YOGYAKARTA: Distraught by their incessant and distressed barking, Ms Christina Dwi Kusumaningtyas rescued two puppies from their abusive owner in Yogyakarta City, Indonesia, in October 2017, and named them Nada and Angel.
The 21-year-old college student already owned five dogs, so she had to find new owners for the puppies.
However, no one was interested and Animal Friends Jogja (AFJ), a shelter for animals, also declined to take the puppies as it was unable to cope with more dogs.
It suggested that Ms Kusumaningtyas give “Adopsi” – a mobile app developed by a long-time AFJ volunteer – a try.
“Within days after signing up and uploading photos and information about Nada and Angel on Adopsi, my phone was swamped with messages from potential adopters.
“They reached out to me both on WhatsApp and through Adopsi’s messaging feature,” Ms Kusumaningtyas told CNA.
Both Nada and Angel have since been adopted by two different families.
Mr Bobby Fernando, a 31-year-old software engineer, said Adopsi came into existence in a training session held at the software company he owned.
The instructor hired to teach his team how to build an Android-based mobile phone application had requested them to develop an app as an assignment.
“Since I have been volunteering at AFJ since 2011, I suggested to create an app to connect abandoned animals and people looking to adopt.
“I didn’t expect much from Adopsi originally,” Mr Fernando said.
But the overwhelming responses it received proved that there is a market for Adopsi in Indonesia. The problem of abandoned animals is rampant, but there is no channel for those looking to adopt.
Since its debut on app stores, Adopsi has managed to find homes for hundreds of animals, not just in Yogyakarta but across Indonesia. Another 600 are currently up for adoption.
“We want to connect people with the animals put up for adoption, and provide a second chance for the animals to have families, to have a home and to be loved.
“We want to promote animal adoption and dissuade people from buying pets,” Mr Fernando said.
FINDING HOMES FOR ABANDONED ANIMALS
On Adopsi, users can search for cats and dogs available for adoption in their provinces.
They can look at the animals’ photos, view their medical history (if provided by the current caregiver) and check if they have been vaccinated or sterilised.
The animals’ profiles are accompanied by the often-heartbreaking stories of how they were rescued or why they were put up for adoption.
Adopsi is currently working with three animal shelters in Yogyakarta, Jakarta and West Java, and there are plans to get more shelters and animal rights groups to start using the app.
“There are many organisations who said they are interested, but lamented they don’t have the manpower to upload photos and information onto the app and communicate with potential adopters,” Mr Fernando said.
For AFJ, Adopsi has been a huge help, expediting an otherwise slow and arduous adoption process.
AFJ’s adoption manger Ms Lolita Saras said one of the success stories involved a then-one-year-old stray dog named Ella, which is blind in one eye.
Around Christmas 2016, a traumatised Ella – appeared to have been struck by a blunt object to her left eye – wandered into someone’s house and hid at a corner.
The house owner then reached out to AFJ, which, after a long struggle to calm her down and got her out of her hiding place, immediately took her to the vet.
The injuries on her left eye were so severe that it had to be surgically removed.
“Four months after the surgery, we put Ella up on Adopsi. Someone responded, despite her conditions,” Ms Saras recalled.
Adopsi also helped to promote the shelters and the noble work they do.
Mdm Puspa Hutauruk recalled her eleven-year-old Puan Elizabeth Siburian stumbling upon Adopsi on the Internet.
They dropped by AFJ shelter shortly after, because the group required all potential adopters to visit and spend time with the animal.
There, Puan immediately clicked with Ang, which was rescued along with four other siblings from a chicken coop littered with animal excrement.
Their former owners had lost interest in them after buying them as puppies from a pet store in Yogyakarta.
“I always preferred adopting over buying,” Puan told CNA. “By adopting, you are giving abandoned animals a new home and a new family.”
Under Puan's care, Ang is now a healthy and playful four-year-old.
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A RAMPANT PROBLEM
The number of abandoned animals the AFJ has to rescue and keep at its shelter far outweighed the number of cats and dogs being adopted, hinting at the true extent of the problem in Indonesia.
AFJ’s Ms Saras told CNA that only 32 animals found a new home in the whole of last year, compared to the 200 and 300 animals, mostly cats, it receives every year.
“Every day, we receive around 20 emails from people alerting us of stray or abandoned cats or dogs they encountered or from people who decided they no longer want to keep their pets. There are also messages via WhatsApp and social media.
“We have to be selective because we don’t have the space or resources to accept all of the animals. We will rescue stray animals in need of serious medical attention or those who are mistreated and abused,” she added.
“For the rest, we will suggest them to reach out to friends and families who might be interested or try the Adopsi app.”
Ms Kusumaningtyas said since the AFJ introduced her to Adopsi, she has been using the app to find a home for a total of five dogs.
However, she has less luck finding a home for the four stray cats which wandered into her home. She guessed it is because stray cats are everywhere.
“Their reproduction rate is much faster compared to dogs and they produce more offspring when giving birth,” she said.
FUTURE EXPANSION PLANS
Four years since Adopsi first started, the app now has 19,000 registered users spread across the vast archipelago nation.
It has also won numerous accolades and awards, such as Top Five Start-Ups at Tech in Asia 2016 and judges' favourite at a Finance Ministry exhibition in the same year.
“The success is beyond our wildest expectation. We achieved that number without doing any kind of promotion, aside from social media and word of mouth,” Mr Fernando said.
However, Adopsi is facing manpower and financial challenges of its own.
For start, Mr Fernando relies on the team of developers in his software company to keep the app running smoothly, and they can only do so when they are free.
And as the app grew, so did the need for a dedicated moderator to ensure that its users do not violate Adopsi’s policy.
“We are always on the lookout for commercial breeders who disguise their animals as abandoned pets and demand payment from their adopters. There are also those offering reptiles, birds, fish and exotic mammals, which we don't allow,” he said.
Looking ahead, Mr Fernando wants to rebuild the app from scratch.
He wants it to be available on both Android and iOS, with new features such as sharing the animals’ profiles on social media accounts and setting up appointments with potential adopters.
Another feature crucial to Adopsi’s expansion is to enable users to search for adoptable animals near them, similar to how people find drivers on ride-hailing services.
The geolocation feature would allow users from anywhere in the world to start using Adopsi, the app’s founder explained.
“Once we get the investment that we need, we can expand our service to other countries,” he said.
The plan would require at least US$100,000, Mr Fernando estimated, adding that the total included expenses for marketing and business development.
Yet despite its popularity, Adopsi struggled to find investors as they typically shy away from social enterprises, which they deemed unprofitable.
Adopsi has been trying to crowdfund since July but response has not been very encouraging.
“If we can raise at least 30 per cent, we will start work on rebuilding the app and worry about the rest of the money later,” Mr Fernando said.
“But since we don’t have a campaign manager who can craft a good campaign strategy, the crowdfunding effort has been slow. But we are not giving up.”