‘Doggy Dating’ Pairs People, Pups to Promote Pet Adoption

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Luna, Rex and Agnes were ready Wednesday to put their best paw forward for their first time speed dating. They were among seven adoptable dogs who were the main attraction at Doggy Dating, a new animal adoption event sponsored by the College of DuPage, the Animal Rescue Foundation and the Naperville Area Humane Society.

Dozens of college students stopped by during the two-hour event in Glen Ellyn, and one even fell in love with a large mutt she plans to adopt and rename Max. But the traditional speed-dating format — five minutes with one person (or pup), followed by five minutes with the next, and the next, and the next — didn’t really pan out.

“As much as you might try to schedule or plan an animal event, the animals set the tone,” said Ann Persenaire, president of the Animal Rescue Foundation, which she runs out of her Wheaton home. Also atypical of speed dating, the event wasn’t a beauty contest among dogs. Students circled around Agnes, a bearded collie who had lost much of her hair from fleas after being caged and kept outside, just as keenly as they did around Persenaire’s own well-groomed dog, Gizmo.

“We didn’t bring just the most beautiful dogs in the world; we brought a cross-section of what rescue is,” Persenaire said. “Anything that can allow a sense of empathy to develop in people, young or old, is a good thing.” The Doggy Dating event took shape from an assignment in College of DuPage Assistant Professor Sandy Fries’ journalism and mass communications class. Fries said he assigned groups of students to choose a charity that helps dogs that “need to be saved” and promote it with three print advertisements, a TV commercial and a public relations event.

Some of the events didn’t materialize, such as an idea called “Pups on Cups,” in which students had hoped to affix pictures of adoptable dogs on to-go coffee cups at a local Starbucks, Fries said.

But student Sarah Hodshire of Downers Grove got excited about her group’s Doggy Dating idea and spent months making sure it actually happened. She said she was pleased Wednesday with the event, which drew her peers away from the free midweek popcorn offered near the Student Life Lounge to pet pooches and consider bringing one home.

“This gives dogs exposure by letting them meet humans for a short time so they don’t get overstimulated,” Hodshire said about the event’s speed dating theme. “We just want people to come in and visit and stop to see the dogs.”

Student Roha Nehas of Glendale Heights did just that, making brief visits to three or four of the dogs before asking Persenaire from the Animal Rescue Foundation and volunteer Sonya Stowers from the Naperville Area Humane Society about adoption procedures with each organization.

“I just love dogs,” Nehas said. “This is a good place to get information.” As students such as Nehas stopped by on their lunch breaks, volunteers like Stowers rattled off facts about the hounds they were handling, promoting their best qualities and warning of their worst — mannerisms or health issues left behind from bad situations they encountered before making their way to a rescue group.

Luna, for example, is a black shepherd/lab mix who loves people but is constantly ducking when a hand comes her way, afraid she’ll be struck on the head, Persenaire said. Rescue volunteers were optimistic some of the pets they introduced Wednesday soon would be welcomed into their forever homes. But even for students who just had fun petting dogs in between classes, animal advocates say they think the event was a positive influence.

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“It just brings awareness to what’s going on with all the different rescue groups,” Stowers said. “These animals are out there and they need help in lots of different ways.”

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