Taking your dog for a walk may seem like a fairly mundane, everyday occurrence. But for shelter dogs, this simple act of companionship is anything but ordinary. Recently married couple Charlie and Cristina Saunders realized the benefit of taking an ownerless dog for an outing when they were on their honeymoon in Hawaii and stumbled upon the Humane Society in Kauai.
“As big dog lovers, we decided to go inside, and that was when we learned about the amazing field trip program they run there,” Charlie remembers. That fateful day, Charlie and Cristina took a pup named Big Z out for a day of fun. It ended up being the highlight of their trip and the inspiration for a new organization called walkzee, which will offer the first free online platform connecting shelter dogs with animal lovers in search of a walking buddy.
The couple began working on their business plan and website on the plane ride back to their home in San Jose, California. “With careers in tech, we quickly thought of how technology could enable field trips, provide scale to them, and also promote the trips and dogs online,” Charlie says.
Through a Kickstarter campaign underway since the beginning of the month, walkzee has surpassed its funding goal of $20,000. The money will pay for site and app design, with plans for it to eventually become self-sustaining. And while Charlie and Crissy are both still working full-time jobs, walkzee has proved to be a worthy outlet for their passion for animals. They spend weekends and evenings promoting their cause and have recruited some helping hands with development.
“Dogs have always been a big part of our lives,” Charlie says. While on a family trip to Spain as a kid, he remembers seeing a Scottish Terrier who was too big for his cage in a pet shop. He visited the dog every day to give him treats and try to cheer him up. A few months after returning home, Charlie’s parents adopted a Scottie from a rescue organization.
It’s exactly these types of mutually beneficial experiences that Charlie and Cristina hope to support through walkzee. When a volunteer walker takes an animal out for a few hours, the dog gets fresh air, exercise, and a greater chance of being adopted — just think of all the people who might stop to pet the pup, and the interaction with humans and exercise will help the dog be calmer when meeting potential adopters.
The shelter itself stands to benefit from increased awareness of how its dogs make great pets, as the platform will allow walkers to leave Yelp-like reviews describing the qualities of each pet and to share them on social media, which could lead to an influx of adopters, volunteers, and perhaps even donations. And the walker gets the immense satisfaction that he or she has helped an animal in need — not to mention plenty of fresh air and exercise too!
The goal is for shelters throughout the world to be connected to the walkzee community so people can find and walk dogs anywhere, but the initial focus is in the U.S., with hopes that that the platform will be ready to make connections in June. “Perfect dog walking time of year!” Charlie says.
Currently, several shelters are interested in launching with walkzee, but each has its own requirements that need to be taken into consideration. A one-size-fits-all strategy won’t work at the moment, so Charlie and Cristina are letting the shelters dictate the rules. (One organization might have a specific trail where they want the walkers to take the dogs, whereas others might let the dogs be taken anywhere local.) But they will encourage shelters to use “adopt me” coats, like the one Big Z wore on their Hawaiian outing.
The Kickstarter campaign will run through early March with “Support the underdog” swag up for grabs. A dollar gets you instant membership into the walkzee community. Five bucks and your name and photo (your dog included!) will appear on “The Best Friends of walkzee” page. Donate $25 or more and add an adorable doggie bandana to the list, $30 and you’ll snag a T-shirt, $35 or more gets you a portable collapsing dog bowl, and $40 or more makes you a local walkzee ambassador.
The rewards get better the more you donate and include everything from an adopted dogs calendar and dog treats to a walkzee leash or hoodie to close involvement in the community launch. It’s a unique opportunity to be a small part of a startup and truly make a difference in the lives of these animals, while shaping the way in which the platform operates. So that’s something to consider when you think about donating. Of course, if you’re just looking to contribute without committing to a deeper level of involvement, that’s a good way to help, too.
Every donation — big or small — will go toward building an amazing network whose launch should be a boon for shelter pups. As Charlie recalls his own recent experience, “Big Z was just so happy.” He also shares the good news that their walking buddy was eventually adopted and now lives with his forever family in Sarasota, Florida.
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About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox, and WhattoExpect.com. A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by).