Shining a Light on Senior Pets

Published Nov 2016, Updated January 2024: Grey-faced and mature pets sometimes encounter a bit of a challenge when it comes to adoption. Perhaps it’s our very human reaction to try and protect our hearts from the impending loss of a pet. Maybe older pets force us to come to terms with our own mortality in a new way. Whatever the reason, with the right marketing approach it is possible to help our communities see the great value, varied personalities, and amazing companionship that senior pets can add to our lives.


Download this Tip Sheet below

To get people rethinking the stereotypes they may have about senior pets, in 2016 HeARTs Speak member Ana Deshpande reimagined the stories we tell about older animals by pairing them with high school seniors for a series called the Seniors for Seniors project. The idea came to Ana after a photo session with high school senior named Brody, and his four-legged best friend Dozer.

“I realized that high school seniors are at a turning point in their lives and will soon be making their own decisions. I hope that one day they will choose to adopt a senior pet who is also at a turning point in its life,” said Ana. “I wanted more people to realize what an awesome thing they would be doing by adopting a senior pet. They make the perfect “first pets” because they’re mellow (most of the time!), often potty trained, and so, so loving. You can see in their soulful eyes how much they appreciate you giving them a second chance at life.”

With that in mind, Ana began soliciting high school seniors to pose for portraits with senior shelter pets and was blown away by the response. “I’m still getting inquiries from high schoolers who want to participate!” she said. The high schoolers became instant advocates, each of them choosing the pet they wanted to pose with and even getting to name them: Several students asked their parents to adopt the senior pets, and one participant went to check on her senior model at the shelter following the photo shoot. “The high school seniors instantly fell in love with the dogs they chose to work with and got to see first hand that senior pets are just as fun as puppies.”

With that in mind, here are some top tips for giving marketing for your elderpets a fresh spin:

Brushed up and ready for a home: A little grooming and cleaning up goes a long way, especially for sending the message that an older pet is healthy and vibrant. Be sure to comb out any knots and wipe the eyes of your furry model before the photo session!

Put personality front and center: Try to capture personality by including people, toys or activities that capture the animal’s true nature! And when all else fails, a good name helps to frame the pet in someone’s mind (Ana’s high school models came up with great names: Felix, Lily, Granny, and Oliver to name a few!).

Subtly dismiss myths: Writing bios can be challenging, and it’s hard not to fall into the trap of stereotyping every older pet as sitting in a rocker and looking for a couch to grow old on. But in reality, we know that senior pets have a variety of personalities and needs, so choose a description that honors who each one is as an individual. Try playing with language to get your point across! (Ex: “I’m here to say that 10 is the new 2!”)

Use humor and honesty:  Humor is a great tool to lighten the mood and disarm someone who may have trepidation about adopting an older pet. Even more important, however, is speaking from the heart to help give a clear and accurate picture of each pet. (Example: “Berkeley could be a model for an anti-ageing company!,” “Granny enjoys sleeping in her own diva bed”)

Use community partners to spread the word! Ana was inspired and surprised by the response her project has gotten: “The HS seniors had the biggest smiles on their faces the whole time and every one of them had a hard time saying goodbye…I can say for sure that the high school seniors I worked with will consider adopting a senior pet in the future.” Think outside the box when brainstorming about partnerships —you just might be creating the next generation of adopters!

Dive into more resources to get senior pets home faster!

Posted in
Caitlin Quinn

Caitlin Quinn

Caitlin is passionate about working with shelters and rescues to reimagine the way they tell their stories and connect with new audiences. She has served in the animal welfare field since 2008 and early on had the honor of working closely with diverse organizations across the U.S. to maximize resources, redesign policies, and find life-changing marketing solutions. In 2015, she got her MPA with a concentration in nonprofit management and in 2021, she began teaching marketing + communications for the University of Florida Master of Veterinary Science, Concentration in Shelter Medicine program. She lives in NY with a petite brindle pit bull named Sally who owns her heart.