Hillsborough County's innovative new pet adoption service could help you find a new best friend online or assist you in recovering a lost pet.
The Pet Resource Center recently launched its online ADOPT program. It features detailed profiles of adoptable and lost pets, complete with photos, breed names, size, ages, medical conditions and personality traits of animals being housed at the shelter.
The site is updated every 15 minutes around the clock. It also includes documented observations of the pets' interactions with staff members, volunteers and other pets at the shelter.
"We wanted to get as much information as possible on the site so that everyone gets full disclosure about the animals, and it's designed so you can craft it to get the specific information you want," said Pet Resource Center director Scott Trebatoski.
Site visitors can use their mobile device to scan the QR codes of animals that spark their interest. Then, they can match those codes with the ID numbers on kennels at the shelter. All adoptions are done in person at the Pet Resource Center.
The center, located at 440 N. Falkenburg Road, is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
The online system, designed by University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine students, was two years in the making, with an emphasis on making the system user friendly.
"As far as we know, we are the first in the nation with a program like this," Trebatoski said. "I think this will become the future of public shelters."
University of Florida student Anna Weber has volunteered at the center for more than three years. That experience has fueled her aspiration to become a veterinarian, and she describes the new program as a perfect tool to help people find the pet of their dreams.
"It's been so, so helpful," Weber said. "Anyone can get access to what's available and sometimes when people are walking around the kennel and have their phones with them, I'll tell them about the new program and show them how to use it."
Dan Rapp is a South Tampa resident and retiree who devotes 12 to 14 hours weekly as a shelter volunteer. He finds the work "very meaningful," and is also excited about the online kennel service.
"We receive a lot of positive comments about it because people have the opportunity to learn a whole lot about the animals we have available," he said. "It helps them make better decisions and I think it has the potential to be a real game changer."
Last year, 11,518 animals were adopted at the shelter, and about 1,500 were taken in by other pet rescue organizations.
Before the ADOPT program's implementation, up to 10 percent of pets deemed by their adopters to be poor matches were returned to the shelter, Trebatoski said.
The return rate at the Tampa center has since dropped to between 5 and 5.5 percent. Nationally, return rates range anywhere from 12 to 15 percent, Trebatoski added.
Jeanine Cohen, an attorney and director of Hillsborough-based Rescue Cats of Florida, said her organization has benefitted significantly from the ADOPT program.
"I love it," Cohen said. "It's so advanced and come March and April when there is not a lull in cat adoptions, I will use it every day to find out things like, is this cat a biter or a scratcher?"
Dog lover and PRC volunteer Amy PennyPacker, a Brandon resident, echoed Cohen's sentiments about ADOPT.
"It's great. By using the site you can pull up information that tells people anything they need to know about an animal," she said.
Call (813) 744-5600 for more information about the new online service.