ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Some people think a house doesn’t truly become a home until a pet joins the family. 

Now, a Pinellas County Realtor is offering both to local prospective real estate buyers.

What You Need To Know

  • Local Realtor DJ Soucy offers to pay clients' pet adoption fees

  • Soucy has partnered with St. Pete's Pet Pal Animal Shelter

  • All homebuyer adoptions are subject to the same process as any Pet Pal adoption

DJ Soucy first got involved in advocating for rescue animals back in his hometown of Boston in 1997. When he moved to the Tampa Bay area three years ago, Soucy—with a background in the hospitality and finance industries—wasn’t even sure what he wanted to do for a living, but he knew he wanted to continue to spread the gospel of pet adoption.

“Rescuing dogs has been a passion of mine for many years,” he says.

Soucy went into real estate and, a few months ago, combined his job with his joy and launched the Four-Legged Home Program.

“This year I decided, if I’m spending all this time helping people buy and sell the perfect home, why don’t I throw a little help the four-legged way?”

The program offers homebuyers who close with Soucy or one of the three other members of his team an opportunity to adopt a dog or cat from St. Petersburg’s Pet Pal Animal Shelter, with Soucy footing the bill for adoption fees. The buyers have a six-month window in which to get settled and decide whether or not they want to add a new member to their family; if they opt not to adopt, Soucy will still make a donation in the amount of the adoption fees to Pet Pal in their name. If someone opts to adopt a cat—a much cheaper option, fee-wise, than adopting a dog—he donates the difference in cost, as well.

“I don’t put a tight timeline on it,” he says. “It’s not like they have to decide now.”

While the little “Free Dog With Every Home Sold” slogan that hangs below his For Sale signs in front of Pinellas houses has inspired a little social-media backlash among some local animal rights advocates who think he’s sending the wrong message about animal adoption, Soucy makes it clear he’s not just giving animals away willy-nilly. Every interested party must undergo the same application and interview process that Pet Pal employs for any adoption, and the shelter has the final say.

“I appreciate their passion,” he says of online critics. “I’m not handing out dogs to people. It’s 100 percent up to Pet Pal, and their standards and procedures.”

Soucy says he chose Pet Pal simply because he was most familiar with their practices, and also because it’s a non-profit, no-kill shelter that’s completely funded by charitable donations.

“I thought that maybe I should go to a county [facility] that does put dogs down,” he says. “But the more I thought about it, well, that’s part of what Pet Pal does, they work with other shelters to get dogs out of those shelters. So if I’m helping Pet Pal, it’s still a part of that chain of achieving the same goal.”

"DJ Soucy Group with Keller Williams Realty St. Pete, reached out to our shelter at the end of September in regards to a fundraising/marketing campaign where DJ Soucy Group would cover the adoption fee of an adoptable dog from our shelter for their clients looking to rescue a dog," says Pet Pal's Gracie Grieshop in a statement. "DJ Soucy visited us shortly afterwards for a tour, made a monetary donation and a donation to Sponsor a Kennel. He has visited us a couple more times already with more donations and we are very grateful for his support, generosity, and for sharing the love about our organization."

Pet Pal Executive Director Scott Daly accepts a donation from DJ Soucy. (Image courtesy of Pet Pal Animal Shelter)

Despite initial worries and a slight slump at the beginning of the lockdown, the real estate market in Tampa Bay has seen an uptick during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing Soucy, who does business as a Keller Williams franchisee, to make some substantial donations to Pet Pal over the last couple of months. His project has also caught the attention of other shelters and realtors, and he wants to encourage his peers in other markets to form their own partnerships with local rescues.

“Make it a friendly competition,” he says.

Since launching the Four-Legged Home Program, most of his clients have opted to have a donation made in their name rather than adopting a new pet; after all, these are people who are already making a major life change. But the shelter still benefits, and Soucy’s creative initiative is still making local homebuyers, and the general public beyond, more aware of the subject of adopting shelter animals.

“It’s all about highlighting and bringing attention to the need,” he says. “I think that’s how you solve any problem.”