As a young girl, Stony Brook University senior psychology major Elizabeth Crowe could not go to the shelter to volunteer, but faced with a “computing for good” assignment, she was finally able to help her favorite species: dogs.
Crowe came up with the idea of “dogs with blogs” as her honors senior thesis to investigate human tendencies toward adopting pets. The blogs are created by student volunteers who give a personality to the dogs, as opposed to just the height, weight and breed.
“We’re trying to determine two things: does a blog help a dog get adopted because there is more personalized information…but the other thing we won’t be able to know until we have a long term study is does this help to prevent the kind of return rate,” Tony Scarlatos, a computer science professor who is helping Crowe build her application, said.
The goal of Crowe’s new application, called “Shelterware,” is to help shelters work more efficiently by streamlining processes and helping dogs get adopted and stay with their new families. The project officially launches in May.
“The act of going to the shelter, walking these dogs, playing with them, increases dog sociability which in turn actually does increase their adoptability and makes it less likely that they’re going to be returned because they don’t have as many behavioral problems,” Crowe said of her application.
Scarlatos said shelters like the Smithtown Animal Shelter have faced many issues with adoption return rates.
When some adopters realize that they do not want the dog, they either gave the dog back to another shelter claiming the dog was a stray out of embarrassment, or they let the dog loose. This can be devastating for the dog.
The application will have both a web and mobile component. The mobile application allows animals to be photographed and the photo uploaded to the Shelterware database at any time.
If someone finds a lost animal, he or she can scan the Quick Response bar code on the dog’s tag. Senior computer science major Matt Lagueras originally worked this on as a separate project for Scarlatos’ benevolent computing class. Crowe teamed up with Lagueras through Scarlatos, who taught Crowe’s Honors College course.
If the animal does not have its own code, Shelterware allows users to snap a picture and upload it to the application on their smart devices. The GPS location and time stamp are then added to the database.
According to Scarlatos, this increases efficiency for the Smithtown Animal Shelter, where the project is being implemented. Filing papers is space intensive and also requires human hands in order to organize them, leaving fewer people to take care of the dogs. The program will alleviate the need for paper documents by going digital.
The project had its setbacks. The shelter only had six dogs at the time of the study. For the purposes of research, Crowe decided to accumulate her data from a random sampling of 30 dogs. Crowe used “Petfinder,”a pet adoption website, to select the dogs and then used a coin toss to which choose which dogs would have blogs.
“[Crowe] doesn’t want to have the most popular breeds of dogs who would be adopted anyways to also have blogs,” Scarlatos said.
Lagueras took charge of the technical side of the application.
Crowe’s idea stemmed from something that is popular within many universities: petting puppies in order to relieve stress. But Crowe knew that there could be a more beneficial response to stress that could help both the students and the dogs.
“It felt really good to give back to those who aren’t in a position to help themselves,” Crowe said. “It’s nice to see that things like Facebook or Twitter can be used for something more than saying how much life sucks; it can be used to actually help the community and increase a sense of involvement.”
Crowe also liked how the project gave people a sense of purpose. According to Crowe’s observations, by posting blogs on the Internet for these animals, it made volunteers feel good and it reinvigorated her own sense of optimism.
“If you look on the app store, so many apps will be things like ‘where’s my car?’ or ‘let me know when the laundry is done,’” Lagueras said. “There is not enough effort being put into computing for good.”