By Dr. Becker
About 2.7 animals are adopted from U.S. shelters each year, but an estimated 7.6 million enter them each year as well.1 Most of the animals entering shelters are picked up as strays, but there's still a sizeable portion that end up in shelters after being surrendered by their owners.
Many other pets are surrendered to rescue organizations, friends, and other family members. There are many reasons why people surrender their pets (with moving being the most common),2 but sometimes it's simply because the animal's personality did not mesh with its new family.
According to Patricia McConnell and Karen London, authors of "Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home," "We would love to tell you that every dog can flourish in every home, but the truth is that, no matter what you do, sometimes a dog and family are not a good fit."
When you adopt a pet from a shelter, the reality is that you don't always know what you're going to get. The animal may have been abused or passed from home to home.
Even in the best-case scenario, the animal will be entering a brand new environment, which can be overwhelming, stressful, and downright scary. Most pets, when given the proper love and care, flourish in their new homes, but it can be a challenge for some to get to this point.
Wouldn't it be nice if you could take out some of the guesswork and be matched up to a pet that's just right for you? Well, now you can.
Online Dating Meets Animal Rescue
In 2015, two pet rescue organization veterans, Elizabeth Holmes and Marianna Benko, and veterinarian Coleen Johnston, created the website PawsLikeMe. It uses an algorithm to match people looking for a dog with dogs up for adoption in the area.
Many families looking for pets have used websites like PetFinder to browse through pets at local shelters. PawsLikeMe takes the search a step further by accounting for personality traits in both you and your potential new furry family member, and matching you up accordingly.
The four "core personality traits" considered include energy, focus, confidence, and independence. Your search begins by answering a few questions about yourself, like what your preferred party is (Wild fun? Book club? Outdoors?) and whether you consider yourself creative, intelligent, shy, social, or curious.
You also share what you're looking for in a dog (Active? Devoted? In need of rescue?) and your energy level to find the best potential matches for you.
Environmental factors, such as other pets in your household, whether or not your yard is fenced, how many hours you're at work, and more, are also taken into account.
Anyone, including individuals, shelters, or rescue organizations, can list a pet for adoption on the site. There is a $75 adoption fee charged, half of which is donated to a non-profit organization or veterinary clinic, and the other half of which goes to PawsLikeMe.
Just as with online dating, you shouldn't expect every patch to be "perfect," but the site is worth perusing if you're thinking of expanding your family.
Rather than just choosing a pet based on looks alone, this platform gets you thinking about the dog's personality, energy level, and needs, which could make for fewer owner surrenders and more happy endings. While the site currently only matches up dogs, a cat matching system is reportedly coming soon.
Pet 'Slumber Parties' Help You Get to Know Your Pet Before You Adopt
If making an online match isn't your style, you may be interested in a new program being offered by select animal shelters – sleepovers. Since 2013, more than 1,000 dogs and cats have taken part in one such program at the Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA in Phoenix, Arizona.
The program allows potential adoptees to take a dog home for three days. The adopters fill out some paperwork and are provided with food and other necessities to care for the animal. During the sleepover, the shelter calls the potential adopters to answer any questions.
After the three days are up, the adopter can decide to keep the animal or bring him or her back to the shelter. To date, 73 percent of the pets taking part in this program have been adopted.3
If you've ever adopted a pet, you know the animal you meet at the shelter is often very different from the one who ultimately ends up being your pet. In other words, the once shy or timid dog that cowered in the corner may turn out to be the most affectionate lap dog you've ever owned.
The sleepover programs can help out the underdogs at the shelter, allowing them to show their true colors once they're in a warm home.
On the other hand, it gives people a chance to see how the dog meshes with their family – and if it's not a good match the dog can be brought back to the shelter to receive another chance at long-lasting adoption.
Shelter Volunteers Can Give You Insights Into Adoptable Pets' Personalities
Remember too that no matter what shelter or rescue organization you adopt from, the employees or volunteers will be a valuable resource for learning more about the pets up for adoption.
If the animal only recently arrived, they'll still be learning about his personality too, but if the animal has been there for a while the volunteers will be able to give you insights into his personality, energy level, and, possibly, his background.
Finally, if you adopt a shelter pet that turns out to be different than you expected once home, don't give up. It may take a few weeks – or a few months – but most shelter animals develop into loving and loyal family pets if just given the chance.