How Toronto Cat Rescue is using tech to build a Tinder for foster cats


Technology has a massive opportunity to solve problems in the world. Projects across the globe are tackling challenges like climate change, waste removal, clean energy, clean water, and increased access to food. But sometimes tech can have the biggest impact helping those with the smallest footprint.

Toronto Cat Rescue is just one of the 15 charities participating in Capital One’s Digital for Good Tech Jam and Summit this year. The project, spearheaded by Capital One and driven by volunteer developers, designers, and other members of the tech community, helps charities solve their challenges by empowering them with innovative technology solutions.

Speaking to BetaKit ahead of the Digital for Good Tech Jam, leaders from Toronto Cat Rescue and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada explained how they hope to use technology to improve their organizations. While one charity focuses on four-legged friends and the other on underserved youth, their goal is the same: get more done with tech.

The purrrrfect match

When Toronto Cat Rescue got started, the charity had a simple mission: help cats that shelters couldn’t – or wouldn’t – take.

“Years ago, it used to be that cats were euthanized because there was no space or they weren’t doing well in a shelter,” said Toronto Cat Rescue (TCR) Executive Director Belinda Vandersluis. “With our partnerships, we’ve been able to bring those rates down to a negligible amount.”

The organization grew from a grassroots, small player into a large organization that helps over 2,800 cats per year. Vandersluis said this success comes from its network of over 400 foster homes and 1,000 volunteers.

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With success came challenges. Toronto Cat Rescue often works with cats that have special medical or environmental needs that make shelter life difficult or impossible for them. So as cats come into its ecosystem, it’s a mad-dash to figure out which foster home has the right training or resources to help each individual cat. This takes hours of manual work on behalf of volunteers, leading to lower quality of care for the cats during the search, Vandersluis reveals.

“For example, a cat comes into our system maybe that needs bottle-feeding – a young kitten that doesn’t have a mother,” said Vandersluis. “We need a foster home that has experience with that.”

At the Tech Jam, Vandersluis is working with the Toronto Cat Rescue volunteer technology team to build an algorithm that will match cats instantly with relevant foster homes.

This ‘Tinder for foster cats’ is based on data the charity already collects. Vandersluis said that Toronto Cat Rescue documents every foster home based on “their experience, their skills, [and] their training.” On the flip side, when a cat comes into the ecosystem, volunteers build a list of the cat’s unique needs.

Vandersluis argued that leveraging technology is not just about convenience, but also scaling impact. The executive director said that many volunteers are “doing this work on the side of their desk [or] on evenings and weekends, so a system really helps make things more efficient for them. But it also helps save the cats because the better the matches, the better the cats do.”