By Kate Santich
Are you looking for a special someone for long runs on the beach, or for snuggling together on the sofa, watching a movie? Do you prefer the strong, assertive type, or shy and deferential?
Your answers could help you find the perfect match … in a dog.
A new pet-adoption website, PawsLikeMe.com, uses a series of questions about your personality, lifestyle, likes and dislikes to find your ideal pooch from adoption listings across the country. It’s the Match.com for would-be pet parents.
“We realized that people had a lot of difficulty finding the right pet,” says Elizabeth Holmes, 41, the company’s CEO and co-founder, who lives in Cocoa, Fla. For years before moving to Florida, she ran a dog-rescue group in Ohio.
“Oftentimes, people would return a pet because they had made a bad decision,” she says. “Seventy percent of pets (change families) more than once in their lifetime. We knew there had to be a better way”, especially with an estimated 3.5 million pets still being euthanized each year in the United States.
Holmes joined forces 18 months ago with her sister, Marianna Benko, 33, of Orlando, a clinical social worker; and Dr. Coleen Johnston, 38, a Palm Bay, Fla., veterinarian. They came up with an algorithm that finds suitable matches among dogs at government shelters, rescue groups and nonprofit organizations in your desired ZIP code.
“I was their vet,” Johnston says, nodding toward three of Holmes’ four dogs. “One day she and I were talking, and she said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could match people and pets based on personality?’ I said, ‘That would be awesome.'”
Johnston, a self-described numbers geek, and Benko, with a background in psychology, tinkered with an initial formula, testing and refining it on more than 3,000 people and their pets. The accuracy rate, they say, is now above 90 percent. Listing a dog is free.
By attending pet-rescue conventions, the three woman forged partnerships with groups across the country, creating a database of 150,000 dogs. Among the various pet-adoption platforms already online, Petfinder and Petango, for instance, the founders say PawsLikeMe is unique.
“We look at compatibility and people’s environment,” says Benko, who has also volunteered for dog-rescue groups and led pet-therapy sessions with patients in long-term care facilities. “We also really look at how people relate to their pets.”
Do you care whether your dog messes up your house? Gets fur on your clothes? Is a slow learner? Do you want an independent dog, or one that always wants to be at your side?
“A lot of people, especially first-time pet owners, don’t think about those things,” Johnston says.
Though the company is just starting out, initial reaction is positive.
“The bottom line is, if this service helps gets dogs adopted, I’m for it,” says Sean Hawkins, vice president of the nonprofit Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. “We believe it’s important to take a lot of time in making sure the animal is going to a home that fits, which is why we do a personal interview that can take from 10 minutes to an hour. Our system is really driven by a lot of gut feeling and the vibe that’s transmitted in a one-on-one interview.”
But Hawkins says he’s particularly intrigued by the opportunity for individuals to re-home their pets, an often-agonizing process for many pet owners or the relatives of pet owners who die. Others agreed.
“I really like that they’re giving people another option to find a new home prior to coming to us,” says Carolina Devine, marketing and public-relations coordinator for Orange County Animal Services. “A lot of times people come to us as a first option for finding their pets a new home. It should be their last.”
That’s because Orange County, like many government shelters, euthanizes pets for whom it can’t find homes, something the new site’s founders are trying to prevent. Under PawsLikeMe rules, adoptive animals must be spayed or neutered, which helps fight pet overpopulation, and the site may dissuade people from listing animals on Craigslist, where they can fall prey to abuse and exploitation.
The website doesn’t charge anyone to list a pet for adoption, nor does it take any percentage of the adoption fee charged by nonprofit groups. For individuals looking to find a new home for their own dog, the company collects a $180 fee, which includes pet insurance, product discounts and guidance for the new owner. In addition, up to half is donated to local shelters or adoption groups.
In the coming months, Holmes says, plans call for reincorporating as a B-corporation, a for-profit venture with an altruistic goal. The trio also will add cats, perhaps next year.
“There’s a lot of work in looking at cats,” Holmes said. “The considerations are totally different. But I will say there’s a ton of interest.”