Nala and Bella Find a Real Home with the Help of Virtual Adoption

June 1, 2020

Nala Bella and Rachel's daughter

Sandra Suong has fostered dozens of kittens for the ASPCA in Los Angeles over the past three years, personally finding new homes for many of them. But she recently placed her first pair of littermates—nine-week-old Nala and Bella—without ever having met the adopters in person.

Instead, she consulted with the prospective adopters virtually through two Zoom and Facetime sessions.

“Zoom makes it easy for fosters and adopters alike,” said Sandra, a family therapist. “There’s not as much coordination on both ends, because potential adopters aren’t making in-person visits. And it gives me the flexibility to show them off multiple times because it’s so easy. They can see the cats in action at different times of the day.”

Sandra and Rachel on a zoom adoption call

Nala and Bella have been with Sandra since they were four weeks old, spending their days in a bedroom-turned-office manned by Sandra’s husband Kee, a special effects artist who is currently working from home.

“They were his officemates and even made appearances during his business Zoom meetings,” she said.

Before the pandemic, adopting out foster kittens around heavily populated L.A. County was time-consuming. Potential adopters could get stuck in traffic en route to a foster caregiver’s home. Once, Sandra had to arrange three visits for an indecisive adopter. Another time, a family visited Sandra, but the cats they wanted to meet hid under the bed the entire time 

“Animals are more relaxed when they’re in a familiar environment and on Zoom, they show who they truly are,” Sandra said. “They’re not scared around new people and there are no limits as to how often I can show them off. It’s much less intrusive and time-consuming.”

Innovative Solutions to Adoption Challenges

To overcome challenges raised by COVID-19, animal welfare organizations, including the ASPCA, are encouraging a range of innovative technological solutions, including remote adoptions and online meet-and-greets, according to Christa Chadwick, the ASPCA’s Vice President of Shelter Services.

Already, dozens of available animals from the ASPCA’s New York City and Los Angeles operations have been adopted after online introductions to potential adopters. To keep this momentum going, the ASPCA has declared June 5 to 7, National Adoption Weekend (#AdoptFromHome) to encourage and enable the public—including foster caregivers—to complete adoptions of dogs, cats, even horses, from home.

“National Adoption Weekend was created as a direct response to the heartwarming surge in foster caregivers during the pandemic,” says Christa. “Now more than ever, we hope people consider adopting so shelters and rescues can utilize their limited resources for other vulnerable animals.”

Making a Remote Connection

As soon as California shut down public gatherings and businesses, Rachel Starrett, a second-grade teacher who lives near Los Angeles, began looking for a kitten for her eight-year-old daughter, Caroline.

A family member told them of the ASPCA’s Kitten Foster program, which now offers virtual meetings with kitten foster caregivers. They were eventually introduced to Sandra to talk about Nala and Bella. 

“It was so easy,” Rachel said. “Over Zoom, Sandra walked us through the process, telling us about their personalities, habits and what kind of supplies we’d need.”

Sandra delivering Nala and Bella

A week after their Zoom and FaceTime conversations, Sandra delivered Nala (now called Evie) and Bella to Rachel’s doorstep, while respecting social distancing norms. 

Sandra delivering Nala and Bella

“I didn’t feel like I was at a disadvantage because I couldn’t see the kittens in person,” Rachel added, “Because Sandra was able to convey their personalities and knew them well enough to give me an honest assessment.”

Rachel's family after Nala and Bella were brought to their house

Rachel, a teacher, and her husband Brian are now spending new-found time at home teaching their four-year-old son Coulson how to care for the new baby felines. 

Rachel's son meeting Nala and Bella

“We’re home all summer, and this worked out seamlessly,” Rachel said. “And having two kittens is just as easy as one; they’ll keep each other company when we all go back to work and school.”

Rachel's daughter with Nala and Bella