LOS ANGELES — Sandy the dog "muttbombed" celebrities like Bradley Cooper, Ellen DeGeneres and Brad Pitt as they posed at the Oscars for the now-famous star-studded selfie. That digitally tweaked version of the most retweeted photo ever is a Texas animal rescue's bet that combining cuddly canines and Hollywood stars will entice more social media users to adopt needy pets.
So-called muttbombing, the Photoshopped doggie version of photobombing, where someone slips into a picture without the subject knowing, has proved so popular online it has touched off requests from shelters across the country and overseas on how to launch their own campaigns. With social media increasingly becoming the go-to advertising tool, shelters are rushing to take up the successful strategy and DreamWorks Animation has used it to promote both homeless pets and its new movie starring a cartoon canine.
The adoption campaign by Dallas Pets Alive, a small, all-volunteer rescue, and Dieste Inc., a marketing firm working pro bono, launched Feb. 10. They take the publicly posted Instagram photos of both the glitterati and the girl next door, edit in the friendly face of a dog in need and attach often humorous captions urging adoptions. The Oscars selfie has a caption reading, "I'm Sandy and I'm #muttbombing you in hopes of finding a home."
In another celebrity muttbomb, a pooch named Max sneaked in next to actor Ryan Gosling and asked, "Hey Ryan Gosling, can I follow you home? My parents always told me to follow my dreams." Other photos have featured Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus and Jimmy Fallon.
The goal of the campaign is to boost adoptions and reduce the number of animals that the Dallas pound euthanizes.
Dallas Pets Alive, a nonprofit that started a year-and-a-half ago, takes in animals, fosters them and then finds them forever homes, said executive director Leslie Sans, who runs the rescue out of her house.
The catchy campaign increased traffic to the rescue's Instagram page by 700 percent right away. The hashtag "muttbombing" also reached millions of Twitter users, Sans said.
The attention has helped the rescue find homes for more dogs. Ten were placed the first week of March, compared with just one dog placed the first week of the same month last year.
Dallas Pets Alive found homes for 84 animals in all of 2013. This year, it placed 40 in two months and seven days.
"In all my years, I've never had a campaign with 100 percent positive results," said Carla Eboli, Dieste's chief marketing officer.
Dieste, with offices in New York and Dallas, has gotten calls from 10 animal shelters around the United States and one in the United Kingdom in the last few weeks, "saying they loved muttbombing and wanted to use it, and how do you do it?" Eboli said.
Dallas Pets Alive trademarked the word "muttbomb," but it is sharing how to roll out the campaign with any rescue that asks.
One of the posts quickly got the attention of Hilary Walker, whose public Instagram picture was used in the campaign. But the Dallas interior designer and veteran blogger said the pooch muttbombing her was too big for her to adopt.
"That dog wasn't the right fit for us, but it motivated me and piqued my curiosity," she said. She and her husband already had been thinking of getting a playmate for their rescue dog.
On the nonprofit's website, Walker found a small, short-haired terrier mix named Marlon Brando, who they met Saturday.
"He will be a perfect fit for our house," she said.
Walker says she's a big muttbombing fan. It got her to the website and now she has a new dog.
Sans, the rescue's director, said she doesn't know how it will top muttbombs -- 30 or 40 have been done -- but the plan is to start a Facebook campaign to recruit more foster volunteers. The rescue can place more dogs if there are more temporary homes for them.
Dallas Pets Alive's plan with muttbombing was to "hit every social media outlet we could," Sans said. "The idea was to make noise."
It seems to have worked, with DreamWorks Animation embracing muttbombing on Twitter and Facebook last week ahead of the premiere of "Mr. Peabody & Sherman." The animated film, starring a genius dog, Mr. Peabody, and his adopted human son, Sherman, gave a boost to some homeless dogs in California by editing them into stills with the movie's cartoon stars. A tweet said, "Wally & his friends are #muttbombing #MrPeabody & Sherman in hopes of finding a loving home!"
It even got a shoutout from Dallas Pets Alive: "thanks for using #muttbombing! Best of luck with #MrPeabodyandSherman tomorrow! We all think it's pawsome!"