When 77 people showed up at Minneapolis animal control in February to adopt a puppy that had been nearly mailed to Atlanta in a box, shelter officials realized they needed to draw attention to the dozens of other animals waiting for a home.
They couldn't replicate the media furor around Guess, the puppy whose buyer was arrested after she tried to mail him as a birthday gift. But shelter program coordinator Jeanette Wiedemeier Bower thought the Internet might help get the word out.
"Why not use social media?" she said. "A lot of people don't know ... they might find their next best friend at the shelter."
That decision to promote adoptable pets and strengthen ties to rescue groups through Facebook and Twitter put the Minneapolis shelter on track to triple adoptions this year. More than 1,200 animals were adopted through September of this year, compared to 523 adoptions in 2010.
As an impound facility for the city, the shelter takes every animal that is brought in. Though animal intakes are up 26 percent so far this year -- more than 4,000 animals will go through the shelter by year's end -- the euthanization rate is down.
"We are very, very pleased," Wiedemeier Bower said.
The effort is reaching people like Lisa Forsell of south Minneapolis, whose family adopted a shelter cat about two weeks ago.
"I love the immediacy of all the digital channels, and I used them knowing that I was ready to bring a pet into my house soon," Forsell said.
Bloomington's animal shelter posts a "Pet of the Week" on the city website. Animal control officer Jacob Young said the feature has worked well.
"We have seen success with animal adoptions," he said. "We don't keep numbers, but ... the younger people have seen the animals online."
Some residents have signed up for e-mail alerts about adoptable animals. "People don't have to come here, they can sit from home and look at the animal and decide if they're interested," Young said.
Minneapolis, too, tweets a "Pet of the Week" and features the same animal on the city's Facebook page. They get the strongest response of any city communication in social media, a city spokesman said. Wiedemeier Bower said that 24 of 27 Pets of the Week have been adopted.
The animal shelter has begun posting adoptable dogs and cats on Petfinder.com, and people have gone to the shelter after seeing cats and dogs posted on a Facebook page called Friends of Minneapolis Animal Care & Control. The page was created to build bridges with rescue groups it relies on to place animals, and allows volunteers who work with the animals to describe their behavior.
While some animals go up for adoption after being held for seven days, many of the dogs that come in are pit bulls, which are released only to approved rescue groups. Those groups screen dogs for temperament and also vet potential adopters for good homes.
Wiedemeier Bower said the shelter is working with 24 rescue groups this year, compared to 16 last year, which has boosted the adoption rate.
"After an animal has been adoptable for 48 hours, rescue groups step in," she said.
They wanted an adult cat
Forsell had been watching the shelter's Facebook page and signed up for city e-mails. Her family's cat died last year, and Forsell, her husband and 12-year-old daughter, Claire, decided they would adopt a cat this fall.
A couple of weeks ago, she visited the shelter by herself and then took her daughter. They wanted an adult cat -- "We know kittens can find homes," she said -- and spent some time opening cages and getting to know the animals.
They agreed on the since-christened Cosmo, a gray-and-white cat they believe is about 18 months old. Cosmo is still getting used to the family's two dogs but enjoys cuddling with the humans in the family.
"He's all about the attention, and that's what we loved about him," Forsell said.
Forsell, who has adopted pets from rescue groups before, said that until she began following the shelter on social media she didn't know they did adoptions. She was impressed that for two months, the shelter kenneled dozens of pets at no cost for North Side residents who were affected by the tornado.
She wanted to adopt from the shelter.
"They're doing a great service to the city that I love living in," she said.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380