Matthew and Christina Baggett of Waynesville hold a Jack Russell mix puppy named Thumper that they adotped Feb. 29 from The Animal Shelter of Texas County. The couple found the dog online.

For years, many people wishing to purchase cars and trucks have utilized the Internet as a tool in their search for the right make and model. The same concept is also now widely employed in a far different form of quest: finding the right pet.

As online technology becomes more familiar to more people and its horizons continue to expand, a surprisingly complex system of online adoption has blossomed – especially involving dogs. In keeping with its progressive and aggressive approach to the task of pet adoption and placement, The Animal Shelter of Texas County (TASTC) has by no means missed the online business boat.

To the contrary, thanks to effective marketing through social media and various web sites, the facility has shipped animals to 27 states and Washington, D.C.

The vast majority of animals TASTC has placed in other states are dogs, but a few cats have also crossed state lines as a result of online networking done by the nonprofit facility (that receives no government funding and exists solely through donations, fundraising and adoption fees).

Manager Marsha Martin said that as much as three-quarters of TASTC’s adoptions are a result of people “shopping” online and that about 25-percent of dogs adopted are shipped to other states. Considering that the shelter moved more than 500 animals last year, those online numbers are significant –– if not amazing.

“It’s a business,” TASTC president Rita Romines said. “It’s a big business.”

One of the best-known cyber connection sites is Petfinder, a website that bills itself as the “virtual home” of more than 300,000 adoptable pets and is affiliated with close to 14,000 animal shelters and adoption groups across the United States, Canada and Mexico. Online pet shoppers can find many species of animals on Petfinder, but dogs are the main focus. The site has become one of TASTC’s primary avenues for moving animal inventory, and is its most-viewed online source.

“We don’t get very many people off the street,” Martin said. “They come in because they’ve seen a dog on Petfinder.”

TASTC’s website and Facebook page both link to Petfinder, and photos of every animal the facility has available are posted, literally for the world to see. Most of the photos are taken by a professional photographer (who volunteers service), so each dog and cat is clearly and attractively presented.

“The good pictures make a big difference,” Romines said.

Once a prospective customer picks out a dog from TASTC’s online selection, Martin corresponds with both the customer and Ozark Jet-a-Pet, a firm based in Willow Springs that makes the arrangements for transporting the adopted pet to the “receiver,” including booking a flight and getting the animal to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport on time. Depending on the size of an animal, air transport crates usually run $200-$255, while ground transport runs about $145. In addition to standard adoption fees, receivers cover transportation fees and the cost of a medical exam that earns the traveling pet an “acclimated health certificate” (about $15).

“The dogs have to be able to pass a health check at the vet that insures they’re going to be OK in the hold of an airplane,” Martin said.

One of the main reasons online animal shopping has grown in popularity is the way it increases selection. But general awareness of shelters has also contributed, as more and more people embrace the idea of “rescuing” homeless dogs and cats. Online networking allows shelters to provide the masses that greater selection, and a way to satisfy their desire to help.

“People are more aware of shelters now than they have ever been,” Romines said. “I think now is really the time for this.”

While TASTC has adopted out dogs to all three Pacific Coast states and many more in the Midwest, much of the facility’s shipping activity involves Northeastern states because of a connection with an organization called Happy Dogs of New England. When a Show-Me state dog becomes a Yankee, there’s little left to chance in the transaction, as Happy Dogs representatives painstakingly screen both prospective adoptees and receivers. In turn, the receiver in New England can rest assured their new pet will be of good quality, and adopted pets are virtually assured of being placed in a good home.

“Dogs of course have to be spayed or neutered before they can go,” Martin said, “and if they’re over 12 weeks old they have to have rabies shots, and if they’re over six months old they have to have a negative heartworm check. The week before transport, we do five days of worming to get rid of parasites of anything that may be harboring in them, and then the day before, they get their health certificate.”

A Happy Dogs transport vehicle periodically makes runs all over the region to pick up animals, and then heads back to Concord, N.H. TASTC’s contributions to the organization are taken to a meeting location in northern Arkansas.

“It’s organized to the tee,” Martin said. “They’re very particular.”

The combined services of TASTC and Happy Dogs fills a definite need in the Northeast, since strict spay and neuter laws in the region greatly reduce the number of unwanted animals there.

“Their shelters don’t have nearly the number animals we have in Missouri,” Martin said.

Matthew and Christina Baggett, of Waynesville, adopted a seven-week-old Jack Russell-mix puppy named “Thumper” last week from TASTC. The path the couple traveled to Thumper is a good example of how the online system works on a regional basis.

“I knew I wanted a puppy, but it’s kind of hard to find them around here,” Christina said, “and we didn’t necessarily want to spend $500. We decided we wanted a rescue dog, so we looked around online and found this one.”

“There weren’t a lot of options in our area,” Matthew said. “We tried looking in papers, but that was really limited, so we got on the Internet and Christina stumbled onto this shelter’s website.”

Literally hundreds of online sources exist within the realm of online pet adoption. One called the Pet Adoption Portal (at links posted pet photos to as many as 109 sites.

The bottom line is that the online network has become an integral aspect of pet adoption these days, and TASTC’s operation is no exception. Even people who aren’t aware of it find out in a hurry if they’re interested in adopting.

“Most of the time when people call to find out what we have, we redirect them to Petfinder,” Martin said. “It’s one of the most valuable tools we have, and it’s something we definitely rely on.”

“It’s a tool that if it was taken away would probably really slow us down because it has become so important to our business,” Romines said.

The Animal Shelter of Texas County’s Lucky Dog and Cool Cat Gala, featuring country music artist Candy Coburn and her band, is set for Friday night in the Community Building at the Houston Area Chamber of Commerce fairgrounds.

The event will include other musical entertainment, a silent auction, lottery ticket giveaways, a dinner, and more. Tickets are $50, and event organizers indicated Tuesday morning that well over 200 had been sold out of a total of 300 available.

For more information about the gala, call TASTC at 417-967-0700.

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