more than cat food? Is it a widely published adoption event that draws a target audience? Or is it a well-written story shared on social venues with compelling pictures that gets cats adopted?

Contacting several 501(c)3 nonprofit experts in the field local to me – The Cat Network of Miami, FL, Cats Exclusive of Margate, FL, and Riverfront Cats of Miami, FL, along with Best Friends Animal Society of Kanab, Utah from the west coast – all of them unanimously agreed that treating the adoption process like a marketing campaign – with high quality photos and an engaging story or fantastic bio description of the cat – is the first step toward generating excitement and capturing the heart of the target audience.

Christine Michaels, founder of Riverfront Cats elaborates, “Interact with the cat and get to know their behavior and personality so that you can use descriptive adjectives for the cat and action verbs for the humans to help build a compelling backstory. And take LOTS of pictures using several backgrounds with proper lighting to ensure you get a few good images to choose from.” She says this is especially true for black cats that are hard to adopt – always make sure to use a background color such as light blue to contrast against their dark fur.


An easy way to get a fantastic picture of a black cat is to put it on a light blue blanket. Place a toy next to the cat to help convey a happy personality and do something, like wave a feather, to get the cat to look at the camera. Photo from

The Cat Network agrees. With digital technology there is no reason to settle on pictures that are blurry, or of a cat that has his eyes shut. If a staff member is not qualified to take a great picture, they recommend finding either a volunteer or professional photographer that can get the job done. Ideally the goal is to have the cat adopted for more than his looks, but in order for that to happen and to get the public into your rescue venue or shelter; you have to put your best photo face forward.

Once the pictures have been selected and a unique bio has been created for the cat, the pictures can then be used for cross-promotional efforts. Barbara Williamson, Media Relations Manager for Best Friends Animal Society says this is particularly important for them because their adoption sanctuary is in such a remote location and so many people will “meet” the cat via the Internet rather than in person.

Some photos are shared on Facebook and others become cover cats for Best Friends Magazine, a bi-monthly print publication filled with positive, inspirational stories and gorgeous pictures of pets. Williamson fondly recalls one cover girl cat, Francesca, who was labeled as “scrappy and unkempt.” The photo they used for her was so endearing that Francesca received dozens of adoption offers. She was just so “stinking cute,” according to Williamson, “that it goes to show that her picture was worth a thousand words… and worth a new, loving home.”


This is Francesca – no wonder she had dozens of people wanting to adopt her! This is a face that would melt any cat lover’s heart! Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society.

In conjunction with posting online pictures and descriptive bios of all their adoptable pets, Best Friends also uses local television spots each week to highlight a new cat and those appearances always generate great interest. Adoption events are also a fantastic way to spark interest, especially when working in tandem with pet store chains such as PetSmart, Pet Supermarket, and PetCo.

The Cat Network finds that coordinating these adoption events around a theme is particularly effective and they try to promote a theme for each weekend, such as for holidays or a movie release. Movie releases that are cat-centric are especially easy to market for an adoption event and the more creative the promotion the better. For example, back in 2010, they successfully promoted the sequel to Alice in Wonderland by focusing on the Cheshire Cat.

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Some of the cats at the Alice in Wonderland adoption event. Photo credit: The Cat Network

All of them agree using social platforms that can be easily shared such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to generate excitement and create momentum is extremely important. Keep the story up to date and relevant and always remember to provide contact information. Riverfront Cats also recommends collaborating with cat bloggers, as “reciprocity is mutually advantageous” and increases the target audience.

Collage--on night stand and yawning

Cats Sobe and Daffney were found on the streets of South Beach, Miami. Christine Michaels of Riverfront Cats fostered them and through the efforts of her blog and social media shares, both cats were adopted into the same forever home. Photo credit: Christine Michaels

And much of it is good old-fashioned customer relations skills. Lory Chadwick, General Manager for Cats Exclusive, says something as simple as answering the phone or an email will go a long way to ensuring a cat will be adopted. If a shelter does not answer the phone right away, or does not get back to the adopter in a timely manner, more times than not, they will have moved on to a another shelter.


For Cats Exclusive, a walk-in shelter, a good first impression is an extremely important ingredient to getting a cat adopted. They also encourage socialization with the cats so that they will be less timid around potential adopters. I am seen here bonding with a beautiful Siamese named Simone.

Keeping things upbeat and positive helps too. While the backstory of a cat might be sad, the idea is to generate good will and inspire people to adopt. A heartfelt rags to riches story that has the potential for a happy ending is always a wonderful way to spin something that seems hopeless. And none of the organizations felt, despite how it might seem on the surface, that those dark, depressing, and bleak pictures that are shared on social media, giving a cat only hours to live if someone does not come and adopt them, are an effective means to adoption. The Cat Network goes so far as to call those tactics “emotional blackmail,” putting undue pressure on a person’s conscious, leading them to potentially dangerous and unhealthy hoarding situations.

These are just some of the ways shelters are able to get cats adopted. Creating flyers, radio spots, newspaper articles, community events, and fostering networks are also effective. Working in conjunction with sites such as is also useful and some shelters are even geared toward people looking for a particular breed of cat.

If you work at a rescue organization or shelter and have any additional tips or advice to share, please do. Or if you are someone who has adopted a cat from a shelter, what compelled you to do so? The more we share ideas and educate ourselves, the more cats we can help to get adopted.


On a personal note, since 2004, I have adopted three rescue cats. Harley was the result of me deciding it was time to adopt another kitten into our family after the loss of one of our beloved dogs who was tragically hit by a car. I found an ad in the paper for a cat rescue organization and got her that way.  Kizmet came next and I was not looking for a cat at the time – I was at Pet Supermarket, buying food. I saw Kizmet in an adoption cage and he stole my heart. Jazmine is my newest rescue and she was also unplanned. I was at the Global Pet Expo in Orlando and saw her in a booth. One look at her and I knew she had to come home with me…

Deb-Profile with Kizment

Kizmet is just one of the many shelter cats I have adopted. For me, it is a matter of knowing my household is ready for another cat and a strong tug at my heartstrings that does the trick.

About the contributors:

The Cat Network is dedicated to humanely reducing cat overpopulation by educating the public about the need to sterilize their pets; providing access to low-cost spay/neuter services for homeless cats; and advocating non-lethal population control and humane public policy.

The Cat Network does not have a shelter – all available cats are in loving foster homes and you can also visit some of their adoptable cats at PetSmart, PetCo and Pet Supermarket locations in South Florida. To see available cats online, please click here.

Cats Exclusive is dedicated to helping both people and felines alike. Established in 1979 as a no-kill facility, they have taken in over 6,500 cats and have worked hard to find them the best homes possible. In 2007 they launched a low-cost clinic and offer many services that you would find at your local veterinarian’s office, including spaying/neutering, vaccines, dentals, and other routine surgeries. Adoptable cats can be found online by clicking here and they also have a walk-in adoption center.

Riverfront Cats has a simple goal – to raise awareness and REVERSE  the plight of homeless cats by overturning misconceptions surrounding cats in general, black cats, stray and feral cats through education and leading by example through their nonprofit organization. They do not operate a shelter and take in a limited number of foster cats – adoptions are encouraged through sharing efforts via blogging, public appearances, and social media.

Best Friends Animal Society was established nearly 30 years ago and helped pioneer the no-kill movement. Along with the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Best Friends is helping pets in need around the country with various community programs, including a No-Kill Los Angeles initiative, a statewide coalition in Utah for no-kill, sponsor programs with city government and local organizations to reduce the number of animals entering shelters and ultimately achieve no-kill communities in Jacksonville, San Antonio, and Albuquerque, and a No More Homeless Pets Network partner program with local shelters, extending funding, resources, legislative support and know-how to every corner of the United States.

To see the cats available for adoption at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, please click here. To see cats available at the Best Friends Utah or Los Angeles Society, please click here.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this posting!! It not only helps other rescues but also individuals who want to help a rescued cat and when shelters are full which is often.

    Great tips from other organizations. And yes responding to phone calls and emails quickly MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE!

    And for anyone in South Florida reading this, we need foster persons more than we need money. We can raise funding and get cats adopted more easily than we can find volunteers. With more volunteers, only then we can help more cats get off the streets. Something to consider!

    Contact us at

  2. Carolyn says:

    Thanks for the great post, Deb! There is so much great work being done to get the word out and now social media can help so much! For those of us who not in a position to adopt another cat at this point, I have found that sponsoring is a good alternative. Cats Protection here in the UK have such a scheme where you sponsor a “pen” and they update on the kitties that are residing in it. I shared on my blog a while back. Of course, ultimately, finding a loving forever home is the aim! xx

  3. Sue Brandes says:

    Wonderful post. I can’t adopt anymore right now but; I try to share photos on social media when I see them. I do thing good pictures help a lot. Have a great day!

  4. This is fantastic advice! I hope that shelters across the country will utilize the tips these experts have provided. I think shelters should learn from one another’s successes and do what they can to implement the things that seem to work for getting more adoptions.

    On a personal note, I fell in love with Carmine at PetSmart. I believe that cats choose their owners and not the other way around, and he definitely made it clear that he wanted to come home with me. He is my little soul kitty.

  5. Brian says:

    All of that is great advise and especially knowing the cat is most helpful. There are 7 rescue cats here, but you probably knew that!

  6. Those are great tips for shelters ! Purrs

  7. Cathy Keisha says:

    Great article! I have shared with my local rescues. When I was doing my Adoptable Cats A-Z, I was looking for cats with a good story, lots of info on their purrsonality and a clear photo. Sadly those were hard to find. Also, I can’t tell you how many shelters and rescues never answered my calls and e-mails. One got back to me over a month later. That’s no way to get a cat adopted.

  8. Well said. We never think those “emotional blackmail” posts work. Another thing to consider is short video showcasing something unique or cute to the individual cat. Or just a hilarious picture to catch someone’s attention and reel them in.

  9. Annabelle says:

    I fully agree that a good quality photo goes a long long long way in helping get a cat adopted. With all the wonderful easy to use digital cameras including the newer smart phones it really is much easier to get a good photo. Just a little extra care would definitely increase the chances of any of the cats chances of finding a good home. Excellent post!

  10. Pawsum posty Ms. Deb. Lots of gweat infurmation. Weez purray fur all da kitties everyday. Weez wish they kuld all live in such pawsum homes like we do. have a gweat weekend.

    Luv ya’

    Dezi and Lexi

  11. Kitties Blue says:

    Such great advice for helping kitties find new homes. Our dad started doing photography of the Barn Cat Buddies (the rescue Mom and Dad volunteer with) cats a few months ago, and they have been “flying off the shelves” ever since. Thanks for stopping by C.J.’s birthday party. Hope you’ll join us tomorrow for our special Father’s Day Sunday Selfies Blog Hop. XOCK, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista J

  12. I think that video of the cat interacting and playing is a wonderful new technique that is being used as well……(if that was mentioned, I am sorry if I missed it)

    Photos are fabulous of the cats playing too (you did mention photos)……….I think featuring cats in a “homey” environment instead of behind cages is the way to go

  13. Layla says:

    Thanks for stopping by with condolences for Radish. For the past year I’ve made weekly shelter cat PSAs in a wide variety of styles. I’ve tracked what works better.

  14. So many great ideas … I am a big fan of a “life story”, told by or from the cat’s point of view, and great photos always make a huge difference…
    And we love the catch phrase… Dexter say, Gingers Rule!

  15. Bravo Deb….wonderful info!!