What Working at a Senior Dog Rescue Taught Me About Sales & Marketing

What Working at a Senior Dog Rescue Taught Me About Sales & Marketing

Around 5 years ago, in between startup jobs, I worked at a place called Muttville Senior Dog Rescue. Muttville is, as the name implies, a dog rescue focusing on dogs 7 and older, and they adopt out an impressive 1000 dogs a year.

I know a lot of you clicked on this post for cute dog photos - here's one of my favorite dogs from my time at Muttville, Al Freddo.

In order to do that, they had to get pretty good at sales & marketing. Here are some things I picked up in my short stint there:

Find Your Buyer

Not all products are for everyone, and not all dogs are for everyone either. Some adopters should adopt younger dogs - they want a high energy companion who they can take on hikes. Some adopters should adopt older dogs - they want a calm, potentially pre-trained dog to snuggle with on the couch.

If you’re “selling” senior dogs, you’ll need to figure out what types of people would be a good match for them. For instance, senior people tend to be a good match for senior dogs. Also a good match: people with busy schedules who don’t have time to fulfill a high energy dog’s exercise needs.

Once you know who’s most likely to buy, you can tailor the rest of your sales & marketing motions towards them. For instance, Muttville has multiple outreach initiatives focusing on connecting senior humans with senior dogs.

Does everyone want a chihuahua with a crooked smile like Half Pint? No, but someone did - and that's all that mattered.

Put Your Best Foot (or Paw!) Forward

At Muttville, we were encouraged to spend as much time with the dogs as possible to learn their personality traits, and find things about them that could appeal to potential adopters. When we were getting to know the dogs, we were trying to figure out why certain adopters may want to adopt a particular dog over another one we had available.

This meant that when an adopter walked in and told us what they wanted, we could point them to the dogs that matched their preferences, making them much more likely to leave with a dog. If they only saw dogs that didn't fit their "use case" first then they were more likely to assume we didn't have what they needed and walk away.

When showing off a complicated product, it's not much different. You need to know the ins and outs of the product and be able to match them with your potential buyer to make sure they see the best things first. If you waste time demoing features they don't need, they won't stick around to see the rest.

Sometimes, what your buyer wants is two dogs, like in the case of Pecan & Macademia.

Storytelling Matters

Which sounds better?

“This is Starfish. Starfish loves to have her belly rubbed, and be around people.”


“When you wish upon a Starfish, all your dreams come true. Literally! Just make your wish, rub her belly, and the universe will deliver. Especially if your wish is to have the cutest, softest, sweetest companion living right in your very own house – but also all other wishes. After all, if your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme. You can’t argue with logic like that.”

This is Starfish, by the way.

At Muttville, we took writing the online profiles very seriously. Though we had open adoption events, most people looked at our website to figure out if we currently had any dogs they were interested in before deciding to attend an event. The stories needed to have a few things: help the dogs stand out and have aspects that a potential adopter could connect to.

Storytelling when it comes to selling a product isn't much different. While buyers would like to think they're making logical decisions 100% of the time, it's just not true - buying is, in part, emotion-driven. Simply listing features isn't enough. Instead, you need to craft a richer story around your product to help the buyer fall in love (or, at least, be interested enough to move the sales process to the next step).

Nail the Visuals

A lot of people shop with their eyes - this is especially true when it comes to something like senior dogs. Muttville takes their visuals pretty seriously, making sure to have a photoshoot with dogs as soon as possible so they can put their best paw forward on the website.

Here’s are some of the current dogs on the website - don’t they look great? Doesn’t it make you want to run out and adopt all of them?

Chamomile, Marty, Tito and Rembrandt

They also make sure to include candid, real-world shots, so potential adopters can picture what the dog is like on a typical day, not just when they're all glammed up. Some people want to see the glamour shots, others like the candids - but having both has proven to be the right strategy.

While Muttville has a relatively easy job in figuring out what appeals to potential adopters visually - cute, happy dogs - it may be a bit harder with other products.

Some things to consider when it comes to picking the right imagery for your website:

  • Is your product inherently attractive to potential buyers? This will mean different things to different groups - maybe you need to look sleek and modern, maybe you need to look straightforward and simple.
  • Will product screenshots convey what you want, or do you need to create supplemental imagery to help get your point across? The style of any supplemental imagery needs to be considered, and matched to the buyer as well.
  • Is your product best shown off through still images, videos, animations or a mix?
  • Are you able to create the visuals you want, or do you need outside assistance - there's no shame in outsourcing to get the result you need!


When it comes to sales & marketing, some lessons are universal - know who wants your product, and why. Once you know that, most other things will fall into place.

P.S. The dogs in the cover photo are Coffee Buzz Buzz and Hostess.