Join us today as we talk with Christine Exley, an Assistant Professor at the Harvard Business School and Co-Founder of Wagaroo. Christine will be talking to us about Wagaroo’s Family2Family program, vs surrendering their beloved pets to a shelter. She’ll share with us the story of how she met Pepper, her beloved brindle pit, with the unshakable love for life. “As a dog lover and an economist, I hope to find ways to save more dogs by overcoming market failures.
Welcome to the Professionals and Animal Rescue podcast, where goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This’ll Podcast is proudly sponsored by do bert dot com. Do Bert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only site that automates rescue relate Transport. Now on with our show. Christine Exley, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School and co founder of Wagga Rue, joins us today on her program. Wag Aru is a website that helps pet owners re home their beloved pet toe. Another family. They believe in responsible pet matching ownership and acquisition. And since 2012 they’ve helped re home over 600 animals. They’re inspired by the transformative power of bringing pets into people’s lives and people to pets. Hey, Christine, welcome to the program. Thanks so much tragedy. So tell us a little bit about you and kind of how you got into animal rescue. Sure as so, I started off in the animal rescue space as a preteen. So I was 11 years old at the time and actually is part of a Girl Scout badge. My troop was Disney in our local animal shelter in Norfolk, Virginia, and this was the first moment where I realized that all dogs in cats didn’t just live on couches. I was a pretty That was a pretty big moment for me in terms of just getting fired up. Learning that there actually is a problem in trying toe started do things in that space in middle school. It started off with a lot of drives for blankets or to lease, to give to the animal shelter and and high school. It started to become a little bit more defense, spending more time walking the dogs, feeding the invading them, painting outside of the building to try to look like an animal shelter. It’s kind of an industrial part of town, okay, And then, you know, from there it’s just always been a aside passion of mine. Very interesting. So now your professional career, when in a different direction, though, so tell us a little bit about that and how the two have kind of started to melt. Yeah, absolutely so low in front. A crowd of Into University of Mary Washington, which is just south of D. C. And Virginia, as though I was a double major in math and economics. Uh, and economics is all about smuggle about That is largely about studying market failures. And how can we approve at the efficiency and the effectiveness of actors and a variety of markets? Eso in the back of my head, trying to find ways for that to apply to the to the pet rescue world was always an ongoing question. And I think that really I started to hold in on that question during my graduate studies and economics at Stanford University. I wouldn’t studying under Al Roth. Look a lot of other great professors, but I’ll Roth won the Nobel Prize for his work largely on the market design and a particular looking at how to improve the efficiency of actress of kidneys with folks and needs of kidneys. So, you know, that is certainly a good motivator that if he didn’t tackle, uh, this a crucially important market that maybe I have some things to learn from the pet space. So during my graduate studies at Stanford, I got connected to a Stanford FBI, Elena battles. I was connected to her via thes Samothrace, Class B C I. Which is where I started volunteering at the time, and we just started talking about what could be doing what they do in the space. How do we think that we can improve the customer experience to try to overcome some of these inherent market failures infections that we we felt were productive, getting folks mashed with dogs and you two families finding their dogs from the most? No, that’s really cool. So you took a very business focused mindset and economics and applied it to animal rescue. So now I’m curious. Like what? What transpired because of this? So you obviously came at this with a with a goal in mind. And where did you take it? Yeah, So our first conversations with Elena and then also in talking at the San Francisco Spc. I is let’s improve the matching over them. So you’re probably familiar with these? Maybe on some of the online pet sites, as such as Petfinder, adopt a pet. But you might also be familiar with these from online dating sites, you moral estate quiz, and then I recommend a match to you. So I recommended back shoot in terms of about a dog or a cat, Everything. Well, maybe there’s some room for improvement and how hell these algorithms are played. And that indeed, that’s the focus of a lot of market design is improving. All these algorithms work to match match folks in these complicated markets. And so So we played around with that for a little while on an ultimate read. What we did is we said, OK, we think that this is a pretty good action knowledge or that we have the right questions. We’re recommending dogs. People are sometimes adopting adopting these dogs. But you know, we need toe. We need to test this against the appropriate counterfactual. Inappropriate. Coming factual in the space is like just against random, right? How about if I just randomly recommend a dog dio like, how effective is not gonna be? Um, it turns out we were no better than random. So things like a very clear test of like, this is actually not working. Like maybe there’s something to be said for recommending dogs to people. But there wasn’t this, like special sauce. Uh, and now we have. So that’s where it started. Um, but we hid it away from that It evolved. It evolved over time to focus more on a different market market failure, which wasn’t necessarily related to How do you someone find the particular right dog from them? But how can you screen on a quote unquote good actors from from bad actors in in the pen space and one of the places where that’s really a relevant question? Is the informal market. So if you go to the seventies Class B. C. A. It’s very clear that you’re adopting a dog. You don’t need to ask yourself, Are these dogs were actually meet? That’s you know, Samson SBC is an organization that is telling you that these Air Dogs needed it organization that we respect likewise for other animal shelters and rescue groups. But about 1/4 off individuals and all of these numbers are are fuzzy. You might have a better sense of some of these numbers, and I do, but about 1/4 of individuals actually acquire their parents. From what I would like to call an informal market s, you could think of these in terms off, inquire their pet from their family members or their friends or their neighbors or their colleagues, where I often on five forums such as crisis right now what you’re interacting with Craigslist, it actually could be difficult, not toe, you know, perhaps inversely interact with it. With a factor is when I say that after I have in mind, sources such as puppy mills or even your responsible readers were generally folks, we really put the prophet of a dog above the health and, well, dean of of the of the Dog of the Year for kitten. And over time, you know, these actors have become more sophisticated. There’s track list online of here, the red flags for irresponsible breeders or puppy mills. Well, the problem with these checklists that they’re great, they’re useful. But one of the challenges is the bad actors could be these checklists to figure out your magic sauce. Yeah, so you know, if the checklists a, uh, you know, don’t trust anyone who will ship a puppy to you, perhaps they noto versatile onto the question. Will, you should happen to me. No, absolutely not. It becomes it becomes more challenging space. So what we developed what at Wagga Room was essentially just a very simple incentive scheme that was as follows. So this is part of our family. The family program, by the reason they named it our family to family problems, were looking to serve pats that need to be re home from one family to another without going through intermediaries such as a shelter, her rescues and this kind of direct recall me that typically happens in the informal market on what we said is, if you would like to post your dog on your family to family program online, you’re welcome to charge an adoption fee. But that could have you considered best practices. Well, you might have some institutions about giving the dog away for free or had a free Uh what, uh, there is There’s a There’s a twist here is you’re not allowed to accept that adoption fee. Instead, that adoption fees were actually going to take that Wagner. Well, we’re gonna use this toe, put money back into our site to try to help future doctor. And what that does, very simply is if you have an actor who wants to profit, uh, actually, regardless of other responsibly, responsibly, you don’t even need that great line. But if you have an actor that wants to profit off of the sales for their dog. They have no incentive to post on our side. Sure, because you are the most understand your publicly read, not to profit. And so that was a very simple inside of that doctor. Pet is actually now using a someone seems like a similar instead of seeing which is fantastic. But that’s a very similar incentive that you can employ in this informal market, really effectively screened out the bad actors. And in our experience, once we introduce this in some sweet and start here, all of a sudden, we no longer have to, like, manually remove and flag questionable costumes on our side. It was really quite effective. And so I think, as an economist, finding ways that you can align inside of properly to really do the work for you, as opposed to having toe read through checklist. Or, you know, has ah third parties such as myself go through manually removed. After that, we can perhaps kind of tell for more subtle cues seem to be bad, like that’s Ah, that’s the goal. That’s that’s what makes me excited. It’s a what’s been the most successful part of Wangari was this really family. Oh, that’s interesting. So I mean, how long a go did you guys launch this? Such a question. I’m so bad with timelines. So if you’re asking a lane of the M B A shoe and this down, you’re out getting economists eso so late and I started talking to each other. You know, around 20.12 I’m gonna ask to Maybe we started by a room around 2013 but we complex on the surveillance of real not And maybe the family family came here after that. So I’m gonna put that at 2014. But I could get back to you with an actual Yeah. No, no, that’s cool. I was just trying to get it. Get a feel for how long? This has been out there and and I guess Have you have you learned anything from this? Have you started to see the trends? And obviously you’re studying what’s happening with this? Yeah, so? So the main. The main thing that we learned was actually quite immediate, as I mentioned, it’s just that it worked. You know, bad actors were no longer trying to post on our site, which is great. Yeah. You know, we were no longer getting these, Uh, you know, someone has a teacup puppies that they need to re hope on a regular basis. I think we’ve also learned which is the wonderful It’s really beneficial program for a variety of actives. Eso the most common way that we have folks posting on our site is from animal shelters and rescues refer them to us in. This is often the case because animal shelters or in what rescue groups might not have the ability to take in a particular dogger particular capped. Oh, instead of just telling them but also hard, we can help you, they say, Well, you know we can’t help you, perhaps at this moment, but at least in the meantime, I mean, usually GOP later down the road is needed. Uh, or maybe we’ll need our help at all. Is it even go to this lack of your family to family? Would you be interested in trying to read? Hold your dog yourself as it alleviates a lot. A lot of pressure of these organizations. I think it’s also really good for the families that have to re home their dogs from, at least in our experience, working with several 100 of of these families. This deeper fee only is that love their dogs in the use. Come on unfortunate times. It’s often do, too. They lost their home or they lost a job. Or perhaps this is actually a family members had to recently passed away unexpectedly. Where they might have to move overseas is due to the military. So these are often situations that make clear that they can, unfortunately, keep their dog. But they they do clearly love their dog. Eso actually think it’s good for the families, and then the third group that’s beef out it’s good for is individuals who are looking to adopt hats s. So there’s a lot of the villages to getting a dog or cat or pet were generally from its previous owner. You can ask questions and get deserts. You’re not limited to the blurb that’s online of the shelter or a rescue group. You can you can see how the animal accident environment of which is comfortable s so there’s a lot of, uh, a senator information that’s reduced. So I think what I’ve been so pleased about what the favorite 1,000,000 programs that really does seem like this one win win situation. That’s it’s good for shelters and rescues. It’s good for the families envied of re homing their dog. And it’s good for for families who are looking into it. Yeah, I know you’ve touched on something that’s really important. I mean, re homing is something that just seems to have become a very big marketing item nowadays. But it is, as you point out, it’s very important. Part of the shelter system is if you can avoid them going into the shelter, it just stays on so many different things and the stress and the animal in the costs and all these other things that have to happen. It takes the burden off the shelter. That’s right. And you brought up up worth 1/4 group, which, how could I forget to mention, Yeah, I think it’s It’s good for the pets, right? So not have to go through an additional transition. Yeah, no, that’s it’s something that’s really important. I mean, I think I’ve talked to various groups and a lot of what I hear from people that air surrendering their passes It’s not because they don’t love the animal. It’s not because they don’t want the animal. There’s a lot of other circumstances and so helping to direct them either to services to help them out, whether it be, you know, loca, spay, neuter or food or whatever it might be. Or if they still can’t take care of the animal helping them to find that new home. I mean, I think, as you pointed out, it’s It’s a win win all around. It keeps animal out of the shelter, helps the owner to feel like they’re not just abandoning their animal in their place them into the new home, finding the best fit for them. Yeah, absolutely. And we do find a substantial fraction of families composed in our sight when they asked to take down the edible. We follow up by saying, Have doesn’t want a doctor, the doctor dollars. How did you find this person and so forth? And often what we’re learning is that no, no one adopted their dog because now they actually keep their dog s. So this is a really common experience. I was trying to see that good quickly. I love all of the numbers here, but you know, it’s at least on the order. 20% of folks who come in the family, the family actually end up keeping their dog. So it’s it’s exciting for that. Yeah, no, that’s a That’s a really good statistic. I’m really glad to hear that. I’m curious. You know, now that you’ve got this successful program and you’ve kind of figured this out, have you tried to go back to come up with a better matching algorithm Now that you’ve got some better data and you know how people find a re homing, you know, we haven’t I know some upload of other sites seemed to have exciting progress on this front s. I think when you go on to, you know, in the beginning of these, whether it’s diverted adoptive heads, uh, or resting that’s true has want from but a lot of qualities doing Maddie’s fund has also held developed some of these for Wilder’s, and there might still be classifications dogs by personalities Thursday for colors. So I think that there’s data there of the interested in connecting with these folks to see what they learn, But but I have not done No, it’s really nice to see the industry moving away from just breed. I mean, you know, a breed gives you maybe some indicators, but it’s so many animals coming out of rescues and shelters and even out of the general public. They’re mixed breed animals. And so it’s it’s more about the animal on the personality and the lifestyle of the family and and the environmental conditions than it is about a particular particular breed. That’s right, in the sense one of the late denies longstanding hypotheses. And we have anecdotal evidence to support is that you know, people care about how the dog looks. I think too often, you know. But often it’s in these very broad characteristics that are not listening to a breed. So it’s like they’re like dogs with floppy ears. Oh, or that they like dogs that are funny or or they like dogs. You know, it’s like Big tail is really just or boxy your pointy or things like this. And that’s what I think would be interesting. Is thinking of even these kind of, or is it perhaps different than the breeze? But it’s something more like groups. In part of that could be a function of like the doc size, but also the dog strong look would a facilitating being ableto look through more right like look generally then say it’s a breed, uh, be more effective in terms of matching people with the actual that they’re most most attracted to. I think would be in two meals to say We also don’t know what the breeds actually are of these dogs, right? And that’s pretty good evidence that were pretty bad. Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. Unless you get a true DNA test, it’s really hard to know. So I’m curious. What’s what’s next? I mean, you’ve been so successful in your family to family program. What’s the next step for you? I mean, this has been a kind of a lifelong passion for you. Yeah s Oh, you know, I think I think keeping with the family family is definitely in the near term horizon. That really has been our biggest success. I think one thing that I am particularly interested in I’m having the opportunity now to do more is talking with folks like yourself to just get connected to individuals who are interested in trying to think of how can we restructure this market? Water? What’s the next innovation? Could be, uh, some of the innovation. So I’m personally interested are on the sides of actually and so sorting through dogs or cats are available pets Now that need a new home is trying to find out a way to sort through people s o almost every shelter or a rescue group that I but it ask this question to They said yes, we tried this and it failed. And then the question that they say yes, we tried this in the salad is Have you ever tried having a weighty must for people looking for? Because you can imagine, maybe you’re looking for a dog certain major, certain size or temperament. Maybe you go to the adoptions. They are for a rescue group on Sunday, or you go to your local animal shelter on Tuesday and that dog isn’t there right now. Now it could very well be the case that that dog is void to be their next week. We’re in two weeks or a few days, but it’s somewhat unreasonable for us to expect people with just, you know, just come back every day that’s what they say. They say Check back with us. They say, Check that on And that’s kind of our response And I’m like, Why don’t we have a waiting list where you know this is what someone’s looking for That dog comes and you recommended They say, Well, you know the waiting list are they never work in The reason that they typically don’t work is they quickly become out of date drinks with someone will put themselves on the reading list. But then perhaps a low friend behind another dog or another cat before the shelter rescue has an opportunity to give back to them. Eso, then the shelter and rescues and they’re already strapped for time are calling people who say, You know, actually, I don’t want that are no longer looking for for a pack of my family is just kind of this unfortunate cycle of everything that’s out of date of the pets around dates and people are out of date. S o. I think trying toe think about how we can incentivise up to date meeting list, how we can use technology on the people side. This also could be a way to reduce Durchholz as though we always ask the people to search through the dogs. How about instead of that we actually have a database of customers and we searched through them? I want to try to try to make more custom recommendations. As I was saying, it needed kind of going back. I find it, too. The magic. I think I’m excited, unthinking of that side. I think it’s We focus a lot on the pet side, which makes sense now. That’s where are horrid lies. And they’re the ones for us in need of anything trying to focus on the people side mainly to subdue indications. I’m general excited about that since eso before, before we start to wrap things up, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about Pepper because I believe Pepper was kind of the inspiration behind all of this absolutely s. So I think it’s been fun talking to my parents said, becoming adult in terms of getting their reflections on this situation. So I started Teoh Volunteer Available Shelter around 13 and my parents Really, it was just it was just a matter of time until he brought it all column way already had a couple of dogs at home growing up, but around the e job of 16 we adopted, I’m gonna put adopted defaults pepper on and so cover waas this sweet little Rendall Pitbull. Not too many people’s actually made it to the adoption floor of the shelter I worked at or volunteered at at the time. Ah, but she had been there for 30 days, which was really quite a feat. The only ones who didn’t make it to the floor, perhaps when he hadn’t five, maybe 10 days, depending on the particular law that applied to them before. They’re so she was over 30 days and shows in this at 90 metal crate like the stackable kind. And she was just a happy as could be all the time. Um, on some level was heartbreaking just to see how happy she was this little this little create, but eventually it was was actually her time was up. Uh, and I decided that, you know, that just wasn’t She just wasn’t That was gonna be, uh, this time. So, you know, I have a 16 s, So I went just went on a walk with her, and I just walk around No story like you, you and ask the next thing. You know exactly what was happening. Perhaps one back later in the day to fill out some forms and things like this despairs away ex post. Um, but I was like, This is Pepper. We’re just We’re just frustrate her just like it is just lost. Three. My father was actually at a fair amount of work and rights. We have, like a you know, like a couple weeks give or mom aboard. My dad’s gonna come home. Then it’s gonna be two against one were good stacking the deck, I get it. And that’s exactly what happened. And she was just in shoes. Josie made a doctor is the one that just steal during this does your art. Jimmy was my distracted force. I was only got to live with her. You know, a few years department apologised. Trickery was my my parents best friend as well. And I think novels my mom and my father to do a different degree are involved in and what Recipe world and we know That’s also because, yeah, absolutely those of the stories that change you, and as you said it brings other people into the wonderful world of animal rescue. So that’s a That’s a really great story. Thank you for sharing that. So, Christine, is there anything else that you wanted to share this before we wrap things up, get a dog? Uh, no. I think this is a great composition. Well, thank you so much for coming on today and for sharing your story and in Wagga Rue and bringing the economics. I don’t think I’ve ever had the opportunity to talk to somebody with an economics background in animal rescue. So you were the first, and it’s very inspiring to hear everything that you’re doing. I don’t think so much. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. If you’re not already a member, joined the Air P A. 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