Smartphone Ethnography: Humane Society of Fairfax County

Up until now, I’ve had some sort of personal association with the places I’ve been going. My professor suggested going somewhere I’m not affiliated with, to compare how another organization might do things differently. So I went to the Humane Society of Fairfax County, where a colleague volunteers.

Their set up is very different from the other groups I work with. Instead of cages, cats live in cat room. There are about 12 open rooms full of cat furniture and toys. Anywhere from 1-6 cats are in each room depending on cat type and temperament.

This is a cool setup; similar to Crumbs & Whiskers, cats who don’t show well at adoption events or in cages can show their true colors off in a more comfortable environment. The number of cats they can keep in their facility is smaller than that of other places though, due to the setup, so while other groups might want to have a similar welcoming arrangement, perhaps they don’t have adequate enough space if taking in a higher volume of animals.

To visit, you need to fill out an application. There is a specific order in which they’ll take you to see the various cat rooms, which is given out as a handout. All of the cats names are listed in the handout by room, which is quite handy. To prevent spread of disease, they ask that you wash your hands and/or use hand sanitzer before entering a new room.

They run a thrift store, which is next door. Proceeds from the thrift store help keep the Humane Society cat rooms in operation. I think as far as rescues go, they seem better funded than the others I’ve seen thanks to the lower volume of cats and the thrift store business.

The downside is that adoption rates don’t seem very high. Although I’ve heard great things about the Fairfax County Animal Shelter, I hadn’t heard much about HSFC outside of my friend that volunteers. I’m told they don’t do much advertising. Their cats don’t ever leave the facility for events the way that other rescues and Humane Societies will to gain exposure. Many of their cats have lived with them for 4+ years, and some unfortunately get returned. In a way, the HSFC seems more like a cat hospice than a cat rescue.

Facebook is new to them. Despite that, they’re doing very well with engagement, based on my own observations. I looked at the total number of fans to their page, individual post likes, and determined that they have a more active fan base than other rescues’ FB pages that I looked at. Occasionally Only Maine Coons Rescue will courtesy post Maine Coon mixes for them, and that has historically been successful. Hopefully that’s encouragement for them to increase their online efforts; at present, their PetFinder bios are generally brief and tell the reader simply to visit HSFC’s website.

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