Seeking: Four-Legged Friend Pet Adoption The New-Fashioned Way

Petfinder © Brita Belli

There are plenty of dogs and cats ready for adoption at shelters across the country—far more, in fact, than there is room to keep them. Inga Fricke, director of shelter initiatives in the companion animals department of The Humane Society of the United States, says that some 3-4 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year, and an astonishing 6-8 million are annually sent to shelters. What these animals lacked, in past decades, was a way to reach families willing and able to adopt a pet but who didn’t have the time or ability to visit each shelter individually. Oftentimes the right dog or cat match for a family is many states away. That’s where Petfinder comes in.

“The foundation for Petfinder was in the environmental movement,” says Betsy Banks Saul, who cofounded with her husband, Jared Saul, in 1996. The site now boasts the largest online database of adoptable pets and is the most-used pet-related site on the Web. “It is a social profit company,” she says, “on a mission to see that no pet is euthanized for lack of a home and to ensure that pets are elevated to the status of family members. Our currency is ‘lives saved.’”

Petfinder © Brita BelliIn its 15-year history Petfinder has adopted out more than 17 million cats and dogs, at times 2 million or more in a single year. The site currently lists about 300,000 animals. Banks Saul was recently named one of “50 Women Who Are Changing the World” by Woman’s Day magazine.

Updated continuously by volunteers and Petfinder staff, the website shows photographs of adoptable pets along with detailed health and personality descriptions and, in many cases, a video of the dog or cat, along with contact information for the agency that is caring for it. Individual animal shelters and rescue groups that are part of Petfinder’s network also have links to their home pages on the site—and these organizations attribute over 50% of their adoptions to Petfinder, Banks Saul says.

“Petfinder is a virtual shelter,” says Jared Saul. “It is being able to sit down with your family and visit hundreds of shelters, get to know the pets, and not have to drive all around to do it. When someone finally does go to meet a pet because of, they are more likely to be well suited for each other. What better use of the Web?

And adoption agencies say using Petfinder has greatly reduced the number of pets they have had to euthanize. “It’s hard to imagine what we did before this,” says Susan Ragland, president of Animal Rescue Force in East Brunswick, New Jersey. “Petfinder adoptions account for about 60% of the dogs we place, and we placed 1,000 pets last year.”

Cross-Country Pet Movers

There are a variety of other volunteer organizations providing transport for shelter dogs and cats once they’ve been adopted. That’s allowed shelters to open their searches to prospective homes across regions, as opposed to just surrounding towns. Molli Bowen is director of Companion Pet Rescue & Transport in Tennessee which mostly rescues dogs in state. They transport about 200 dogs every other week to private owners and shelters in the north.

“People often ask us: ‘Where do all these puppies come from?’” Bowen says. “Are there really that many unwanted puppies in west Tennessee? The answer is, sadly, a resounding ‘Yes.’ There are very few enforced laws in our area and there is no licensing to encourage spaying and neutering.”

Another group, Operation Roger, is a nonprofit comprised of regional and long-haul truckers who volunteer time and space on their trucks to deliver pets to new homes. They’ve delivered 534 rescue animals to new homes since launching in 2005; and 103 in 2010.

And Pilots N Paws is a volunteer-based online discussion board where pets in need of transporting are matched with pilots willing to fly them to places where they’re more likely to be adopted. Animal Rescue Flights is another pilots’ organization that “promotes, plans and performs the transportation of animals from overcrowded shelters where they face certain death to other parts of the country where qualified families are waiting to adopt them.”

Thanks to such coordinated efforts—and the increased ability to match animals both with transports and loving families across the country—animal adoption has never been easier or more rewarding.

CONTACTS: Companion Pet Rescue & Transport; Operation Roger; Pilots N Paws.