I recently interviewed Chris Roy, the creator of Doobert.com, about how Doobert can be used to help shelter workers and rescuers do their jobs more effectively. The Doobert platform can be used to organize any type of cooperative effort, but it has had its greatest impact so far on transport.
Animal-rescue transports have been done in the U.S. since the 1970s. From the 1970s through the 1990s the most prominent transport model involved northeast shelters sending their own vans to pick up animals from southeast shelters. In the later 1990s and early 2000s, a different model of transport became common – the “rescue relay.” This method divided transport routes into legs of about 1-2 hours each, then recruited volunteers for each leg who used their own vehicles. The rescue-relay model allowed small receiving shelters and rescues, who could not afford to run their own vans, to get into transport. In recent years, volunteer airline pilots have been added to the mix, as well as commercial services with large trucks. Today transport routes crisscross the entire U.S.
Chris Roy got involved in transport through his hobby of flying. Back in 2008 he was asked to fly a rescue transport and was quickly hooked. He loved being able to combine his passion for flying with saving lives. Roy does technology for a living, and it wasn’t long before he realized that technology could do a lot to make transports more efficient and save even more lives. That led to him founding Doobert in 2014.
Doobert offers a simple online interface for people to set up transports. Volunteers can sign up as individuals. Organizations that want to run transports using Doobert can apply to join and are vetted by Doobert staff. These organizations include shelters, rescues, and transport groups. Right now, Doobert has over 21,000 volunteers signed up and over 1100 organizations.
Photographs can help receiving organizations determine whether they can successfully place an animal, and Doobert has about 1200 volunteer photographers. Volunteers can sign up for other activities too, such as fostering.
To create a transport on the Doobert platform, the transport coordinator (who must be an official or authorized volunteer with a sending organization that has been approved by Doobert, or a receiving organization working with an approved sending organization) specifies a starting and ending point for the transport and enters information about the animals to be transported. The Doobert platform then creates a unique webpage for that particular transport.
The Doobert platform can automatically plot an efficient route on Google between any two points entered into the system and break the route up into legs. Volunteers can then sign up for legs or for other jobs associated with the transport. Doobert automatically sends information to the people involved in the transport, and the transport page can be consulted at any time by anyone. When everything is ready to go, Doobert can generate a run sheet.
One transport coordinator told Roy that by using the Doobert platform she was able to increase her runs per week from eight to sixteen. Doobert handles the communications so that she is not drowning in a sea of e-mail, social media comments, and texts with each transport. Another helpful aspect is that volunteers can use Doobert to track their expenses.
Because lots of sending and receiving organizations use Doobert, it is easy to make sure that transports are full. If a transport is scheduled for two animals going from, say, Tallahassee to Connecticut, but the receiving organization has capacity to take four animals, the remaining two spaces can be listed as available. Other member organizations can then take advantage of those slots, signing animals up for them in much the way a person would book an airline flight.
About 95% of the transports that have used the Doobert platform so far have been the ground rescue-relay type. Rescue-relay transports, because they involve many drivers, require a lot of coordination, and the Doobert platform is particularly well adapted to making such transports more efficient. Doobert has attracted a lot of attention, and Roy estimates that the number of animals transported with the help of Doobert in 2018 will be 2,000 to 3,000. Best Friends Animal Society has been using Doobert in their shelters and recommending it to their network partners.
A helpful feature for organizations that are new to transporting or want to expand their transports into new regions is the Doobert supply-and-demand map, posted on the website. Organizations can list how many animals they have to send, or how many they can take in, and the types they will take in.
This map allows organizations and individuals to search for organizations they want to work with. People new to transport can go on the Partners section of Doobert, find organizations that are compatible with their transport goals, and reach out to them. An advantage of this approach is that it allows people to create efficient routes. For example, a shelter in Oklahoma that has been transporting to Massachusetts might find partners in Colorado.
It’s rare for serious problems to occur on transports, but when they do occur the Doobert platform can help. If a car breaks down in transport, often the driver on the other end of that leg can come to the rescue. If a driver fails to show up, often the driver of the previous leg can continue, or split the leg with the next driver in line. Doobert can facilitate communication among the drivers, and if a problem comes up that the drivers can’t solve themselves, the transport coordinator can use Doobert to seek help from other volunteers or organizations.
Each state has its own rules and regulations for importing animals, and this can be a time-consuming thing for transport coordinators to deal with. A Doobert intern researched all the state regulations and posted them on the site to help with this issue. The health certifications required by state laws typically travel with each animal, and it occasionally happens that the driver of a leg will forget to transfer all the paperwork in the chaos of exercising animals and transferring them to the next driver’s vehicle. Doobert can help with this problem by providing online copies of the documents that can be accessed on a smartphone. Roy has confirmed with many states that the online health paperwork is acceptable if the hard copies are lost.
Rescue-relay transport runs are typically interstate, but local transportation is also important in raising shelter live release rates. A few months ago, Doobert rolled out functionality for scheduling local rides such as from a shelter to a foster. Roy jokes that this is like Uber for animals.
Another new area for Doobert is assisting the High Five Virginia program, which seeks to make transport more efficient by concentrating it within the state. This new functionality will not be limited to Virginia. Any state or region would be able to use this same functionality in Doobert to organize a statewide transport effort. Roy calls this new region-based approach the “coalition” concept. Doobert currently has two levels, individuals and organizations. Coalitions will be a third level of organization in Doobert, consisting of groups of organizations.
In addition to transport, an important aspect of High Five Virginia, or any state effort that wants to coordinate transport within the state, is the “marketplace” for animals who need immediate assistance. Doobert can house that marketplace, automatically keeping it current in real time without the need for cumbersome social media postings.
Roy believes that today we have enough homes for all the healthy and treatable animals who wind up in our shelters, but we still have problems with distribution. “Distribution” refers to imbalances in the number of homeless animals relative to the number of available homes in a given area. As a general rule, we have more homeless animals than homes in many places in the southern half of the U.S., and more homes than homeless animals in many places in the northern half of the country.
We also have problems with inventory. “Inventory” involves the type of animals who predominate in each region. For example, California may have an excess of chihuahuas, who are in demand in shelters in the northeast. Virginia and other southeastern states may have many hunting dogs, who would readily find homes in the upper Midwest. Cities may have trouble finding homes for large dogs, who are in demand in Colorado and other states where outdoor activities are popular. Transport is a quick and efficient way to solve both distribution and inventory problems.
Although distribution and inventory problems occur at the national level, they can occur within states too. The city shelter with too many large dogs may find that there is higher demand for large dogs in nearby rural areas, while the city may be able to take in cats and small dogs from the rural areas. Many times, the hardest animals to place are those who need medical or behavior help. A state coalition can move animals to places where resources are available – or move the resources to the animals. The Doobert platform could help at all these levels of organization.
One of the major choke points that Roy sees in transport is the tendency of people to resist change. For example, an organization that habitually runs one large transport per month may resist adding transports, even if more frequent, smaller transports would be more efficient or save more lives. Another choke point is “dead zones” in some areas, including parts of Texas and along the route to the Pacific northwest, that have too few volunteers. That makes running rescue-relay transports through those areas difficult. A third choke point is organizations each wanting to run their own transports, rather than embracing what Roy calls the “Expedia” model of booking spaces on cooperative transports.
Money is a very important choke point. A perennial controversy with transport has been the way costs are distributed. It has been traditional for sending organizations to bear the costs of preparing animals for transport and the cost of the transport itself. Sending organizations are therefore often limited in the number they transport simply because they don’t have enough money to transport more. Roy believes this problem stems from how we place value on shelter pets. He thinks it’s time for receiving organizations to realize that we are moving from the “pet overpopulation” model we had 20 years ago to a “supply and demand” model that recognizes that today there is a demand for shelter and rescue pets. He envisions a day when the inventory list of sending organizations in Doobert will have a cost listed for each animal that the receiving organization will pay. This will put more money into the system and save more lives.
So far, most of the transports run on Doobert have been small. The Doobert platform seems to have filled a niche that makes it practical to use transport to save lives one, two, or three at a time. But the ease of scheduling through Doobert could make the platform a good choice for larger transports as well. Roy believes that as the capabilities of Doobert become better known, more of the larger transport organizations will sign on and Doobert will have more transports in the range of 10-50 animals. Another area of growth will hopefully be in the percentage of cats transported. Cat transport is gaining ground nationally, but the great majority of transports so far on Doobert have been for dogs. The Doobert platform can be used to transport other types of pets too, including rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, mice, and rats.
Roy has a vision for the future of Doobert that goes beyond supporting transport. In fact, the Doobert platform could be used for anything that requires a group effort. He has worked on coordinating community cat programs through Doobert, for example. Another area where the Doobert platform could prove useful is with regional events. One way to get traditional shelters to participate in events is to make their participation easier by doing some of the preliminary work for them – making them “turnkey” events. This has been a big factor in the success of Clear the Shelters, for example. Doobert could help with the preliminary organizing of turnkey events such as regional adoption marathons with many shelters and rescues participating.
Roy’s work is not limited to Doobert. He also founded the Animal Rescue Professionals Association (ARPA). The idea of ARPA is to support education and certification for people in animal sheltering and rescue. Doobert is about technology, but Roy sees a link between technology and education/certification. He does a podcast every week called Professionals in Animal Rescue, featuring people from all walks of life. The podcasts illustrate that a person does not have to work in a shelter or other traditional environment to do animal rescue. In January 2019 he is starting two additional podcasts – animal shelter of the week, and animal rescue of the week. Over the course of 2019 these podcasts will feature one shelter and one rescue in each of the 50 states. The interviews will focus on particular issues and solutions in each community.
Technology has been underused in animal sheltering and rescue. The future looks bright for sheltering and rescue to make big gains in efficiency and effectiveness using tools like Doobert.