Furkids Animal Rescue and Shelters in Atlanta marks its 15th anniversary in 2017—so in 2016, staffers preemptively dubbed it “BEST YEAR EVER” on the shelter’s website. That positive, tongue-in-cheek approach to sheltering paid off when Furkids’ equally cheery online commercial went viral at the start of—you guessed it—its best year ever.
Entirely improvised and filmed by volunteer Helen Preston and her brother, contractor Paul Preston, the “Kitty Kommercial” was posted to YouTube on Dec. 23, 2016—but largely forgotten until an anonymous fan posted it on link-sharing site Reddit on Jan. 4.
The satirical blend of car dealership commercial, daytime infomercial and animal nonprofit advertisement made Reddit’s “front page,” considered the holy grail of Reddit. Redditors loved Paul, who one commenter described as “a hidden comedic gem,” and marketing manager Nicole Neill, who played the part of the inflatable dancing (wo)man found outside car dealerships.
“We’ve got everything you could possibly want in a furry life companion! You like black cats? We’ve got the blackest cats you’ve ever seen—it’s like midnight inside a coffin over here,” deadpans Preston in the commercial, before introducing “the sleepiest kitties you’ve ever seen,” bragging that “all of our cats are self-cleaning” and singing a rendition of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.” Paul also makes a pitch for the facility’s lone dog, who was abandoned outside Furkids that day and awaiting his ride to Furkids’ dog facility, says Furkids founder Samantha Shelton.
“Coming on Reddit to start the day without finding out a country had a natural disaster or some sort of governmental problem or terrorist attack and instead getting an adorable video—it’s going to be a good day,” said one commenter, although fellow shelters and rescues watched the video with more practical eyes. From across the country, Shelton received emails asking “‘Where do I get that cat wheel?’ ‘What’s that food station that you use?’” (Perhaps the Prestons should take product placement bids for the next video?)
Helen and Paul filmed at the end of a busy Saturday, and Shelton’s first thought on viewing the commercial was “Well, wait a minute, there’s food on the floor!” she says. “I would’ve had the floor swept!” But she thinks such “natural, good humor” and “authenticity” are what sparked the outpouring of love and support. “It’s such a funny thing,” she says. “We tried so hard in other ways to reach people. It’s just magical. It just happens when it’s going to happen—when it’s supposed to happen.”
Shelton says adoption applications have increased by 50 percent and Amazon wish list donations have increased by 80 percent since the video’s debut. “We’re going through [donated Amazon boxes], and some of the messages we’re seeing are ‘Humor is always perfect in every situation’ and ‘We’re so glad that you’ve taken such an important message and made it happy,’” she says, adding that shelters and shelter animals are sometimes undeservedly stigmatized.
Now nearing 5 million views, the goal of the viral video was “really just to show that animal shelters are happy places” with “wonderful” animals, says Shelton. “Some are very happy places, like ours.”