collage of senior citizens posing with shelter pets in front of a prom backdrop
Graphic by Caren Harris

High school is a distant memory for most residents of the Western North Carolina Baptist retirement home and StoneCreek Health & Rehabilitation center in Asheville. But when the local shelter needed help promoting its “senior prom,” several animal- loving elders answered the call.

Wearing their fanciest clothes and with freshly styled hair, they showed up at the Asheville Humane Society on a Friday in early June. There, against a backdrop of deliberately over-thetop streamers and balloons, the senior models posed with some of the shelter’s older cats and dogs for a slew of yearbook-worthy photos.

The pictures were a hit with the shelter’s Facebook fans, and local news sites were quick to share the promotion, which touted discounted adoption fees for pets 5 years and older. When prom day debuted a week later, several of the shelter’s previously overlooked wallflowers waltzed out of their kennels and cages and into new homes.

They included Critter, a 14-year-old black cat, and Jenny, an 8-year-old mixed-breed dog who had been waiting three months for someone to give her a chance, says Heather Hayes, AHS marketing manager. “Her photo appeared in our senior prom promotion, and she was adopted right away!”

The idea for the promotion surfaced last year, after staff from the Buncombe County adult protective services division invited the shelter to participate in a June walk for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Adam Cotton, AHS manager of strategic alliances, had been mulling ways to increase senior pet adoptions and was quick to recognize an opportunity for cross-promotion.

The shelter advertised the walk on its social media pages, and this year, Cotton and senior dog Leia led the more than 100 human participants around the path at a local park. Meanwhile, the walk’s organizers, which include several adult services nonprofits and elder living facilities, promoted the shelter and its adoption event.

“Shelters need to recognize that they are not in a bubble,” Cotton says. “There’s a community around them that’s working so hard for so many different important causes. ... Finding ways to get animals adopted while also seeking out ways to help other organizations is only a good thing.”

a senior dog
Jenny, who had been waiting three months for someone to give her a chance, was adopted right away. Photo by Art Grand

Now in its second year, senior prom has resulted in the adoptions of at least 13 animals during a time of year when the shelter’s gray-muzzled set gets overshadowed by its puppy and kitten residents, Hayes says.

And the prom photo shoot is a feel-good experience for its human participants, who enjoy the opportunity to dress up and interact with animals, she adds. “They just come in, and they’re beaming.”

That joy and vitality, captured on camera, is part of what makes the promotion so successful.

“The way people see senior animals is, ‘Oh, they’re older; they don’t have as much to offer as a young kitten or puppy,’” says Hayes. “But everyone knows the cool grandma who’s really active and fun and funny. You pair them together, it gives people a different perspective on senior animals— that they have so much to offer, too.”

About the Author

Julie Falconer

Julie Falconer is a senior editor at the Humane Society of the United States. She’s passionate about a wide range of animal protection topics, which she writes about for HumanePro, All Animals magazine and She is a longtime volunteer with rescue and animal advocacy organizations and spends much of her free time immersed in trap-neuter-return for community cats—which means her car is perpetually filled with traps, carriers, cases of canned food and cat hair. She lives in Maryland with her partner and they share their home with a neurotic hound mix, three cats (one of whom they can pet) and an assortment of foster animals.


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