Software Matches Dogs With Humans

Lewis stares at the camera with soulful eyes sure to melt hearts. Finding an online match shouldn’t be that difficult for such a catch.

But in this case, the heartthrob is a 28-pound, 5-month-old Australian shepherd mix. The Oregon Humane Society (OHS), which developed an innovative online matching service, will make sure Lewis finds a new home based on more than the pup’s good looks. Stealing a page from online dating services, this nonprofit uses a database with extensive search criteria to improve the pet adoption experience.

“It’s a pretty unique feature,” says David Lytle, the OHS’s public affairs manager. “We are the only Humane Society I know of that has this find-a-match feature implemented so extensively.”

How Dog Matching Works
When a dog arrives at the OHS, a staff member photographs and weighs the pup and enters its information into a database. “Just as fast as our staff can enter this data, it’s posted live,” explains Lytle. “If a little cocker spaniel comes in the door at 10 a.m., usually by noon all of its data is up on the system.”

The database listing is updated every 10 minutes. Adopters can surf through listings that offer a photo, vital statistics and information about each dog’s personality. For instance, Lewis “is a social butterfly who really seems to enjoy meeting other people and dogs.” However, Lewis isn’t suited to a home with cats.

Successful Adoptions
When a dog is adopted, its status is changed on the database. People from far and wide seem to notice. “We get so many comments from around the world,” says Lytle. “People love the updates.”

Although fans from around the globe follow the service’s dogs and cats, almost all the adopters come from the Portland area. The questionnaire filled out by potential adopters not only asks about the breed or size of dog you want, but also about the suitable activity level and desired personality. The database searches for matches based on the criteria that would-be adopters provide.

If you see a pooch that you’d like, you can place a hold on the pup. If no matches are found, you can then request that the OHS send you an email notification when your doggie match is good to go. Since the service started last August, 3,000 people have signed up for email notification, says Lytle. The service is particularly valuable at OHS, where 10,000 pet adoptions are processed each year.

“We’re very happy with it,’’ Lytle says. “We’ve gotten good feedback from the community.”

Tips for Finding Your Dream Dog
Even if you don’t live near Portland, the find-a-match program can help with your search for the right dog. Look at the types of questions OHS poses to determine what questions you should ask before adopting a pooch. Factors to consider include:

  • Your activity level
  • Whether you already have pets in your household
  • The size of your home and any possible pet restrictions
  • Whether you have children

Simply taking dog breeds into consideration isn’t sufficient, says Vicki Kirby of the Humane Society of Fairfax, Va. “It is amazing to me how many people want a dog they know nothing about,” she says. “They see a picture and fall in love with the look of the dog and have no idea what this type of dog is really like. The most important quality to look for is the dog’s personality and disposition. Even if they know the traits of the breed, a particular dog may not have those traits.”

The Humane Society of Fairfax uses a questionnaire that can be downloaded online then faxed or emailed. The society also sends email notifications when a potential match arrives. Of course, it’s important to meet your potential new pup in person, say both Lytle and Kirby. And it’s never a good idea to fall for a pretty face.

“We always tell people you need to know yourself, know what your own lifestyle is,” Lytle says. “You might be seduced by a young border collie that is the cutest thing you’ve ever seen, but if you have knee or hip problems, and your idea of exercise is just one walk around the block, you and the border collie are not going to be happy.” Instead, devote time and care when selecting a dog, and that will vastly improve your chances of living happily ever after.

by Kim Boatman