In 2004 the technology landscape for animal rescue groups - and everyone really - was very different to today. Facebook was still a fledgling that no one had heard of, having only launched in February that year, and Twitter was still two years away. A Nokia 2600 was the gotta-have-it-phone (even though it didn't have a camera) and smart phones were something we didn't even know we wanted yet. And 'bonsai kittens' were causing online outrage.
There were some rescue websites, despite creating and hosting a website being much, much more laborious than it is today; needing someone with web-dev skills to get one up and running. Some of the most notable included Operation Toby - a memorably coloured listing website linking to rescue groups websites;
While there was an information portal for rescue groups and potential adopters at OzDogRescue;
And easily the most interactive and heavily trafficked by rescue website resource was the Dogzonline forums;
While many other of the functions we now see done on Facebook pages and PetRescue, was done on... wait for it... Yahoo groups. For anyone young who doesn't know what these are, they were text-based, email-based groups that saw emails pinging back and forth with long discussions about all things rescue.
And while many individual groups had their own website, many others had neither an internet connect, digital camera, or a website. There was a great need for a centralised project which brought all groups together, nationally and furthered the rescue movement.
... after getting involved with a group "Say No to Puppies in Pet Stores".
Michelle and Sophie (her King Charles Cavalier Spaniel) also appeared on Channel 10 TV! They were seen at the end of the news but you could see the terrific SayNo coat Sophie was wearing quite well which was wonderful publicity. Many thanks to all these lovely ladies and their dogs who campaigned so well for such a great cause. ~ Say No Website (2004)
I'd also started volunteering with a major shelter in WA and had started to become aware that not only were they not advertising the pets in their shelter, that they seemed to loathe the idea of promoting their pets at all.
It was my ignorance which allowed the enthusiasm to build a tool which would be designed to change this. My then fiancee (JB) was a web developer I'd met him in the first year of highschool and we'd dated all through our twenties. Nawww.....
In 2004 I was working for iinet as the PA for the CEO. It seemed clear that a centralised website could be a huge boon to the rescue groups who couldn't afford, or didn't have access to their own websites, and as a way to bring potential adopters to a central point.
I started consulting with rescue groups, local and interstate rescuers for advice and feedback as to whether they thought it was a good idea. Nearly universally they seemed to - so we started to research and build a website. Petrescue.com.au would be a site where genuine rescue dogs, de-sexed and sold not for profit could be found by adopters, without driving to shelter locations on the chance there is a suitable dog there for them. It would also be incredibly easy to use, meaning groups would no longer need a web developer to help them get their dogs seen on the internet.
PetRescue required countless hours of database design time and discussion with rescuers across the country to ensure their needs were met. Our friend whipped up a logo and a design for the website. A passion project, we worked for free, from home and after hours as we were both working full time. I can't even express how generous rescuers were with their time in helping us build the site, but also just to coach us through the politics and pitfalls along the way. Rescue was a friend to PetRescue that we could not have done without, and personally, I've never met a better bunch of people.
The website launched on the 28th August 2004, and by the end of the first month there were 52 rescuers using the site and over 185 dogs listed.
In the following twelve months, we would start to bring on new volunteers - including a marketing volunteer, Vix - and the organisation would begin to really find it's feet.
A startup lesson. I was warned (but didn't listen) when people told me not to get into an organisational management "threesome". The reason being, that when shifts happen, it can happen that you become the third (and therefore outvoted) wheel. I was working with friends, so didn't fortify my position against being outvoted. When there was a decision made to change direction, these decisions were able to happen without my agreement. I wouldn't put my personal reputation on this new direction, so I left the organisation in 2015.
I was fine with the fact I left without so much as a public '.... sayonara, thanks a lot for that decade...' because I knew the rescuers I'd worked with over the years would see the changes for what they were. But!
This year, JB has started saying he set up PetRescue all "on his own"...
While Vix is telling people, that she was sure that if she "built a website" that it would be successful - when the truth is she joined to help us on a website that was well-researched, established supported by rescue groups, and more importantly already built.
PetRescue was started as a movement to help pets and the people who save their lives. I firmly believe that the reason that the website was successful, and remains so today, was because it was started with real heart and a passion for the work in helping, supporting and championing rescuers and adoption.
PetRescue started at a pure place, with a lot of naivety and an unimaginable amount of (unpaid!) graft. But mostly, PetRescue owes it's current success to the rescue groups who took a risk, invested their time and supported the site BEFORE it was popular. Regardless of what continues to happen to the charity in the future, I hope these days are remembered as an important part of the history of the rescue movement.