Petfinder.com Celebrates 15 Years of ServicePublished March 7, 2011
To help them celebrate nearly 20 million adoptions, we asked co-founder Betsy Saul to give us the scoop on how it all started, where the site is headed, and the bumps and milestones of the website along the way. Editor's Note: March 15, 2011 is Petfinder's Adopt the Internet Day. In honor of Petfinder's 15th birthday, we're hoping all of our readers will pledge to spread the word online about adoptable pets. Read on for inspiration from Petfinder's co-founder, Betsy Saul, or visit Petfinder.com to learn more.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of Petfinder.com, the largest online database of adoptable pets. To help them celebrate nearly 20 million adoptions, we asked co-founder Betsy Saul to give us the scoop on how it all started, where the site is headed, and some of the mishaps and milestones of the website along the way.
How'd you come up with the idea for Petfinder.com?
My ex Jared and I were cruising down Route 1 heading out to meet friends for dinner around New Year's, and we were talking about how the Internet had such potential, yet the websites for adopting pets out there were really crummy and they didn't do anything a piece of paper couldn't do. We were huge pet lovers, and I was actively involved in rescue since age 12, and we realized we didn't know where our local shelter was. In fact, we didn't know where our local shelter was in any town we'd lived in. The Internet allows you to sort and filter things, and you could even base your searches on zip codes. And, not to be crass, but with pets serving as data, all of a sudden you have an entity that nobody has any clue what's out there. We thought, this is the quintessential solution for pets in shelters.
Did you ever get discouraged?
In the beginning I used to see stars and my fingers would be numb and I'd think, I don't know if I can do this anymore. The stories are horrible and the images that I received of pets needing to be adopted haunted me when I went to bed. But then a few weeks in I realized that the images had shifted. Instead of carrying the image of the person who had beat the dog, I was envisioning the person who helped rescue the dog. One of the things that has been most educational about the whole experience is the stark and almost immediate and completely invasive way that being involved in something like this project makes you view a certain issue fro ma different perspective. What I thought I couldn't cope with turned into this amazing story of a national movement of heroes and heroines, which is a very easy story to live with.
What affect has Petfinder.com had on adoptable animals?
In 15 years, we've helped to decrease the amount of pets being euthanized, which is a huge movement in the right direction. Our original goal was to save one life a month and now we're responsible for 170,000 adoptions a month. It's overwhelming what a gift it has been to be a part of the animal welfare community and to look back and realize that we revolutionized something. You don't have many opportunities in life to do that.
Why should people adopt?
The love of your life is waiting for you in a shelter. I do believe that people deserve pets that fit in their home, so I don't have a problem with responsible breeders. But until we're not euthanizing pets for convenience in our society we should look at adoption first. We're wasting precious lives if we don't. I challenge anybody who has ever loved a pet, no matter how they got that pet, to think about that pet they loved and think about them waiting in a shelter for perhaps no one to come. For myself, that's unbearable and for most people who've had a pet, knowing that they were in the shelters waiting is intolerable.
Tell us about one of your all-time favorite adoption stories.
A dalmatian came in to this shelter and it was a mean, mean dog. It didn't like men, it didn't like kids, and it would only bond with one person at a time. One of the shelter workers fell in love with him, but couldn't take the dog home. The dog was given to him for two more weeks because the other animals in the shelter needed help, too, and this animal just wasn't adoptable. Literally an hour before the dalmatian was going to be euthanized, identical twin nuns walked into the shelter and said they lived in a convent in a rural area and they were looking for a dog that would keep them company and would make them feel safe!
How has the Petfinder.com mission evolved?
After Hurricane Katrina, there were many pet-owning homes that were impacted. We know that roughly 1 out of every 8 or 9 homes in the U.S. has a Petfinder.com pet, which means many of these impacted animals came from our site and we didn't want those pets to be jeopardized again. We expanded our mission from "end euthanasia of adoptable pets" to "change the status of the family pet to family member." We were always supportive of that, but we decided to make it our business. We merged with a pet training company, so we made Petvideo.com, and then we partnered with Home Again and the FurKeeps initiative. Now we encourage people to train for keeps, insure for keeps (so not consider economic euthanasia), and microchip for keeps (in case they ever do get lost, which happens). Those three programs are integral and are a huge evolution that came out of Katrina disaster.
What does the future hold for Petfinder.com?
When we hit 10 million adoptions on our 10th birthday, we looked at what we were doing and realized that the U.S. has made so much progress in terms of pet adoptions that it's time to start thinking more broadly. Resource-poor developing nations have huge pet populations and don't do a great job of housing animals ethically. We need to pose Petfinder.com as a model for these folks in other countries outside of the U.S. to jump to.