2016 Pet Guide - Match.dog

Using a dating service philosophy, PawsLikeMe aims to hook up pet seekers with forever companions.

Carlos Basabe

Pet Guide - Contest Winners
Pet Guide - Match.dog
Pet Guide - Visible Progress
Pet Guide - Animal Reader
Pet Guide - Just the Facts
2016 Pet Resource Guide

If you’re yearning to adopt a pet but dread the thought of all those mournful eyes beseeching you as you walk the shelter aisles, two Central Florida sisters say there’s a better way to find your perfect match.

“Think of eHarmony,” says Marianna Benko, co-founder of PawsLikeMe, an Orlando tech startup that uses a personality quiz algorithm to bring dogs and potential “parents” together. Benko and her sister, Elizabeth Holmes, of Cocoa, teamed up with Dr. Coleen Johnston, a Palm Bay veterinarian, to develop the quiz, which focuses on three aspects of compatibility.

“We’re looking at the personality of both the parent and the pet, the environment of the parent and the pet, and the lifestyle of the parent,” says Holmes, the company’s CEO. 

Potential adopters complete an extensive quiz on pawslikeme.com (sample questions: “Which describes you best: Rule-oriented or tolerant?” “Agree or disagree: I prefer a quiet evening at home to a social outing with friends”). They’re shown pets that have been profiled by participating shelters or rescue groups, or by pet owners hoping to rehome their animals.

If adopters indicate interest in a shelter pet, the website links them to the shelter, which then follows its own adoption protocols. If adopters want information on a pet to be rehomed, the site notifies the current parent and facilitates contact between the two parties.

Right now, PawsLikeMe is working with more than 200 shelters and nonprofits nationwide, Holmes says, including Orange County’s.

“We love it from the perspective of more eyes on our animals online,” says Diane Summers, program manager of the Communications Team for Orange County Animal Services. “I think a lot of people are accustomed to shopping online for everything, but we still require interaction between the person and the pet before we begin the adoption application process.”

The PawsLikeMe site addresses the importance of meeting potential matches. “We have guidance on the site that provides [adopters] with additional education through supporting them every step of the way,” says Benko, a clinical social worker. “ ‘Think about this, think about that as you go through the process.”

The sisters, originally from Montreal, have been lifelong animal advocates, adopting, rescuing and fostering dogs and cats in Canada and the U.S. Holmes ran a rescue for eight years, and her experience fostering more than 200 dogs convinced her that technology was the way to reduce shelter populations by making better matches and by helping pet owners find new homes rather than surrendering their animals.

“Rehoming is a small but growing platform,” says Holmes. “We’re seeing about 10 postings a day from owners across the country. It’s not a big pool like shelters,” but the need is there.

Holmes, Benko and Johnston have had to rehome pets, Holmes says, so they understand what it’s like.

“Sometimes you’re in a situation where your life changes and you can’t keep that pet,” Holmes says, “and there’s a lot of judgment that’s placed on people who need to get rid of a pet. That’s something we wanted to avoid with our platform. We wanted them to feel comfortable that they can come to us and we’ll help.”

Dogs have been the focus of the company since the site was launched in 2015, but cats will be joining canines in September, Holmes says.

Hopes are high that shelters and nonprofits that use the site will see progress.

“The more successful they are,” Orange County’s Summers says, “the more successful we’ll be as well.”

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