The story behind Front Street Animal Shelter’s viral “Pettlebell” video

The Front Street Animal Shelter is known for getting creative in its efforts to save homeless pets, and its viral social-media video “The Pettlebell” is no exception.

An infomercial spoof that plays on the word “kettlebell,” the video features adoptable pets helping owners get in shape through resistance training and cardio workouts that range “from easy to difficult.”

Launched March 2, the video has received 5.7 million views and more than 18,000 comments.

City Express spoke with Ryan Hinderman, the shelter’s Public Information Coordinator and creator of the video, to find out how the video came to be.

Q: What was the purpose behind “The Pettlebell” video?

A: It was twofold. The first was to help Front Street gain new followers and to give existing followers something fun and entertaining. Because we often post about sad stories and emergencies, we like to mix it up to show that animal shelters can also be a fun, inspiring place.

The second was to raise awareness about the many benefits of pet adoption.

Q: This video is more creative than what you usually see come from a municipal organization. What inspired you to take a risk? 

A: Just because an organization is government run doesn’t mean it can’t be fun or creative. We’re very fortunate that our shelter manager, Gina Knepp, is supportive of creativity and innovation, and is always game to try an idea, even if it sounds a little crazy at first.

Q: Were you surprised at the community’s response and the number of views?

A: Yes! When I hit publish I guessed it would reach 500,000-1,000,000 people, but the post has since reached over 12 million people.

Q: Why do you think the video went viral?

A: I think because it focused on two things that nearly everyone can relate to – pets and fitness. A huge driver of the video was the comments. Currently there are over 18,000, the majority of which are people tagging friends saying things like, “Now THIS is a workout I’d actually do!”

Q: How long did it take to make the video?

A: It took a couple days and several locations to shoot all the shots, and another couple days to edit.

Q: Is it based on any specific infomercial?

A: No, but we watched lots of cheesy infomercials on YouTube to get ideas for types of shots, facial expressions, and editing tricks.

Q: Are those Front Street employees in the video?

A: The video features several Front Street employees and interns, as well as members of the local gym, The Academy, which graciously allowed us to film on premises.

Q: How did you pick the pets to be in the video?

A: We picked pets we thought would have the right disposition. The white puppy lying on the back of the man doing push-ups is actually one of our staff members’ dogs and is very well trained. The kitten used for the arm curls was one of the only kittens we had at the time, and had also been in foster care, so she was well socialized. We found a puppy who would grab the leash and “walk” the actress to encourage “easy” cardio, and another dog who was a hard puller on leash for the “difficult” setting.

Q: How would you recommend other organizations come up with engaging content like this?

A: For me the key is creative brainstorming sessions. Taking the time to sit, get in a fun creative flow, and throw a bunch of ideas out there (whether good or bad) is how you eventually find the gold. I was also lucky to have our very creative intern, Nikki Potter, help in coming up with ideas for the video.