Austin

8th grader's website matches you with the perfect shelter dog

AUSTIN (KXAN) - An 8th grade student at the Austin Jewish Academy spent months researching and writing survey questions to build a website that matches users with adoptable dogs that fit their lifestyles.

Aiden Horwitz, 13, made the site DogDoOrDogDont.org to help cut down on a problem she found during her research. 

"Pretty much over half the dogs that are in shelters are because people get the wrong kind of dog for their family," Aiden told KXAN. She wants to eliminate that as a reason pets end up back in shelters.

The survey takes users through 13 questions about the kind of home they have, whether they have kids, what they'll be able to provide a pup and other metrics. It tallies up a final score, which then links the potential adopters to available dogs that match the parameters on the Austin Pets Alive! website.

"I was so excited. I could not wait to get started," said Heather Kantrowitz, Aiden's mentor and a teacher at AJA. 

As the summer approaches, APA! says it will need more people to adopt to keep up with growing numbers. Kitten and puppy season both hit around the same time and in the coming weeks, the number of animals in area shelters ramp up.

The group also sees more owner surrenders during the summer.

"We have about two-thirds of our animal population in foster, so they're not on site at the shelter," marketing and communications director for APA! Mary Heerwald said. "We have a lot of events all over the city where we can showcase our foster animals and help them find their forever homes, too."

Aiden's website is the result of an elective at the school called Passion Project, in which students choose a subject they're interested in and design and complete a project through the school year to help them learn about it.

The head of school, Cheryl Hersh, brought the idea to AJA a few years ago as a way to help students guide their own learning.

Jessica Woskow, another 8th grader taking the elective, created an escape room in the school's greenhouse, complete with clues and a series of locked boxes to solve. "Forensic science is a passion of mine," she said. "I've always wanted to be a forensic scientist."

Another student is making and selling soap using herbs from the greenhouse. "My teacher helped me come up with" the name for the soap, Ally Sapire said. "It's 'Smells Like Clean Spirit,'" is named, of course, after the Nirvana song.

Ally has sold her bars of soap, with scents like rosemary and orange, at various events and gives the money back to the school to help with upkeep of the greenhouse. 

Aiden's project has already had some success, too. "My website has 10,000 views so far, and five dogs have gotten adopted off my website so far," she said. 

One dog who hasn't, though, is the one who inspired the project in the first place. Royce, a 3-year-old cattle dog mix, is deaf. "He's been in the shelter for over two years," Aiden said. She made a Facebook page to help Royce find a forever home, and has been working to find the right fit.

"I would pick her up and pick Royce up and we would go around town sometimes," Kantrowitz said. "We would try to get him adopted, take pictures."

Once he does find a home, Aiden said she's not going to stop, and plans to add additional shelters around the state to match people with animals where they live.

"My very big goal is that there's no need for animal shelters," she said.

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