From Fido & Rover, to Fergie & Rihanna
How giving rescue dogs celebrity names can help them get adopted faster.
Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie might no longer be best friends, but Paris and Nicole, two chihuahuas who share the celebrities’ names, are. And now that they’ve been adopted by the same person, they’ll be able to remain BFFs forever.
Giving dogs — and other homeless animals — celebrity names is one of the latest marketing tactics used by shelters and rescue organizations. From musicians to actors, models to politicians, adoption organizations are branching out from typical names like Fido, Rover, and Spot and finding inspiration in popular culture. A brief search on Petfinder.com, the largest online database of adoptable pets in North America, shows dozens of adoptable rescue dogs with names like Madonna, Obama, Rihanna, P. Diddy, Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Oprah, Julia Roberts, and Brad Pitt.
Paris and Nicole were strays, found wandering the streets of Fresno, California, before being brought in to Pets in Need, an animal shelter in the San Francisco Bay Area, in February. Chihuahuas, along with pit bulls, are two of the most common types of dogs at shelters, and they’re often handicapped by negative preconceptions about their breeds. Finding homes for them can be challenging; finding a home for two can be even more difficult.
However, Paris and Nicole were at the Bay Area shelter for no more than a month before their new owner scooped them up. Marsa Hollander, the Programs Manager at Pets In Need, is pretty sure their names had something to do with this. “You can’t split up an iconic duo like that,” she told OK Whatever.
If this sounds gimmicky, it’s not. Each year, 3.9 million dogs enter animal shelters nationwide, according to the ASPCA. A little over half of them get adopted and find “furever homes.” The other half are euthanized. If something as simple as naming a Rottweiler “Justin Bieber” or dubbing a pregnant beagle mix “Beyonce” will help get them adopted, it’s no wonder so many shelters have jumped on this bandwagon.
KC Pet Project, the city shelter in Kansas City, Missouri, has had great success finding homes for rescue dogs using celebrity or historical names. They care for over 10,000 animals a year and receive about 30 new ones each day, so helping each pet to stand out is vital. Currently, KC Pet Project has canine residents named after the gangster Al Capone, the actor Danny Devito, the ‘80s cartoon She-Ra, and Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth.
“Over the years, we’ve had a lot of Kansas City Royals players, Friends characters, as well as other popular TV shows or movies at the time, like Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, and Harry Potter,” said Tori Fugate, the shelter’s Chief Communications Officer.
Fugate has noticed that pets named after local Kansas City heroes, especially professional athletes, tend to have the most luck when getting adopted.
“We had a sweet feline leukemia virus (FeLV) positive cat that we named Catrick Mahomes [after the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes]. People loved his name. It really helped him get a lot of attention since FeLV+ cats can often be harder to place for shelters. He ended up finding a new home shortly after we initially posted about him on Instagram.”
Lots of shelters, including KC Pet Project, make it a point to include the names of their pets in social media posts and to tag the famous people they’re named after. Sometimes, Fugate said, they’ll even tag the celebrity’s significant other to really spread the word.
“Those posts end up getting a lot of likes and comments,” she said. “We’ll see a lot of engagement with people tagging their friends to share that animal, which helps the post get noticed more and keeps it relevant.”
At Pets In Need, which adopted out Paris and Nicole, giving celebrity names to rescue dogs has proven time and again to be an effective method for finding animals homes. When cats and dogs enter the shelter, they don’t typically have names, just numerical IDs. It’s up to Hollander and a few other Pets In Need employees to name them before logging them into their system.
“When people go through our aisles looking at the dogs, they always comment on the more creative names,” Hollander said, using “Rosa Barks” as an example. “They kind of zero-in on that animal and look at it a little bit longer than they would with a Bob or a Joe.”
Sometimes naming inspiration comes from how an animal looks or acts. Other times, it’s a matter of the employee’s preferences. Hollander joked that one of her Pets In Need colleagues has a weakness for giving dogs and cats “pole-dancing names, like Misty or Jasmine.”
But, typically, Pets In Need tries to find names that the public will recognize and start a conversation around. In the last year, they named a large-eared, elderly chihuahua after Yoda and a boisterous puppy after Cardi B. Hollander herself is partial to rockstar names.
“During the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, which was last summer, all of the names that I picked out were from artists of that time, like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez,”she said. “And it totally worked. We couldn’t keep enough animals in the shelter because they were all being adopted out! The people that came in that knew the Summer of Love and the artists from that era laughed and reminisced over the names.”
Shelters, of course, realize that most adopters will change their pet’s name after bringing them home. That’s fine because that’s not the point. It’s convincing people to walk through the doors of the shelter that matters most. And if Arnold Schwarzenegger the tabby cat or Fergie the dachshund aren’t the perfect match, there are always plenty of Buddies and Fluffies waiting for their new families, too.