Now you can meet, 'rent' or adopt a dog through Zoom

Animal shelters are harnessing technology in fun, creative ways during the coronavirus pandemic.
Michigan Animal Rescue League
/ Source: TODAY

Earlier this week, Tennessee’s Nashville Humane Association hosted meet-and-greets between adoptable dogs and potential adopters. While the animals played, shelter employees answered questions about the pups’ personalities, affinity for kids and medical backgrounds — for the nearly 3,000 people watching on the videoconferencing platform Zoom.

“When you’re faced with not being able to have members of the public in your facility, and you’re not sure how long or when you’re going to be able to do that safely again, you need to innovate,” Becca Morris, director of development and operations, told TODAY. “You have to figure out good ways to find homes for homeless pets. So it’s been a labor of love.”

Pedigree's Dogs on Zoom campaign helps shelters like Nashville Humane Association host virtual meet-and-greets with adoptable dogs, and sponsors adoption fees for pets adopted through the program.Courtesy of Nashville Humane Association

All of the dogs featured so far on the new Dogs on Zoom program have people applying to adopt them. When the adoptions are finalized, the shelter will provide a curbside pickup to keep the exchange as contact-free as possible during the coronavirus pandemic.

The adoption fees will also be free, since the Pedigree brand sponsors dogs adopted through the program. Nashville Humane Association was the first beneficiary, but Pedigree is in talks with a number of shelters around the country to schedule virtual adoption events throughout May and into June, according to Craig Neely, vice president of marketing at Mars Petcare.

Michigan Animal Rescue League launched a videoconferencing fundraiser in which people can "rent" an adoptable dog, cat or kitten to appear in Zoom meetings.Courtesy of Michigan Animal Rescue League

“During this time of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, many people are turning to pets for companionship,” he told TODAY in an email. “The Pedigree brand wanted to help share this new best practice of virtual adoption, making it easy for people to find their new best friend, and for adoptable pets to find their forever homes.”

Scheduled dates include SPCA Florida in Lakeland, Florida, on May 14, 15 and 18; The Little Guild in Cornwall, Connecticut, from May 19-21; Louisiana SPCA in New Orleans on May 22, 25 and 26; Fairfield Area Humane Society in Lancaster, Ohio, from May 27-29; and Dallas Pets Alive in Dallas from June 1-3.

As new events are confirmed, they’ll be added to the Dogs on Zoom website at MeetYourNewDog.com. The site also offers a free digital toolkit for any shelter interested in creating virtual adoption events.

Of course, adopting a pet is a lifetime commitment. For people who won’t have time to care for a dog once they return to work, there are other ways to help, such as participating in online fundraisers for shelters.

Shelters across America are working hard to care for homeless pets during the coronavirus pandemic.Courtesy of Michigan Animal Rescue League

On April 16, the nonprofit Michigan Animal Rescue League in Pontiac, Michigan, launched a videoconferencing fundraiser in which people can “rent” an adoptable dog, cat or kitten to appear in Zoom meetings. A 15-minute cameo garners a $50 donation.

Audrey Blaylock, communications manager, said it’s already proven a success, with pets appearing in business meetings, virtual happy hours and children’s birthday parties.

Pets can bring smiles to children's birthday parties both in person and on screen.Courtesy of Michigan Animal Rescue League

“Animals just bring people joy, and we wanted to come up with a way to bring a little bit of that joy to all the people who are at home using videoconferencing to stay connected,” she told TODAY. “Not to mention, it’s also a really good cause. All the funds that we’ve raised from the program will directly benefit the animal you’re conferencing with and others like them who are relying on our services.”

Michigan Animal Rescue League has a specific playroom where the pets can just “do their thing” while a camera captures their antics. The animals’ schedules are filling up quickly; the program has already raised over $1,500.

An adoptable dog from Michigan Animal Rescue League joins a Zoom meeting.Courtesy of Michigan Animal Rescue League

“Business calls can get a little bit stale after some time, so we see the animal pop up on the screen and everybody’s faces light up,” she said. “Everybody’s smiling. That’s the fun of it.”

Getting creative with fundraising when in-person events are on hold is crucial to the survival of shelters like Michigan Animal Rescue League. Blaylock said canceling the annual "Yappy Hour" fundraiser means the organization must raise an additional $150,000 to meet operating needs. She hopes the online version to be held the first week of June will still be a success to benefit animals in need.

The team at Michigan Animal Rescue League continues to shower homeless pets with the love and care they deserve while waiting for their forever homes.Courtesy of Michigan Animal Rescue League

“We’re still here, even during all of this,” she said. “The animals in our care are still receiving the same medical care, love and attention we always provide. We’re very proud to say that.”