Speed dating is for the dogs

Person hugging Henrietta the dog
The eligible singles at Best Friends in Los Angeles don’t care if you drive a fancy car or how snazzy your clothes are. But if you don’t love dogs, it’s a deal-breaker.
By Nicole Hamilton

At a recent speed-dating event, Henrietta greeted everyone she met like they were already her good friend. She captured attention with her beautiful brown eyes, and people loved hearing that she’s always up for an adventure but enjoys spending quiet evenings at home, too. Even the fact that Henrietta doesn’t drive (in Los Angeles, no less) didn’t stop admirers from asking for her number.

But then, this wasn’t your average speed-dating event. Organized by Best Friends and held at the pet adoption center in Los Angeles, the event was designed as a unique way to match dogs from shelters with families.

Getting creative to reach no-kill

Last year, around 378,000 dogs and cats were killed in our nation’s shelters just because they didn’t have safe places to call home. Best Friends’ goal is to support shelters across the country in reaching no-kill by 2025, and working with our shelter partners to take in and place their pets in new homes is just one of the ways we work together toward that shared goal.

Creative and fun events like dog speed dating are a great way for pets to have the best of both worlds. They can thrive in a foster home while still meeting potential adopters face to face at the center.

And because the dogs are accompanied by their foster caregivers, potential adopters can talk to the people who know them best. In people dating terms, it’s like meeting someone in person to see whether there are sparks versus getting to know them (at least at first) online.

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Every two to three hours during the daylong event, a new group of dogs — accompanied by their foster caregivers — arrives at the adoption center at the beginning of their time slot. But unlike most human speed-dating events, where people mingle for a short amount of time until they’re required to move on, people who come to Best Friends speed-dating events can spend all the time they want with a dog they’re interested in adopting. And Kelly Flores, Best Friends coordinator in Los Angeles, says they’re encouraged to ask as many questions to staff and foster volunteers as they want, as well.

That’s what happened when a couple met Henrietta and her foster person, Emilee Hess. The couple, who were about to welcome their first child, came to the speed-dating event hoping to adopt a dog before the baby arrived. They’d met a few other dogs that day whom they were interested in adopting. But when they saw Henrietta, they knew they’d met their match, especially when they learned she had been a mother herself.

Canine kismet

“Loving and incredibly calm.” That’s how Emilee describes Henrietta, who gave birth to a litter of puppies shortly after arriving at Palmdale Animal Care Center, one of the seven shelters in the L.A. County Department of Animal Care and Control system. Once the puppies were weaned, she and her litter came to Best Friends and then went on to foster homes.

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All of Henrietta’s puppies were adopted quickly while she had time to settle in and relax in her foster home with Emilee and her boyfriend. Henrietta loved to cuddle, and she got along well with their dog. This was important information that Emilee could share with anyone interested in adopting her.

Henrietta was a little nervous at the beginning of the speed-dating event, but then Emilee found a place under a tree in the yard and spread out a blanket where she could lie.

For the next couple of hours, people stopped by to meet Henrietta and chat with Emilee. But it was the young couple expecting their first child who made the strongest connection with Henrietta. After talking to Emilee and Best Friends staff, they adopted her. Emilee called the meeting “kismet.”

A good match for a puppy

An adorably scruffy 6-month-old puppy attracted lots of admirers at another speed-dating event. One of those admirers was Dahlia Turnbull, who took one look at her and had a good feeling she’d adopt her that day.

There were just a couple of important things she wanted to ask her potential new pup’s foster family. For example, was she house-trained (no, but she was learning), and was she friendly with people (yes, but she’s shy at first)?

Now the scruffy little dog, whom she named Stoic, is Dahlia’s best friend. After Dahlia’s mom died recently, Stoic was a source of comfort. She even accompanied Dahlia when she flew to Michigan for her mother’s funeral. Stoic sat in Diana’s lap the entire flight, didn’t bark once, and got lots of attention from the flight crew and passengers. “It was like we were flying with a celebrity,” she says.

More speed dating, more adoptions ahead

More dog speed-dating events at Best Friends in Los Angeles are on the way. Kelly adds that the events are a great way for the staff to get to know the dogs better, too. And if they don’t get adopted at an event, they are more prepared to match dogs with adopters outside of the events.

“These speed-dating events raise awareness about the importance of fostering, they help staff, and they help save lives,” says Kelly. “They’re also a lot of fun.”

Our goal at Best Friends is to support all animal shelters in the U.S. in reaching no-kill by 2025. No-kill means saving every dog and cat in a shelter who can be saved, accounting for community safety and good quality of life for pets. Shelter staff can’t do it alone. Saving animals in shelters is everyone’s responsibility, and it takes support and participation from the community. No-kill is possible when we work together thoughtfully, honestly, and collaboratively.

Henrietta the dog giving a kiss to a person wearing a plaid shirt
Photo by Lori Fusaro

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