What does it take to go viral on Twitter these days? Just combine a 144-year-old organization, a 42-year-old man and a few cute cats. Ta-da! It’s raining retweets.
Morris Animal Refuge may have been founded in 1874 — making the Center City open-admission animal shelter the oldest in the country — but its social media game is anything but archaic.
You might even say their Twitter and Facebook posts, which can vary from cutesy Christmas-themed updates about pointy-eared puppies to jokes about a wide-eyed kitten being a conspiracy theorist, have been spicy as of late.
The photoshopped memes and clever hashtag word-play challenges have been paying off. Even the mayor’s content director, Josh Kruger, couldn’t withstand the charm (and subsequently discovered his feline soulmate).
Who’s the behind the Morris’ new content production chops?
Dan Solomon is a father and Doctor Who fan who’s been handling social media for the shelter for over a decade now.
Keep it upbeat and use Photoshop if you need to
At first, soft-spoken Solomon doesn’t seem to fit the profile of someone who’d create an irreverently hip digital presence.
After conversing with him, however, his fervent passion for storytelling — and for anything Morris-related — quickly become apparent, and make it is clear why he’s running the show.
The Bronx native was temping in Philly in 2009 when he saw a help wanted ad for an administrative assistant position at an animal shelter. Having loved animals all of his life, Solomon jumped at the chance.
He’s basically learned on the go over the past ten years on social media, he admitted, but also noted that Morris has an advantage: plenty of raw content to work with. Puppies, kittens, cats, dogs, and even rabbits and turtles are always attention-grabbers on the internet.
“I always try to jump on what is fun, what is relevant and what is going to grab attention,” he said. “I’ve basically become acculturated to the platforms, so to speak, so I’m constantly checking up on hashtags and trends.”
By keeping posts upbeat and relentless — retweeting celebrities whenever possible, resharing and curating stories from other popular animal blogs such as The Dodo and asking followers to share their own pet pictures, Solomon has been able to turn people from followers into fans (and, in many occasions, from empty nesters to fur baby parents).
“One of our proudest moments here this year was finally getting Mittens, a gorgeous black cat that we had at the shelter for months, adopted,” Solomon said. “We posted and posted, enticing people with photoshopped pictures and half-funny half-serious anecdotes, waiting for someone to express interest.”
Matchmaking, animal style
Liberty Britton, Morris’ development manager, said the social media spiciness is aligned with a new overall methodology for the shelter.
“As a whole, we’ve changed our approach to adoption in the last three years,” Britton told Billy Penn. “Rather than a strict application, we try to counsel potential candidates to see which animals fit their needs and focus on creating that special match.”
In 2018, the organization decided to be more proactive with their public platforms as part of their outreach strategy, and gave Solomon a long leash.
“Now I’m able to dedicate almost all my time to being extremely online,” he explained.
The ultimate goal of is to get people to physically come by the shelter on 1242 Lombard St. and take home a new family member — and getting in a few laughs and jabs while showcasing the unique personalities of Morris’ feature creatures often seals the deal.
Finding that furever home
Another success story of 2018 was placing a shy, abused, FIV+ senior orange cat named Russ with Josh Kruger, the mayor’s content director.
Kruger, 34, is HIV+ himself, and self-identifies as a formerly homeless an addict in recovery. After seeing posts about Russ, he immediately wanted to take him in, Kruger said, because “I understand what it feels like to be rejected.”
After months of hard work trying to make Russ comfortable, Kruger finally got his new pet to open up. The pair now consider themselves best friends, a development that was greeted with glee by followers of both Kruger and Morris’ Twitter accounts, where they documented the process.
Social media doesn’t get all the credit, Solomon said, but he did point out that in 2018, Morris Animal Refuge’s count of 1,144 homeless pets saved was a lot higher than previous years.
“In 2016, we saved 969 pets, so it’s an 18 percent increase in lives saved in two years,” Britton confirmed.
You can stay updated on adoptables and recent arrivals on Morris’ Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and site, or visit out the shelter, which is open every day except Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Morris’ next fundraising event is at 6 p.m. on Jan. 15 at Urban Village Brewery Company. Tickets are $25.