Adoptions today look a lot different than they did even just a couple months ago. If you follow our Facebook page you might have seen the adoption of Doodles, a young cat, posted. But you might not have realized who was being adopted because instead of a picture of a family holding the cat, all we had is a picture of the family with a cardboard carrier that says “I’ve Been Adopted!” In fact, they hadn’t even touched his fur yet – it was really a virtual adoption!
Of course this is less than ideal – back in the day, this February for example, people would come through the shelter looking at all the available animals and if a few caught their eye as potential matches, we would set them up in a visiting room to get acquainted. I was always a strong proponent that a person had to meet the animal for that magic connection to happen. And that is probably best but what we're finding is that it's not the only way to fall in love. Some people are caught by a picture showing a certain expression or antic. Videos have the power to put you in the picture so to speak and to see how an animal reacts to different stimuli without the distraction of your presence. If the video is filmed correctly without a person being the central character, you can almost feel like you are there and at least see how the animal reacts to a person they are bonded to - something not seen if it were just you (a stranger) alone in a room with the animal.
So how does a virtual adoption work? It takes a bit longer to do in some ways since we are waiting for paperwork to email or fax back and forth. Let's say you are checking our website or Facebook page and an animal catches your eye. First we need an adoption profile from you. That is found on the adoption page on our website. There is a place on it to describe the type of animal you are looking for in case the specific one you saw is already adopted. We will hold onto profiles for a month and keep you in mind if another animal that we think is a good match becomes available. If the animal you are interested in is in a foster home, we have you talk and maybe FaceTime with the foster family so you can ask questions and observe the energy of the pet to see if you can envision yourself living with him. This is where FaceTime and video clips are so helpful. If you like what you see and want to proceed, we email you the adoption contract, the animal's health record and the adoption packet. You have to print it, fill it out and fax or email it back to us. Then we call you to get payment and to go over the information in the packet and answer any last questions. When everything is finished we set a time for you to come pick up the animal.
With a dog that's when you actually get to meet him or her. With a cat you have to take her home before you get to touch fur. We know this may mean a return or two but the shelter has a liberal two week money-back period so there's really no risk. In fact, we found that when we sent our adoptable animals out to foster at the beginning of the shelter-in-place order with our existing pool of volunteers, it worked out surprisingly well. Several of our volunteers ended up keeping the animals they were fostering - a condition we affectionately call "foster failure!" If it worked for our volunteers why couldn't work for the general public? Sort of like arranged marriages, back in the day.
What can I say except it's a different world we're living in right now and businesses have to adapt. We owe it to our animals to look for new and creative ways to help them find a home. I don't know if we'll continue the virtual adoptions when this Covid pandemic is done, but most likely at least some parts of it will stay with us. It will be interesting to see!
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at email@example.com.