Impacts to pet adoption in the digital age

I love being a pet owner and apparently so don’t a lot of other people. There are approximately 70 million pet dogs and 74 million pet cats in the Unites States. Add to that pet rabbits, turtles, birds, snakes, and other members of the animal kingdom and you have an industry impacting about 80 million households.

The data is a little inconsistent but best estimates are 30%-40% of pets are obtained through adoption.  We’ve all seen those bumper stickers that ask the question; Who Saved Who. People who adopt not only get a companion but adoptions gives an altruistic feeling knowing that a life was saved and animal found it’s forever home. Approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized every year (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats) according to ASPCA statistics.


Recently a friend had to deal with her cat crossing over the rainbow bridge. For those of you who don’t know what that is here is a link (rainbow bridge poem) but fair warning have Kleenex ready. Anyway I digress, long story short she was looking to get a new cat but she has very specific requirements,  the cat must be a male, long haired, orange tabby. So off to the Tinder of animal adoption she went-(Petfinder).

With pets and pet adoption being such a big industry I had some questions on what impacts social media and the internet has had. I looked in detail at one of the most popular sites for matching animals and owners, Petfinder. Also I asked the experts and interviewed the manager of the Worcester Animal Rescue League (WARL) to see how technology has changed how it does business. Finally there are some Do’s and Don’ts that are good advice for all of us who want to help.

Petfinder     petfinder

You don’t actually swipe with Petfinder but it’s abundance of animals and the ability to search for your perfect match has helped it grow in popularity and as of 2016 claims it


Petfinder Growth

has  resulted in 25 million adoptions. Petfinder was founded in 1996 as to connect homeless animals with people who want them. Now operating as, it is the largest online pet adoption website and is currently owned by Nestle Purina Pet Care Company. The site facilitates pet adoptions for nearly 14,000 animal shelters and rescue organizations. is a for profit business and generates revenue through advertisements, sponsorship, and match services. People are directed to through various shelters and foster homes posting on social media. Petfinder also does a great job of generating content by encouraging people to share stores on Instagram and Twitter, check it out at #MetOnPetfinder.


The Petfinder site is a wealth of information. There are articles about all things pets, tips about care, information on shelters and rescues, along with videos. If you really are specific about what type of pet you are looking for have no fear. You can search by animal and include, age, breed, and gender. Geography is no longer an issue either, with you can find your perfect pooch match even if it is across the country. My search for a female puppy within a 25 mile radius came back with so many adorable options I wanted them all!



Interview with WARL- Worcester Animal Rescue League

Marie Gryszowka: Volunteer Coordinator WARL

  1. What are some of the benefits of using social media for WARL?

    WARL benefits from using a few social media platforms and uses a variety of platforms to engage our fans by sharing success stories, asking for donations, and posting stray animals that need homes.”

  2. What if any are some of the negative aspects of social media for WARL or pet adoption in general?

    One negative aspect I have had to deal with is customers putting in adoption applications through Petfinder for animals that don’t fit well into their homes then being upset when the animal is either already on hold or can’t be adopted out them.”

  3. What types of online or social media platforms does WARL use?

    WARL uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, website, and Petfinder.”

  4. How do you mostly use social media at WARL? 

    “We use each platform a bit differently. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are used for promotion, donations, and feel good stories. Email is one of our major contacts for questions. Our website and Petfinder are used for adoptable animals.”

  5. In your experience have most people gone online to find pets before coming into a shelter?

    The people coming in off the street vs. those using a website first is about 50/50. Many people come in with animals in mind but some just want to see what we have.”

Dos and Dont’s

We’ve all seen those heartbreaking photos on Facebook or Twitter with pleas to help some sad eyed dog or cat find their forever home but unless you want to become We bought a Zoo the sequel you might have questions on what you can do to help.  Here are some Dos and Don’ts especially when it comes to social media.


  • Don’t cluttering the comments:                                                                                       The person trying to find a home for an animal has to read through all those comments and a serious inquiry could be missed by unnecessary comments about how cute the animal is or how you wish you could help.
  • Don’t become sir TAG a lot:                                                                                         Similar to above tagging adds a lot of unnecessary text that will need to be filtered through and unless you seriously think the person you are tagging will be interested just screen shot the site and direct message instead.
  • Don’t be a Social Media Shamer:                                                                                   Posts stating the obvious that are intended to shame people into helping is the worse form of slactivism. Chance are that your comment “someone needs to save this dog” isn’t going to create the desired call to action you think it will.


  • Do share:                                                                                                                              Social Media sites have become invaluable to shelters by  bringing awareness to their needs and showcasing animals that are in need of homes so help spread the word.
  • Do volunteer:                                                                                                                       Can’t adopt, no problem. Shelters need volunteers at fund-raising and adoption events, cleaning the shelter, caring for animals, and even data entry can be helpful.
  • Do use your specialized skills:                                                                                             If you have a special skill then put it to work. Photography can make all the difference for an animal since so many pets are being searched for online. Grant writers and graphic designers can help a shelter update their site to attract more users and earn more funds.
  • Do foster:                                                                                                                                  Not ready for a long term commitment that’s ok. Open up your heart and home to foster an animal until they can be matched to their forever home.
  • Do donate:                                                                                                                               Have a little spare cash, blankets, cleaning supplies, or even old appliances call your local shelter to see if they are in need.


Final Thoughts

The digital age has transformed the pet adoption industry much for the better. Year after year the number of animals euthanized has declined as websites are matching people with their pet soul mates and lost pets are being reunited with their owners. There are some downsides of course to social media but the overall impacts have been positive.




  1. Nice post. It’s crazy to think how much has changed in the world of pet adoption since my family adopted our eleven year old dog back in 2006. You made some great points about the uses of social media in pet adoption, and the interview provided a great inside perspective. After reading this, I noticed that it reminded me of digital job recruiting. The first round is done digitally to access a larger pool of candidates and to more efficiently evaluate them. However, in both cases the final decision is very important and highly personal. I would definitely want to have an in person interview with someone before I hired them, and I would similarly need to meet a potential pet before I adopted. However, social media is still clearly a great tool for pet adoption centers, so thanks for sharing!

  2. Great post! I am happily surprised to hear about the positive effects social media has had on the pet adoption industry. Petfinder seems to be a really useful way for potential pet owners to find their dog/cat/etc., and perhaps I will use it when I start looking for a dog in a couple of years!

  3. laurencondon23 · ·

    Love this post, really happy to see the use of social media is helping more animals find homes! The interview was a great inclusion and got me wondering if social media is more beneficial for animal shelters in terms of fundraising or for adoptions. Regardless, the use of social media is a great way to get more individuals engaged with their shelter and the animals they have there.

  4. laurenmsantilli · ·

    Great topic to cover! Definitely important to call attention to. My brother has been searching for a puppy and I keep trying to direct him to a shelter instead of a breeder. PetFinder has done an amazing job of making a user-friendly, easy to access site. I like that you included different parts to this post, including fact, opinion, and the interview. I don’t know if you followed the dog Libra’s journey on social media, but my friend’s mom is an avid animal (especially dog) activist and kept sharing him on her Facebook. I became hooked – Libra started as an abused, skinny puppy and transformed into a friendly, loving, and healthy pup. I didn’t stop watching his weekly updates until he finally was adopted. Social media is a great way to spread animal cruelty awareness, and to connect animal lovers to their future owners. Thanks for sharing!

  5. What a great post! LOVE the fact that you did an original interview. I may have to forward this post to my dog walking group (of which my vet is a member).

  6. joeking5445 · ·

    As a future dog owner, I found this very helpful. Great use of the interview as well. I have followed different shelters on facebook and instagram to get me started in the search process. I agree that social media shaming has caused me to unfollow different accounts. I do not know why people would think that would be a useful strategy

    I see myself using petfinder to adopt a dog. It easy to search and use. The site will even educate you on different types of breeds so you can see if they would be a good match for you.

  7. This was so fun to read! I remember seeing ads that said “It’s like Tinder for dogs” and although that was for humans to meet other humans who owned dogs, I love how people have found ways to utilize and expand social media to every area imaginable. I would like to see a system of regulation and maintenance following the completed adoption process in which the new owners are required to check in and verify the status of their pet just to make sure there is minimized room for any type of abuse or cruelty. Perhaps something that resembles a tracker system for animals that are released back into the wild after being healed in captivity.

  8. jordanpanza29 · ·

    I loved reading this post! I wrote this week on social media and the foster/adoption system for children so I enjoyed reading how these two use similar tactics of getting the message out there in hopes of finding forever homes. I am a huge fan of pet finder. I honestly go on it even though I’m not allowed to have a pet at my future apartment just to look at the cute pets. I find it interesting that pet finder does not do anything to try and keep sibling pets together. Regardless of the animal, it is not listed whether their siblings are at the shelter as well. While I understand it may be impossible for most people to adopt 4 dogs at once, I wish pet finder tried to keep a connection between these animals. The only way you tend to tell if they are siblings are if they have similar names (for example a month ago there was a family of 5 dogs with different types of Cheeses for names).

  9. mollyshields44 · ·

    I did not know much about this topic until your post! I had never considered that adopting pets online could be such a popular business. However, it makes sense and a major life decision such as getting a pet, similar to buying a car or house, requires research and preparation. I think your example of Petfinder is a good one because it allows a user to look at many different types of animals/breeds/ages of pets and make a decision that would have previously been made without as much information. I know when I was younger and went with my parents to get a dog, we went to a friend of a friend’s house without much knowledge, let alone visual assistance, of what we were walking into. I would also be interested to see how much a platform like Petfinder causes potential owners to be more impulsive. Say, like you did with the puppies in your area, you are browsing the website for cute pets. How often to people just decide to go for it? With the information so readily available and enticing there is a much high conversation than my example where my family and I had to make the decision to drive to a house to see the pets and get more information. Great post- thanks for sharing!

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