Nowadays, finding human love online is so common that it’s hard to believe we once considered it rather shocking. But we seem to feel differently about finding our furry friends: some people are still taken aback by the idea of Get Your Pet, a website where individuals can post profiles of pets for potential adopters.
Rehoming pets without a shelter or rescue between the original owner and adopter? Can this really be a good idea? You might be surprised who says yes.
“The beauty of tools like these is that they help keep animals out of the shelter system,” says Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA. “That keeps the animal’s stress low, avoids potential exposure to disease, and conserves shelter space and resources for animals who need them most, such as victims of cruelty.”
In fact, Angela Marcus, the creator of Get Your Pet, comes from a shelter background; she’s a former humane law enforcement officer and operations director for the Pennsylvania SPCA. That experience is what convinced her of the need for a different way of doing things. When she went into the field, she hadn’t realized how hard it would be on a day-to-day basis to make good matches between pets and adopters, despite the best intentions. “We knew so little about the animals in our care—we had over 300—that there was no possible way for us to know each of these individual pets’ personalities and needs so that we could really make a good judgment about whether that person would be a good adopter for that pet,” she says. “I thought there had to be a better way to do this.”
In the era of Airbnb and Uber, there was an obvious alternative: directly matching up individuals. “People are accustomed to this idea now,” she says. “Ten years ago, you never would have thought you’d jump in someone’s car and let them give you a ride, or stay in someone’s house in another country.”
GET THE BARK IN YOUR INBOX!
Sign up for our newsletter and stay in the know.
But surely, adopting a pet is different. Everyone knows the horror stories, whether urban legend or not, about online pet ads. Marcus knows them, too, and more. “I worked in humane law enforcement; I saw the worst of the worst,” she says. “So I’ve designed this website to try to be as safe as possible.”
One way it’s made safe is that posts are monitored 24 hours a day by actual human beings. While the site is often compared to a dating app, it’s absolutely not hands-off.
“We make this clear to all of our users: Nothing is sacred on Get Your Pet—we’re watching everything!” Marcus says. Postings asking for money are deleted (people rehoming pets aren’t allowed to charge, but adopters pay a fee to the site) and all communication between adopters and pet owners must go through the site, so any messages that contain an email address or phone number are blocked until correspondents agree to schedule an in-person meeting.
Get Your Pet also provides a motivation for adopters to keep the site in the loop, since finalized adoptions come with a benefit package that includes a voucher for a free exam from a participating vet. “We have the additional benefit of the vet because we know that if a pet is introduced to a vet right after adoption, it’s more likely to be a successful adoption,” she says.
And their success rate does seem to be good: less than 2 percent returns, compared to what Marcus says is an average 8 to 10 percent for shelters and rescues. Since launching nationwide last July, Get Your Pet has helped rehome more than 2,600 pets during its first year, and currently, about 300 new profiles are being added daily.
Marcus emphasizes that Get Your Pet is not for everyone who needs to rehome or adopt. Users are people who really care where their animal ends up, which means they tend to do a lot of screening. “Most of them take it to a whole new level,” she says. “They are much more stringent about where their pet is going than any adoption counselor I’ve ever met.” But probably the biggest advantage of rehoming through the site is that potential adopters can base their decisions on far more information about the individual pet’s characteristics than they would get from a shelter or most rescues.
Felicia Ward from Portland, Ore., decided that her dog Nani needed a new home when her daughter was about to leave for college and she was planning to go back to school herself. “We knew that this would not be a good home for her anymore because of nobody being home during the day,” she says. “We felt it would be a selfish choice to keep her—we would not be thinking about Nani’s best interest.” But Ward didn’t like the idea of Nani going through the shelter system. “The biggest thing I was worried about taking her to the shelter was that she would not get adopted because she wasn’t a small, cute dog,” she says. “We really loved her and it was hard to picture myself dropping her off at the humane society and driving off.”
When Ward posted Nani’s profile on Getyourpet.com, she declined to meet the first person who expressed interest because their living situation didn’t sound suitable, but the next applicant seemed like a better fit. “She wanted to meet at a dog park, but I said I’d rather not for the first time, because that can be really distracting for a dog,” she says. “So I said, I’d rather meet where it’s more quiet and you can have some time with Nani to really see what she’s like.” The potential adopter came over and took Nani for a walk, and by the time she got back, it was clear that it was a match.
“It was obvious Nani was very happy with her,” she says. “We were so happy that she was happy. We’re still grieving the loss of her, but then we think about where she is and it makes it all better.”
Meeting the owner of the pet is also an advantage for the adopter. Teri Whitehead, who adopted her Maltese/Yorkie cross Packer through the site, says, “I learned a lot more about the history of the dog than I would have if I’d gone to a shelter.” For Whitehead, it was important that the dog would fit into her household, which includes her elderly mother who has mild dementia and is on oxygen. “They knew that wasn’t going to be an issue because their grandfather had raised him, and they took him in but couldn’t keep him,” she says. The result? She calls Packer “the perfect pet for us.”
The benefits for humans seem clear. What about for the dog or cat? Whitehead says she also was able to get information that helped make the transition easier for the dog. “I was able to learn the best ways to get him settled in quickly, and little quirks that I would have had to learn the hard way.”
And, as the ASPCA’s Bershadker notes, there’s the huge advantage of keeping an animal out of a shelter in the first place. Bershadker also points out that the stress a dog or cat experiences in a shelter setting can affect their behavior in negative ways, which makes it harder for them to find homes.
There’s really nothing radical about direct person-to-person rehoming of pets—Bershadker says something like 30 percent of people already get their pet from friends, family or the classic “she followed me home.” But it’s a new idea for the sheltering field, where the standard has been contracts that require adopters to return pets if they can’t keep them rather than find a new home on their own.
Bershadker thinks the field is starting to evolve past that, though, and others agree. “That kind of old-school thinking causes animals to languish in shelters,” says Sharon Harmon, president and CEO of the Oregon Humane Society. “We find spouses online —we’re capable of making good decisions about relationships. Why are pets put in this separate category? The existing family that knows all the quirks, who is invested in the pet’s future— why take them out of the mix?”
The idea does seem to be catching on, and other online adoption sites have started to add features that allow individuals to post profiles. Marcus says she saw the change happening at her most recent trip to the HSUS Animal Care Expo. “We were this breakthrough new idea last year,” she says. “This year, it was part of the conversation. People get it now— not every pet who needs a new home needs to go into a shelter.”