Today NOVADog talks with Gina Hardter, Director of Marketing & Communications, Animal Welfare League of Alexandria about their new virtual adoption process.
ND: Getting pets into good, forever homes is so important. COVID 19 has created operational challenges around the globe, I heard that the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria has complete its first virtual adoption. How did you prepare for that process?
GH: Our main goals when considering Virtual Adoptions were to make the technical aspects as simple as possible for users; to continue to provide the same high level of information and support to each potential adopter; and the safety of adopters, staff and the animals in our care. We settled upon some simple meeting scheduling and video conferencing software and then determined how to translate our comprehensive in-person consultations to take place over the phone, while still making sure potential adopters felt comfortable with the information they were receiving about their new family member.
ND: Tell me a bit about how it works.
GH: The process is simple. First, check out our website at AlexandriaAnimals.org to see all our current adoptable animals. Then set up a Virtual Meet-and-Greet time. Appointments fill up fast, so if a spot isn’t available right away, keep checking back. Once you schedule a time, you will receive a link to fill out our Adoption Survey, so we can learn a little more about you, your lifestyle, and what you are seeking in a companion, so we can help you make the right match. Then you meet with them via a Zoom conference call at the appointment time, and if you are interested in adopting, we can go through the phone consultation. You can see the whole process and schedule your Virtual Meet-and-Greet at AlexandriaAnimals.org/VirtualAdoptions.
ND: How are you using technology to aid in the home placement process?
GH: Our goal is to limit person-to-person contact, so every step of the way is digital or from a safe distance. Our animal meet-and-greets are done online using Zoom. We perform adoption consultations over the phone. Adopters never enter our facility to pick up their new pets; they are delivered to the safety and comfort of their cars by staff wearing masks and other protective equipment. And of course, if they have any follow-up questions, we are here to help them via email or phone.
ND: When you are determining a good fit for the pet and its potential new family, how is the virtual process different?
GH: Both now and before we moved to virtual adoptions, our team wants to learn as much about the adopter early in the process; now, even before the meet-and-greet has taken place, we receive an online survey from potential adopters about their lifestyles and what they are looking for in a pet. If they express an interest in meeting a pet who may not match with those criteria, then we will speak with them about their wants to determine if this disparity might be problematic or how we might help them make a better match.
ND: Technology has many advantages, but how are you able to create a bond and evaluate the connection with the new family without touch?
GH: We know some adopters are hoping for the chance to meet their pet before the adoption is finalized, but our main goal is safety for everyone involved. We can help them get to know potential pets by showing how they interact with our staff, the tricks they know, and many of our animals have been happy to provide a virtual “kiss” or “nose boop” to the tablet on which they are meeting; it’s a great way to get “up close and personal” while maintaining safe physical distancing.
ND: With this technology are you now also able to do post-adoption check-ins or provide post-adoption support or coaching?
GH: The AWLA is a resource to adopters before, during, and after adoption, and that was the case both before Virtual Adoptions and now during. We follow up with adopters within days of the adoption to see how things are going and if they have any questions, and they are invited to reach out to our Adoption team or Behavior Hotline if they have any questions about their new companion. As part of our adoption consultation process, we also provide guidance on ways to help your pet settle into their new home or common concerns facing new pet owners. These materials are available digitally on our website, so adopters can access them one day after adoption, or even one week or one year — whenever they are needed.
ND: Are there any new services that Animal Welfare League of Alexandria is providing virtually?
GH: We just launched a new online Humane Education program called Junior PAWS (Pet Advocacy and Wildlife Series) that offers a variety of fun learning opportunities for students of different ages, and we’re offering weekly Facebook Live events covering a variety of topics from wildlife to training (and some that are just for fun). We are also continuing to connect with our dedicated volunteers through online trainings and check-ins, and many of them are finding ways to assist us from home, from sewing supplies like kennel curtains and masks to helping us with data analysis to making treats for the dogs and cats in our care.
ND: How can family’s start their process?
GH: Check out our Virtual Adoption page and sign up for an online Meet-and-Greet as one becomes available. You will be led through the next steps of the process from there.
ND: Does this new technology mean that families from further away will have the opportunity to adopt from Animal Welfare League of Alexandria?
GH: Adoptions from the AWLA are not limited to the City of Alexandria, and in the past, we’ve had people travel from hours away to meet with specific animals in our care. That said, we do think Virtual Adoptions will make that process easier for families who live further away, because it allows them to meet an animal online before driving to our facility, so they can determine if the match is right for them before making that trip.
ND: Tell me a bit about Ruff, the first dog that was virtually adopted from AWLA.
GH: Ruff and her five canine siblings were born in our care when their pregnant mother was surrendered to us in late January. Since then, mom and the pups have been in the care of some of our amazing foster caregivers. When the pups were big enough to be separated from their mother, she was spayed and found her new family, and in early April, the siblings were made available for adoption as well. Ruff is happy in her new home. Her new family reports that she is doing well and has made herself very comfortable already, and the boys are loving their new canine sister.
Some featured dogs looking for Forever Homes!
Maya and Kingston have both had their adoption fees pre-paid by generous donors, and Piper, who was recently made available after being treated for heartworm over the past few months, is helping us staff our Front Desk.
These adorable pups, as well as many cute cats, rabbits, parakeets, and even a turtle are all available for adoption, but act quickly as these sweet pets are moving into amazing homes quickly. All available animals can be seen online at AlexandriaAnimals.org/Adopt.