The love behind a perfect match: Pet rescue organization using AI to help rehome pets

Jasmine jumps out of Beth Malloy’s arms at their home in South Deerfield. Malloy has adopted four cats through Joyful Pets Rescue.

Jasmine jumps out of Beth Malloy’s arms at their home in South Deerfield. Malloy has adopted four cats through Joyful Pets Rescue. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Hannah Solar with Jasmine at her home in South Deerfield.

Hannah Solar with Jasmine at her home in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Beth Malloy and Hannah Solar with Jasmine, their cat, at their home in South Deerfield.

Beth Malloy and Hannah Solar with Jasmine, their cat, at their home in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Beth Malloy and Hannah Solar with Jasmine, their cat, at their home in South Deerfield.

Beth Malloy and Hannah Solar with Jasmine, their cat, at their home in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Elsa sits on Beth Malloy’s bed at their home in South Deerfield.

Elsa sits on Beth Malloy’s bed at their home in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Beth Malloy with Elsa on her bed at their home in South Deerfield.

Beth Malloy with Elsa on her bed at their home in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Elsa sits on Beth Malloy’s bed at their home in South Deerfield.

Elsa sits on Beth Malloy’s bed at their home in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Rehome with Love founder and owner of Joyful Pets Rescue Lauren McCarron holds Sunny, one of the cats in her care looking to be rehomed, at her home in Wendell.

Rehome with Love founder and owner of Joyful Pets Rescue Lauren McCarron holds Sunny, one of the cats in her care looking to be rehomed, at her home in Wendell. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Rehome with Love founder and owner of Joyful Pets Rescue Lauren McCarron holds Sunny, one of the cats in her care looking to be rehomed, at her home in Wendell.

Rehome with Love founder and owner of Joyful Pets Rescue Lauren McCarron holds Sunny, one of the cats in her care looking to be rehomed, at her home in Wendell. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Sunny is one of the cats looking to be rehomed.

Sunny is one of the cats looking to be rehomed. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Sunny and Cookie are two cats looking to be rehomed.

Sunny and Cookie are two cats looking to be rehomed. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Rehome with Love founder and owner of Joyful Pets Rescue Lauren McCarron holds Cookie, one of the cats in her care looking to be rehomed, at her home in Wendell.

Rehome with Love founder and owner of Joyful Pets Rescue Lauren McCarron holds Cookie, one of the cats in her care looking to be rehomed, at her home in Wendell. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Rehome with Love founder and owner of Joyful Pets Rescue Lauren McCarron holds Sunny, one of the cats in her care looking to be rehomed, at her home in Wendell.

Rehome with Love founder and owner of Joyful Pets Rescue Lauren McCarron holds Sunny, one of the cats in her care looking to be rehomed, at her home in Wendell. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Sunny is one of the cats looking to be rehomed.

Sunny is one of the cats looking to be rehomed. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Sunny is one of the cats looking to be rehomed.

Sunny is one of the cats looking to be rehomed. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By EMILEE KLEIN

Staff Writer

Published: 02-29-2024 11:27 AM

WENDELL — Dog trainers, behaviorists and even an psychic animal communicator could not prevent Melissa Bekisz’s two dogs from fighting.

The New York resident inherited her ex-partner’s 4-year-old Australian shepherd, Marjoram, after he moved out. Marjoram began lashing out at Bekisz’s other dog, Louise, a Jack Russell terrier and Chihuahua mix who’d respond to Marjoram’s attacks with more backlash.

“It would stop for three months, and it would happen again,” Bekisz said. “Eventually, my vet said you can’t keep bringing in Louise with injuries. This can’t keep happening.”

Bekisz began reaching out to local rescues to help her find a new home for Marjoram, but the various Facebook adoption group scams and lack of positive matches made the rehoming process difficult.

“I felt guilty about the fact that I was rehoming Marj, but then I felt guilty about the fact that Louise kept getting injured,” Bekisz said.

Fear of judgment is often why clients reach out to Rehome with Love, a service that falls under the umbrella of Joyful Pets Rescue, an Amherst business that recently relocated to Wendell. Rehome with Love seeks to find new homes for animals whose owners can no longer keep them.

“These are not rescue pets; these are loved pets that are not surrendered to a shelter,” said Lauren McCarron, who founded Joyful Pets Rescue in 2018.

McCarron said she is sensitive to how difficult it is for a person to find a new home for their animal and she wants her clients to feel comfortable throughout the process.

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McCarron guided Bekisz through reference checks, phone calls with potential adopters and even meetups between Marjoram and prospective owners. Within two months, Marjoram found the perfect home, a lover of Australian shepherds who required an older dog with less energy.

“I would really recommend Rehome with Love because what was nice about it was you were fostering your own dog,” Bekisz said.

McCarron believes that family pets should never enter a shelter but rather move from one home to the next. As owner of Joyful Pets Rescue, McCarron has rehomed many animals over the past 10 years — first through an animal rescue group called Paws Crossed she started in 2014 and then through Joyful Pets Rescue for the last six years — but she’s been moving away from the animal rescue scene to focus full-time on this specific population of surrendered animals.

Joyful Pets’ mission is to provide a loving and empathetic alternative for families facing the heart-wrenching decision of parting with their pets. The Rehome with Love service, launched two years ago, is helping with that mission. The service has been used to match more than 500 animals with new homes and prevent these furry friends from exposure to stress, illness and possible euthanasia in a shelter.

“A third of the animals in animal shelters are family pets. If we can keep all one-third of them out of shelters, the shelters can do what they do best, which is helping stray and lost animals,” McCarron said.

Rehome with Love operates similarly to other pet adoption websites. Pet owners looking to find new homes for their furry friend fill out an intake form and give any medical information for their animal. Rehome with Love will then gather the remaining health records and look for discrepancies between the form and the animal’s medical history.

“Knowing the history and the health of a pet is everything. Once they go into a shelter, we joke that the history is a mystery because no one is telling them everything,” McCarron said. “We get so many details and really get to know the dog so the match is that much better.”

After, the service writes a bio for the animal, screens potential adopters and mediates the adoption between both parties. The cost for this rehoming service is $195 for a standard package or $295 for priority service, which enhances a pet’s visibility with targeted social media advertising and active engagement in specialized groups.

The Rehome with Love team is a resource to adopters and pet owners throughout the process, but after a pet has settled into their new home, new pet owners can look to the Social Petwork website. McCarron started the social media website for pet owners to share tips, cope with the loss of an animal and update the group on their animals.

Beth Malloy, who has adopted four cats through Joyful Pets, uses the website to chat and swap photos of her cats. She often speaks with one pet owner who cares for a litter mate of her furry friend.

“I have different ages, and I have two cats that do not get along. So I look for lots of tips, like diffusers with cat nip in them or something about a certain food or a toy,” Malloy said.

The process is detailed and time-consuming. It takes McCarron weeks just to review vet records, since owners can submit more than a hundred pages. She’s hired hundreds of writers to help with pet bios, online advertisements and social media posts. All the paperwork and writing detracts from McCarron’s time on the phone, speaking with clients and adopters to find the perfect match.

To speed up the rehoming process, McCarron recruited 88 artificial intelligence tools to vet forms for discrepancies, summarize a pet’s health history, write a bio, make a promotional video for the animal and generate ads. Other AI programs are used to compare the application of a potential adopter to the current waiting list of pets, and then makes a match based on compatibility.

“We are moving a lot faster. I want to say tenfold,” McCarron said. “All the writing is faster, the reviewing is faster and the matching faster. I can definitely say what used to take six weeks is now three.”

Rehome with Love’s technology tools identify vet histories and form discrepancies in seconds. ChatGPT writes pet bios for adoption websites and helps create social media posts for Facebook adoption groups and Instagram accounts. The organization’s matching tool analyzes the adopter’s interests and the pet owner’s interests to find a compatible match.

However, the artificial intelligence’s suggestions do not decide where an animal is rehomed. McCarron said she always talks with prospective adopters and clients about their matches, just as she did with Bekisz.

“That’s the last frontier for us: we will always pick up the phone and talk to our adopters,” she said. “We will use tech as far as we can, but we believe the human overlay we cannot replace.”

Emilee Klein can be reached at eklein@gazettenet.com.