Virtual animal shelters How the Internet is transforming the experience of pet adoptions

08/11/05

Across the United States, independent pet rescue organizations are growing in number, working to place abandoned animals in loving new homes. Although the majority of these organizations operate out of clusters of private foster homes, they're successfully winning high visibility for placing their pooches. In a presentation at the 100th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in Philadelphia, University of Cincinnati sociologist Angela Garcia compares how the Internet pet placement experience is complementing the efforts of traditional animal shelters. Garcia's presentation, "Virtual Animal Shelters and the Humane Society: How the Internet is Transforming Pet Adoption" will take place at 8:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 15, in an ASA session that explores animals and society.

In addition to analyzing 180 homeless dog postings on a pet rescue Web site, Garcia conducted interviews with traditional animal shelter staff as well as pet rescue volunteers. Furthermore, she observed eight animal adoption events sponsored by animal rescue organizations and recalled her own experience of adopting a dog from an animal shelter.

"Because the rescue members and volunteers can easily communicate with each other, coordinate their efforts and arrange adoption events and meetings between potential adopters and those fostering dogs in their homes, the Internet enables these organizations to function as a shelter without having a physical location where the work is done," Garcia says. "Because potential adopters can view photos and descriptions of dogs over the Internet, they can pre-screen them and decide which specific dogs they want to visit in person. The Internet thus has had a profound effect on the process of dog adoption."

Garcia finds that the descriptive online ads can educate potential owners about endearing traits, such as one ad that described a "Velcro lap dog." Other communications can narrow the selection process on the Internet by suggesting that the pet would be better suited to homes without small children or cats. She says the informative, personal messages differ from the brief descriptions on cages in traditional animal shelters, but adds that independent rescuers may be taking care of one or two pets at a time while a shelter may be struggling to adopt out hundreds of animals each week.

Additional benefits of Internet adoptions come from their reach beyond the county dog shelter anyone in the country can click on a site and select a region where they want to find their new addition to the family.

And, the Internet dog search shuts out the noise and the smells associated with a county shelter. However, Garcia adds that the drawbacks are that pet postings are not interactive, and chemistry between the dog and its new owner is a vital part of the selection process.

Garcia's paper is part of a larger, ongoing project she is researching on comparisons between virtual and traditional animal shelters.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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