More than 3 million Facebook users have expressed an interest in "storming" Area 51 to find aliens — but a couple of enterprising animal shelters are hoping they'll end up adopting pets dressed as aliens instead.
To take advantage of the online buzz surrounding the classified facility located on a Nevada military base, Oklahoma City Animal Welfare, a municipal shelter, shared a post that featured some of their dogs dressed in tinfoil hats on July 19.
"Come storm our shelter... We have great animals ready to protect you from the Area 51 aliens," it said. "Adoption isn’t that far out of this world!"
In another post from July 20, the Longview Animal Care and Adoption Shelter in Longview, Texas, showed staff and animals dressed up in funny, bright-colored costumes.
"Do you want to storm Area 51 and find aliens?" asked the tongue-in-cheek post. "You can do that right here... We won't resist, you can take them all!"
Both posts went viral, amassing thousands of shares, comments and likes. And the timing couldn't have been better.
John Gary, the superintendent for Oklahoma City Animal Welfare, said the shelter takes in almost 22,000 animals during the course of the year — and most of that intake happens in the summer.
"Cats have a breeding season, so we start seeing a lot of kittens in shelters," he said, noting that there is also a slight increase in puppies. "We see an increase in intake due to the amount of strays being noticed and brought in by the public. And unfortunately, people tend to surrender their pets more during the summer. A lot of people move during the summer months, go on vacation, things like that."
Chris Kemper, the animal services manager for the Longview Care and Adoption Center, said the Texas-based center had a similar problem. When they shared their post, the shelter was at almost 100% capacity, and it was paired with a special deal on low adoption fees to increase adoption rates. He said it wasn't unusual for the shelter to do a themed post, but this one was by far the most popular.
"Right now, of course, the hot thing on social media is to storm Area 51," Kemper said. "I have several staff members who follow the memes, the funny things on Facebook, and one of them came up with the idea of, 'Wouldn't it be fun if we made the animals look like aliens?'"
An employee volunteered to make costumes for the animals, and a week later, the post was ready to go.
"We're always looking for unique ideas that help us get animals adopted, and anything we can do to get animals adopted works," Kemper said. "So we dressed the animals up like aliens. We thought we'd get people into the facility to adopt animals — but we never, in our wildest dreams, thought that we'd end up with 30,000 shares and a million people reached."
Both shelters said the posts have helped clear their shelters during a busy time. Almost every animal from the Oklahoma City Animal Welfare's post has been adopted. And Longview Care and Adoption Center's viral post, paired with its low adoption fee over the weekend, meant that many people adopted pets from the shelter, which was nearly "at capacity" before, according to Kemper.
The "plan" to storm Area 51 first emerged on the internet in mid-July. Since then, more than 1.9 million Facebook users have marked themselves as "going," with another 1.4 million "interested." The Sept. 20 event seems to be a joke, but officials from the U.S. Air Force have taken the step of warning away any interested parties, telling NBC News that "any attempt to illegally access the area is highly discouraged."
Both shelter officials laughed at the idea of the event but said they were glad it has brought so much attention to the animals looking for homes.
"Something like this — you never know if it's gonna work," said Kemper. "You have ideas that you put together, and you think, 'Well, that didn't work.' But this worked out far better than what we thought. It killed with the cuteness."
"We've reached over 1 million people on Facebook," said Gary. "It's by far and away the largest post we've ever had with any of our social media. The public support has just been incredible."