In 1995, Jared and Betsy Saul were frustrated by what they saw as a failure to exploit the Internet's potential, and they made a New Year's resolution to implement a project for some social good. Betsy's previous volunteer work with a local rescue made her aware of the plight of unwanted animals, so that's where the Sauls devoted their energy. They decided to create a Web site where shelters could list their animals for prospective adopters and increase the number of people that were able to see them. The Sauls approached shelters in their home state of New Jersey, but most were initially skeptical, concerned about exposing their animals to danger, and unsure if it would work.
They continued to contact shelters as part of a grassroots effort, and eventually some of them signed on. Jared built the Web site while he was in medical school. Since most shelters still didn't have computers, they faxed their lists to the Sauls' neighbor, who slid the lists under the door. After coming home from her job as a ground water hydrologist, Betsy uploaded the animal's descriptions to the site.
From the beginning, the Sauls paid close attention to their constituents. They knew that they needed a fast, simple user-friendly site, because their members were chronically overworked and often not very familiar with new technology.
When the idea spread and a few sponsors signed on, Betsy Saul quit her day job to devote herself to Petfinder full-time. In 1998, the site went national, and in 2000, it became an international group with the addition of Canada.
The business model of Petfinder has been similar to that of a nonprofit agency, but Petfinder is not a nonprofit group. The founders say they made this decision because they wanted the ability to seek corporate sponsorship, rather than compete with their constituents for nonprofit dollars. In 2003, Petfinder established the Petfinder.com Foundation, a public charity designed initially to assist with natural disasters. In late 2006, Discovery Communications acquired Petfinder.
Next, we'll take a look at the facts and figures behind Petfinder -- just how many servers does it take to find homes for so many animals?