March 01, 2001

 

 Clients can find a pet on the Net

Posted Feb. 15, 2001

Animal shelters are literally overflowing with homeless companion animals. Responsible animal shelters have long made it their goal to find the best-suited owners for animals in need of loving homes. In the past few years, the in-home convenience of the Internet has taken the process of looking for the family pet to a whole new level.

The Internet offers shelters and rescue groups a unique opportunity to increase adoptions and reduce euthanasia through promotion of adoptable pets, as well as the opportunity to provide information and guidance to prospective adopters. This information can be viewed 24 hours a day, and the prospective adopters can educate themselves on specific breeds, complete a potential adopter's checklist, review an adoption application, and get hours of operation and information about the shelter before making their first visit to meet the animal.

Finding Woodie and Jasmine was as easy as pointing and clicking. Dr. and Mrs. Vogel took a trip on the Internet before taking a trip to Virginia to adopt their Siamese cats.

Internet and otherwise, it is the norm for shelters and veterinarians to provide prospective pet owners with a list of questions to ask themselves before they even consider adoption. Suggestions from the ASPCA and other groups include: Can I say I won't be upset by inevitable wear and tear on my household? How will the animal I want get along with children and existing pets? Will I be willing to stay home weekends until my new pet is adjusted to its new home? Do I have the time and space for a pet? Can I deal with the cost and cleanup of a pet? Who will care for the pet when I go on vacation? Do I understand that the lifespan of a pet can run up to 10 to 20 years? Do I understand that some shelter animals come from situations in which they were abused or neglected, that they may carry behavioral baggage, and it may take some time before they know they're in a safe and loving environment?

The ASPCA (aspca.org) has partnered with petfinder.org, an Internet site that currently allows more than 1,600 shelters and rescue groups a forum to post information about animals they have available for adoption. Participating organizations provide as much pertinent information on the pet as possible, such as breed, sex, age, weight, general demeanor, reproductive status, and medical and vaccination history. Many of the 23,000 animals available on the site have their picture displayed as well.

The animals are entered in a searchable database according to the zip code of the adopter. A match of shelters or pets in the area will appear, starting with those closest to the adopter's home.

Although no actual studies have been done, Kim Saunders, director of shelter outreach and public relations for petfinder.org said that since the site started in 1995, she has received feedback from participating shelters indicating that their adoptions have at least doubled, and that euthanasia has decreased by 50 percent to 75 percent. This may result from the option of viewing the animals at home, rather than making a trip to the shelter. Many times, those who want to adopt cannot bring themselves to go to an animal shelter, because they feel it's heartbreaking to see the homeless animals.

The site provides resources to pet news groups, emergency care for pets, pet stories, classifieds, adopters' rights, breed information, animal care suggestions, and information on choosing a veterinarian.

Petfinder.org is merely a directory to shelters and rescue groups in the site's database; it does not handle adoptions. "The participating shelters have control over the adoption process," Saunders said. "The screening, meeting of the animal, home visits, reference and veterinary checks, and final adoption are handled by the individual groups."

Another site that features adoptable pets is petshelter.org, a not-for-profit site that operates in a similar way. Its mission is simple: "to promote the adoption of homeless companion animals via the Internet by providing animal shelters, rescue societies and individuals with a uniquely user-friendly effective software system to post animals available for adoption." A potential adopter can search by animal, breed, city and state, and shelter. Currently, more than 1,100 shelters participate in the site.

Much like petfinder.org, this site directs potential adopters to a shelter in their area. The individual shelter is responsible for screening the adopter and the adoption process. Petshelter.org makes a point of advising participating shelters of possible problems once a potential adopter comes looking for a new pet. Animals can be vulnerable, and shelters need to take precautions.

Veterinarians can help guide potential adopters in the right direction. The AVMA Committee on the Human-Animal Bond believes veterinarians should be involved in the pet selection process and encourages potential pet owners to see a veterinarian before adopting a pet.

"Many people don't know that veterinarians are there for people who do and do not own pets," said Dr. Gail C. Golab, assistant director of the Education and Research Division of the AVMA. "Most veterinarians would be happy to set up a consultation with a potential pet owner and discuss the pet selection process, from types of animals to their family lifestyle." The AVMA distributes outlines for consultations, and brochures on pet selection for veterinarians to review with potential clients.

Dr. Golab said that before adopting a pet, the prospective adopter must meet the animal they're interested in. Adopters must make sure that the animal they saw online matches the one at the shelter, and that its characteristics, special needs, and health have been represented accurately. A known authoritative source should also be contacted before the adoption process. "The Internet can be a useful tool in learning about the kind of pet that's right for you, but it shouldn't be the only tool," Dr. Golab said.

Breed-specific rescue sites are also abundant. AVMA staff member Dr. Lyle P. Vogel, director of the Scientific Activities Division, adopted his two Siamese cats, Jasmine and Woodie, via the Siamese Rescue Alliance's Internet site. Dr. Vogel got a recommendation from his veterinarian to use the site. He liked the idea of a breed-specific rescue group that appreciated and was familiar with Siamese cats. After searching the site, Dr. Vogel and his wife, Rosemary, found the pair they wanted.

"The cats were in Virginia at the alliance's East Coast shelter. We filled out an application and were called for an interview," Dr. Vogel said. "They asked about our background and whether we recognized the characteristics and habits of the breed."

The Vogels were asked to provide personal references, as well as the name of their veterinarian, all of which were checked thoroughly. After a few weeks of back-and-forth screening, paying a fee, and signing the adoption paperwork, the Vogels went to pick up the new members of the family.

The Vogels' case is unusual. According to the ASPCA, to ensure that the pet-owner match is right, adopters usually must meet the pet before adopting, also bringing along members of the family and/or current pets. Also, some shelters do not allow out-of-state adoptions for their animals, or limit them to one state away.

The Vogels have been pleased with Jasmine and Woodie, and recommend the Internet adoption experience for potential pet owners. "Both the adopters and shelters have to ask the right questions," Dr. Vogel said. "With the Internet, you have to place a lot of trust in what the source is. You have to be sure that the site has a good relationship with proper treatment of animals, that the animal's veterinary records are accurate, and that past adopters have been happy with the service."

For information on acquiring "The Veterinarian's Way of Selecting a Proper Pet," contact the AVMA Public Information Division at (800) 248-2862, ext 271.


The AVMA does not endorse, approve, or certify pet selection Internet sites, nor does it guarantee the accuracy, completeness, efficacy, or timeliness of their information. Use of such information is voluntary, and reliance on it should be undertaken only after independent review. Reference herein to any specific service does not constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the AVMA.