Dogs in your inbox



The Mayhew Animal Home - Willesden, NW London
A dog and cat shelter rehoming about 6 dogs/month and handling 100+ calls/month.
☹️ Low percentage of returning website visitors

My role

Website and Digital Officer
User research, wireframing, prototyping, design and project management of development.

User persona

John, 47
Small business owner, lives within 10 miles


Adopt a - preferably - young black labrador as a family dog.

Point of contact

  • Website
  • Does not follow us on social media.

User feedback

User feedback collected by reception and the Adoption Officer frequently matched John’s request:

"I want you to call me when you have a young Labrador available for adoption."

But did he really? This was, after all the most requested service and users should know what they want.

Call me maybe?

“The first rule of UX Design is: don’t listen to your users” -Jakob Nielsen

This is not to say don’t listen to feedback but more about not listening to what the user is actually saying and instead try and find out why they are saying it.

But first, just for the sake of argument, let’s check if this idea would be feasable at all. From a business standpoint the short answer is: no.

  • We have 1-2 people on reception (busy with several other tasks) and a single Dog Adoption Officer (similarly busy).

We could train volunteers to handle these calls of course but then other questions arise:

  • Do we do first come first served?
  • Or do we have to do a phone screen when they ‘sign up’ and try and ascertain through the phone what kind of owners they would be (or if they even qualify for adopting a dog)?
  • This was pre-GDPR but even then maintaining a database for this purpose is messy
  • How would we know if someone is no longer interested in adopting?
  • And of course, phonecalls cost money.

Making a bunch of phonecalls is just not a feasible way of widening the adopter pool.

John’s pain points

  • The search for a dog to adopt can be a very lengthy process, especially if you are looking for a specific pedigree breed other than Staffordshire Terriers. Other needs such as being good with cats and/or children can further narrow down his pool.
  • There’s no real central database that can show him all dogs available in shelters. This results in him having to periodically check several shelters’ websites.
  • Every shelter is on a different schedule when they add new dogs to their websites and some don’t even have one at all, hence if one is looking for a popular breed such as a Labrador and check the site a day after a Lab has been added, chances are that dog’s already been adopted.

Defining the real problem

“Call me when…” just means:

  • I’m too busy to check your website all the time along with a handful of others
  • I really don’t want to miss out on the dog I’m looking for
  • I want to know as soon as you have a dog I’d like

These all indicate the need for an alert system so they can be among the firsts to be notified. For this, from a technical perspective, an automatic email system that’s easy to plug into the website is the best solution and the fairest to all potential adopters.

The Idea

We’ve decided to try out an email listing sign up form that had low development costs and close to no running costs. These alerts were then sent out every time an animal’s profile was published on the site.

Placement options we’ve considered:

  • Bottom of the dog listing page to intercept people skimming all listings and are about to close the page at the end of an unsuccessful search.
  • Sidebar of a dog’s profile page as these pages are also frequent exit pages. This real estate was already too crowded with other, more important information.


Within its first year we’ve achieved over 1000 subscribers and a consistent growth of 15% month-to-month along with a hefty rise in returning visitors to the dog listing page.

Staff was happy because they could just direct people online to the sign up form.

Adopters were happy because they got immediately notified the moment a dog was up for adoption.

Dogs were happy, well, because they were all good boys and girls. And also because due to the rise in returning potential adopters to the website the days they spent in kennels were cut shorter.

Ways to improve

Allow for filters to be set when signing up (i.e. ‘can live with cats or children’, ‘breed’ etc.)

😺 Catnotes

Whilst the CTA has been added to the cat listing pages as well due to the nature of cat adoptions (people usually only have a preference of colour and age) and the relatively high volume of cats the Mayhew have had, the cat alerts were less successful but still was in constant use by hundreds of users every month.