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Nonprofit Matches Hounds and Humans

Published: Thursday, June 7, 2012

Updated: Friday, July 20, 2012 14:07

AZ Rescue

Adrian Lesoing

Deborah Miller and Mike Miller with Bella (white lab mix) and Jake (chocolate lab mix).

Matchmaking has gone to the dogs at one Arizona animal rescue organization. 

Phoenix nonprofit AZ RESCUE saves shelter cats and dogs from euthanasia and places them in ideal homes through a three-step matchmaking service – prospective owners fill out an application, interview with a matchmaker and meet the animal and assess the match.

Since opening in 1995, the organization has saved over 10,000 dogs and cats from Maricopa County shelters.

“What we learned, growing as an organization, is that people can have good intentions about owning a pet and then not really think it through,” said AZ RESCUE’s executive director, Jennifer Berry.

“We want the animal to be in an environment where they will be loved and cared for for the rest of their life, and customers want a connection and a fit,” Berry said. “That’s exactly what we’re here for.”

The animals are chosen from euthanasia lists, or e-lists, at west side pounds and the Humane Society and are taken into the care of AZ RESCUE and placed into foster homes and boarding shelters.

The adoption process begins with the matchmaking form on AZ RESCUE’s website, a mandatory questionnaire for potential pet parents.  The questions range from inquiring about living and family arrangements to “What makes you a good pet owner?” and “How do you see your pet fitting in over the years as your family dynamics and personal circumstances change?”

Debra Green, a two-time adopter and volunteer at AZ RESCUE said the form provides a general idea of your lifestyle and what type of companion you’re looking for.

“This discourages impulse buy,” Green said. “We don’t adopt dogs and cats as presents. They’re family members, and it’s a lifetime commitment. We take that seriously, and that’s what the matchmaker form is [for].”

Green said one question that she hadn’t considered was, “How much do you plan to spend on your pet?” 

“That was something that made me really stop and think,” she said. “In this day and age, I have a feeling that’s why quite a few dogs and cats end up in the pound, because their owners have decided they can no longer do those things for them.”

Statistics about the return rates of adopted pets are difficult to come by; the most complete information – from the The National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy showed that more than 25 percent of dogs in shelters were turned in by their owners annually between 1994 and 1997. AZ RESCUE’s rate of return is less than 3 percent, Berry said, adding, “With numbers like that, why wouldn’t you do it this way?”

“We learn about them, what they need in order to be a happy, well-adjusted dog or cat,” Berry said. “We’re looking for lifelong matches.”

Deborah Miller, a volunteer at AZ RESCUE and a four-time dog adopter who went through the matchmaking service each adoption, said the process is excellent and helps to weed out those who adopt on an impulse. 

“One of the [matchmaker form] questions is, ‘How much would you be willing to pay for healthcare for your dog?’” Miller said, adding that she and her husband found this to be odd. “With us, cost is never an issue. If our dog needs care, we will pay whatever it costs. If we could not, we should not have an animal.”

Miller said she believes that AZ RESCUE feels the same way.

“When they save an animal, it is for life and they will only put those animals in appropriate homes,” she said.

After filling out a form, an adopter can request a specific animal. Within 24 hours, they receive a follow-up call for questions or concerns.  The form is evaluated, they are matched with a pet and the final step is a home visit.

A volunteer brings the pet to the match’s house, gives suggestions for improvements or adjustments, helps introduce the new animals to other pets and discusses how to make a successful transition.

“If everything works out, the dog is allowed to stay with you and you live happily forever after,” Green said.

If by chance, someone’s lifestyle changes then the animal can be brought back to RESCUE and a new home will be found.

In addition to placing pets in forever homes, AZ RESCUE makes sure to stay in touch with volunteers, adopters and their animals through Facebook and an annual adopters’ picnic.

“It’s fun to see the fruits of your labor [and] to see the dogs coming back with their families,” Green said. “The dogs that you were taking care of when they were homeless, you get to meet them with their new moms and dads.”

Berry said it gives her great joy to see animals with their new families, successfully matched.

“I can’t save them all, but we can make a difference one life at a time,” she said.

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