Sheltered Lives

Stephanie Adkins travelled from Sault Sainte Marie, Mich., to Huntington, N.Y., to meet Harry after reading his life story on the Internet. Laura Leaver drove from Newton, Mass., to Albany, N.Y., to find Eclipse after seeing his cute face on the Web. Adkins and Leaver weren’t looking for romance, they were taking part in one of the Web’s most recent success stories: pet adoption. Harry, an eight-year-old, blind Maltese, and Eclipse, thought to be a Treeing Walker Coon-hound, are two of thousands of stray pets finding homes each year as shelters go on-line.

Leaver found her dog at a Web site maintained by Peppertree Rescue in Albany, one of about 1,500 shelters in the United States and Canada that are active members of an on-line network called ( Started in 1995 by husband-and-wife team Betsy and Jared Saul of Hillsborough, N.J., Petfinder lets prospective pet owners browse a database by the animals’ size, sex, age, breed and location. Dogs and cats dominate the site, but a surprising number of pot-bellied pigs, iguanas and goats also seek owners.

“The Internet has revolutionized pet adoption,” says Betsy Saul, an environmental scientist who now works full time maintaining the Petfinder site.

Ed Powers, director of operations for the Animal Rescue League of Boston, says adoptions are up 14 per cent since the shelter signed on with Petfinder last year. Powers says, “We’re finding that when people do their homework on the Web, they are making decisions that are intellectual rather than purely emotional. That can make for better adoptions.”

Petfinder leads the pack, but other sites are popping up to foster pet adoption. Philip Greenspun, founder of ArsDigita, a software company in Cambridge, Mass., was inspired by his Samoyed, Alex, in 1999 to start (, an on-line animal adoption centre. Last summer, two students from MIT and one from Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine toured the United States to teach shelters how to use ArfDigita’s program.

“Shelters are close to the bottom when it comes to technology awareness,” says Randy Graebner, an ArfDigita employee and co-creator of the ArfDigita site. “A lot of them don’t even have computers, but it seems to be really picking up.”