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Meet the humane society’s pet concierge. She’ll play matchmaker for your ideal pet

Are you mad about malamutes? Batty over beagles? Crazy about cockers? Do you love Great Danes, but your loft apartment is more suited to a Lhasa Apso? Are you looking for a dog who will accompany you on your daily three-mile run or one who will snooze by your side during your daily three-hour TV marathon?

Once you’ve decided that you are ready to make a life-long commitment to a dog, cat (or other animal), but aren’t sure which one is right for you, the Lexington Humane Society has the answer.

First Contact, their Pet Concierge Program, works with potential adopters to identify the type of pet that would best suit their lifestyle, orchestrating the perfect love match between humans and animals.

“Promoting adoption as the best option when selecting a pet is one of the core missions at the Lexington Humane Society,” says pet concierge Sandy Sanders, who adds that 45% of animals who are brought into homes come from shelters.

The program, which has been in existence since 2013, has seen steadily rising numbers.

Last year First Contact had a better than 70% success rate with its matches (460 adoptions out of 665 registrations.) Of that number, 266 were dogs, 155, cats and 39 were “other” – rabbits, ferrets, potbellied pigs, guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters, ducks and chickens.

“Believe it or not, we’ve even had people request snakes, lizards and turtles,” says Sanders, who adds that they do their best to satisfy every potential adopter.

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Sandy Sanders, Lexington Humane Society first contact coordinator, with Max, a 1-year-old Labradoodle mix, left, and Lil’ Squirt, a 4-month-old Chihuahua Dachshund mix. Both been selected for adoption through a concierge-type service designed to help people find the perfect pet at the Lexington Humane Society. Ryan C. Hermens rhermens@herald-leader.com

So, how do you decide if the services of a concierge are right for you? You might be a candidate if any of the following apply:

You are looking for a specific type or breed of animal. You know what you want, but can’t seem to find it.

Time is a factor. You don’t have enough of it for an exhaustive search on your own.

You’re too sad or overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices in a shelter setting and need to start with a smaller sampling.

If you answer “yes” to the above, Sanders steps in as a matchmaker. She gets potential adopters to complete a registration form detailing pet preferences (breed, temperament, even color); identifies possible matches and set up appointments to meet and greet.

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Lil’ Squirt, a 4-month-old Chihuahua Dachshund mix. The adoption program, which started in 2013, has seen rising numbers of registrations. Last year they had a better than 70 percent success rate with its matches. Ryan C. Hermens rhermens@herald-leader.com

The registry proved to be a good baseline, but the program needed tweaking. A tier system was developed to distinguish between those who are merely thinking about adopting and those who are ready to take the plunge.

Tier 2 registrants – those who think they want to adopt – pay a $25 fee to register. Every day, Sanders searches the registry and tags animals that people are looking for.

For example, if a Shih Tzu, one of the more popular breeds requested comes in, she will call three or four people to come in to meet the dog. They have two days to decide and it’s strictly first come, first served.

Tier 1 – designed for those who know they are ready to adopt – still allows for two days and is also first come, first served. But the fee is increased to $50 and Sanders only calls in one person at a time.

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Max, a 1-year-old Labradoodle mix. There is a registration fee to enroll in the First Contact Pet Concierge Program. Ryan C. Hermens rhermens@herald-leader.com

She says that since they pull in animals from other Kentucky shelters, most of the common breeds routinely pop up, but they have also gotten some rare breeds that people usually don’t associate with shelters.

“We’ve gotten afghans, Irish wolfhounds, Weimaraners, Chinese Cresteds and Brussels Griffons,” she said.

One of those who was successful in finding his match was former mayor Lexington Jim Gray, who wanted a hiking buddy, but because of his demanding schedule had no time to research the right dog.

Through First Contact, Gray was introduced to May Lake, a Blue Pit Bull Terrier puppy, and the two have been constant companions ever since. An August posting on Gray’s Facebook page assured friends that both May Lake and companion are still happily taking to the trails.

Ashley Hammond, who heads up the fund-raising effort for the Lexington Humane Society, has seen first-hand other successful matches through First Contact.

“Animal services sent us Sox, a small Chihuahua mix, who went into labor and her owners didn’t get her medical attention in time,” says Hammond. “Sadly, the puppy didn’t survive, but we were able to get a scared, confused Sox a forever home.”

She also talks about the program’s success in finding a home for a pig this summer.

“The new owners have sent us pictures of the pig curled up on a dog bed next to its human baby brother.”

Hammond says that all dogs, cats and most farm animals leave being fixed and up-to-date on their shots. But both she and Sanders emphasize that since 80% of participants in the program are new to the Lexington Humane Society, they should know that First Contact doesn’t necessarily guarantee a quick match.

“Some people wait one day and others wait a year or longer,” says Sanders.

After all, true love takes time.

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