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When a trio of 10-year-old cats came to the Fairfax County Animal Shelter in November, shelter staff hoped to see even one of them adopted before the New Year. As animals get older, their adoption prospects plummet.

After a slew of December promotions by the shelter, though, brothers Tinker, Tigger and Carrots all found homes for the holidays.

The cats were a few of the almost 200 pets adopted in December in one of the best months on record for the animal shelter. However, after a month of success, shelter staff is gearing up for the annual spike in animal drop-offs.

“Right now we’re doing really well, but we know historically that we get a spike after the holidays,” said Kristen Auerbach, the shelter’s director of communications and outreach. “People bring home pets in December, and then everybody goes back to work and school and they find that they have a lot less time to care for them.”

That makes January a notoriously bad month for pets and a busy month for the shelter. However, even amidst the push to promote adoptions, shelter staff did their part in December to ensure that each adopted animal found a home not for now but forever.

Individuals or families visiting the shelter were encouraged to visit one-on-one with available animals. Volunteers offered adoption counseling to help people decide what type and age of pet would fit in their home.

“We have about 200 volunteers, and one of their main jobs is to help match people up with the right pet for their family,” Auerbach said. “Our primary goal is to make a match that’s going to work.”

All adopters have access to a resource helpline. Each adopter also receives a follow-up phone call or e-mail from the animal shelter within two weeks of the adoption.

“We want to help connect our adopters with resources they need,” said Tawny Hammond, the director of the animal shelter. “As we planned our holiday promotions and programs, a big part of our focus was on the adoption counseling and follow-ups. That makes our success.”

The shelter’s holiday promotions focused on bringing attention to animals that have more trouble getting adopted. For the month of December, the shelter offered half-price adoption fees for all adult animals, to encourage people to look at older dogs and cats versus puppies and kittens.

Also, free gift bags were offered with each adopted pet. The gift bags, purchased by the Friends of Fairfax County Animal Shelter, included toys and treats catered to the type of animal, from cats and dogs to guinea pigs and hamsters.

“People came out in huge numbers,” Auerbach said. “The shelter was crowded more often than not with people bringing home pets for the holidays.”

The shelter also ran a promotion called “12 Days of Adoptables,” featuring 12 pets that had their adoption fees waived Dec. 12-23. This special shined a spotlight on the shelter’s oldest pets, or those who had remained in the shelter’s care the longest. Nine of the 12 pets found homes, including the cats Tinker, Tigger and Carrots.

“That was a really great triumph of the promotion, for all those cats to find loving homes for the holidays,” Auerbach said.

The holiday promotions are not over yet. Adoption fees for guinea pigs are waived through Jan. 15.

The successful month of December capped the most successful year ever for the animal shelter, with almost 1,800 animals adopted. According to Auerbach, the shelter saw the number of dog adoptions double and the number of cat adoptions increase significantly.

With the help of more than 100 rescue organization partners, the animal shelter had an overall placement rate of 92 percent.

kyanchulis@fairfaxtimes.com