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Adopt a Pet Online? Here’s How Shelters Are Making It Work

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Like many animal lovers, Lili Chin decided to adopt a pet during the coronavirus pandemic. After the death of her beloved dog Boogie, the author/illustrator of the book “Doggie Language: A Dog Lover’s Guide to Understanding Your Best Friend” and her husband decided to branch into cats.

With COVID-19 raging in Los Angeles, they reached out to the nonprofit Santé D’or Foundation to adopt a pet as safely as possible. Rather than scheduling an in-person home check, Chin hosted a virtual visit via the videoconferencing platform Zoom.

“The main thing she wanted to look at was the windows, so we went from room to room and stopped at every window,” Chin recalls. “She said, ‘Can you push on that screen for me to show me that it’s secure?’ So I pushed on every window screen to show that it was secure.”

Chin also answered questions about litterbox placement, explained that all her indoor plants are fake, and asked questions of her own about available cats. Ultimately, the couple welcomed a bonded pair of cats to into their home: Shimmy and Mambo.

She’s grateful Sante D’or found a creative way to continue pet adoptions during the pandemic and for the chance to connect via Zoom prior to visiting the facility.

“When you go into a rescue and everybody’s got a mask on, you’re only seeing half their face,” she says. “Whereas having that Zoom meeting makes the interaction feel a bit more intimate or real.”

While the pandemic created challenges, it has also illuminated ways technology can help animal shelters and rescue organizations, whether with adoptions, transport, or fundraising. Virtual home inspections are just the start.

The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) in Boston features adoptable animals during “show and tells” nearly every day using Facebook Live, and its training specialists offer Zoom-based dog training sessions.

he Nashville Humane Association hosted a massive Zoom “meet and greet” with adoptable pets – and roughly 3,000 interested adopters – through Pedigree’s “Dogs on Zoom” program. (Find a free digital toolkit for shelters interested in hosting virtual adoption events at MeetYourNewDog.com.)

On the fundraising front, Michigan Animal Rescue League “rents” puppies, kittens, cats, and dogs for Zoom meetings, birthday parties, and happy hours by setting up a camera in a playroom; a 15-minute appearance costs a $50 donation.

In a similar vein, the California nonprofit Sweet Farm offers 10-minute “Goat-2-Meeting” tours of its sanctuary’s farm animals for virtual meetings, parties, and classrooms (fees are determined by the audience).

Adopt-a-Pet.com now offers Rehome, a peer-to-peer pet adoption service to which shelters can refer people looking for a new home for their pet. Adoption fees are then donated to help homeless animals, with nearly $200,000 already donated to local shelters and rescue organizations.

There are so many innovative ways technology can help animal welfare groups that Chris Roy, founder and CEO of Doobert, recently launched the podcast “Animal Innovations Show” to highlight innovative ideas to help animal rescuers. His first guest was Jessica Schleder, who created the digital tool Adoptimize to improve photos of adoptable pets, in part by replacing cluttered backgrounds with solid colors.

Doobert’s website is a terrific resource for connecting shelters and rescues with volunteers who want to foster, transport or photograph pets.

“It’s kind of like Match.com for rescues and shelters, and then volunteer Uber and Airbnb for the rescue pets,” Roy quips. “It helps to connect them all together.”

During the pandemic, Doobert also launched FosterSpace, a foster management platform from which a shelter can send individual or group texts to fosters from the dashboard at Doobert.

There’s been a rise in interest from volunteers during the pandemic, a trend Roy hopes to see continue.

Perhaps the easiest way staff, volunteers, and supporters can use tech to fundraise is simply by walking their own pets with apps like WoofTrax’s Walk for a Dog or the new ResQwalk, which track walk distances and donate accordingly to the walker’s chosen organization.

Clearly, there’s never been a better time to harness the power of technology to save lives – and have fun while doing it!

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

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