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Match made in haven

Matchmakers at Castaic shelter study personalities to pair pets with owners

Posted: January 1, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 1, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Volunteer Clare Storey shares a moment with Peek-A-Boo, a short-haired Chihuahua mix, at the Castaic animal shelter on Thursday. She studied dogs' personalities to make good matches with potential owners.

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Curled up in a volunteer’s arms, a cream-colored Chihuahua named Peek-a-Boo went in for the kiss. “That was a French kiss, and you haven’t even taken me to dinner yet,” Clare Storey, the lead volunteer at Castaic Animal Care Center, said as she wiped her face.

“Peek-a-Boo is a bit of a pistol,” Storey said, smiling at the wriggling dog and dodging another kiss.

Storey, like other volunteers at the local Los Angeles County shelter, is a pet matchmaker.

To pair her animals with the most compatible owners, she has to know the pet’s personality, preferences, likes, dislikes and, in Peek-a-Boo’s case, kissing style.

“It’s not an official service, but it’s something that the volunteers choose to do,” Storey said.

During the holidays and on New Year’s Day, when the center sees an influx in both adoptions and incoming animals, matchmaking skills become especially important, Manager Karen Stepp said.

But matchmakers are wary of families adopting on a holiday whim, checking that the candidate has discussed the decision with the household, puppy-proofed the home and considered an indoor living situation, Storey said.

“We encourage adopters to really put some thought into it during the holidays. Don’t just go adopt a dog or cat without doing some research,” said Evelyn Villa, the spokeswoman for Los Angeles Department of Animal Care and Control. “The more educated the potential adopters are, the better the fit and the more likely the adoption is to stick.”

“A pet is for life; it’s not for Christmas,” Storey said.

The volunteers’ selective and thorough evaluation of the pet and potential adopter is one matchmaking task that helps the Castaic center achieve a high number of long-lasting adoptions, Storey said.

In comparison to other Los Angeles County centers, the Castaic center reports consistently high adoption rates and low rates of returned pets, Villa said.

This month, the center placed 145 pets — including dogs, cats, horses and livestock — reflecting the center’s consistently high range of about 140 to 215 adoptions per month in 2012, Villa said. With only eight returned and readopted pets in December, the center saw about half as many returns as an average month, Villa said.

“Our volunteers in Castaic get to know each animal on an individual basis. The team up there is fantastic,” Villa said.

Once an animal arrives at the center, matchmakers ensure that the pet is ready for a family by hosting a “puppy palooza,” Storey said.

“We make a lot of noise. We run them around. We scream. We pick them up the wrong way,” Storey said, imitating a child holding a puppy with her hands in the air. “We do everything a kid would with a dog.”

If the pet continues to give nothing buts kisses and playful energy, matchmakers bring the pets to the center’s personal grooming service — a group of dedicated inmates at the Pitchess Detention Center that works with the center as part of a career education program, Storey said.

“We have these big burly prisoners, and they get very attached to these dogs within six hours,” Storey said. “We get a lot of poodles that come in looking like a string mop. Then suddenly they come out looking like show dogs.”

Once the primped and primed pooches have received makeovers and health care, matchmakers can work their magic, waiting for the right potential owner to show up.

“There are a lot of different people and a lot of different animals,” said 23-year-old volunteer Justin Grandchamp.

The number of kids, the size of the yard and the personality of the potential owner are all important factors, Grandchamp said.

Storey explained they have been trying to find Peek-a-Boo a well-matched adult family.

“The volunteers are the ones that make the difference and the adoptions,” Stepp said, reaching out to calm Peek-a-Boo as she squirmed toward the manager’s face.

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