MintKids is a service ecosystem seeking to improve animal welfare in China. By applying animal behavioural knowledge to different stages of a pet owning experience, MintKids empowers dog owners to have a better understanding of their dogs and enables a sustainable future for animal welfare systems.

Wanqi Fang
Deepu James
Knowledge gap emerging from rapid dynamics
China has 40 million stray dogs - around one-fifth of the world’s population. The stray problem is multifaceted and to address it, the service would have to meet the needs of animal rescuers, owners and the great society. Animal welfare in China has its unique form led by individuals, who are stretching thin to handle the influx of unwanted animals without professional knowledge to maintain a shelter, let alone an efficient animal rehoming system. Only 11% of pet dogs were adopted, despite the increasing ownership in the booming market, and many of them end up being returned for behavioural problems, such as destruction, barking and inappropriate toileting, which owners are unable to manage. However, it is not only the pain for adopters as the same issues contribute 43% to a troublesome pet ownership.
Theory of (Active) Change

In the cultures with advanced animal welfare systems, positive reinforcement, as a practice of animal behavioural study, has been adopted for a better understanding and building of a cooperative relationship with dogs. This insight into other operations set the tone for the rest of the project. Where the intervention was quickly narrowed down to three areas along the adoption journey: how people arrive at the decision of getting a dog, how people decide to re-home a dog and how people live with one. While staying at high level of the ideation, I actively involved stakeholders, including animal rescuers, canine behaviourists, pet owners, startups and more, into multi-tracking prototyping. Working adaptively, I was able to make more evidential design decisions while moving forward with new questions. The three high-level concepts were finally iterated based on their values, look and feel, and road-mapped as the key parts of the service ecosystem.

A Service Ecosystem for Animal Welfare in China

MintKids is a set of services: Happy Matching, Happy Re-Homing Guarantee and Happy Living Together, that improves pet adoption and ownership experience. By embedding animal behavioural knowledge, MintKids helps people to make informed adoption decisions, adapt to the changes of the pet’s arrival and establish a healthy long-term relationship. In accordance to the insights of the underperformed adoption among individual rescuers, MintKids is designed to support their animal re-homing process as a third party and help them achieve a better success in sustainable animal rescue.

Getting things right from the beginning of a long-term relationship

When getting a dog, many people make their decision based on the way the dog looks or by their breed; on one hand, the majority of rescue dogs are mixed-bred and aged, which means their chance to be re-homed is rare before getting known. On the other hand, whether a dog suits people’s lifestyle determines a good, happy ownership and can avoid problems like a non-family type of dog living with children. Happy Matching, as a matchmaking service, helps people find the right dog through a few questions about lifestyle, household situation and ownership experience. When an adopter is not satisfied with the matching result, they can still be informed about the challenges they might have to face if they choose based on their preferences.

Making it a real case

The first weeks of re-homing is crucial to establish a good dog behaviour and build trust. However, many adopters find it overwhelming with a whole new set of experiences and challenges and end up returning the dogs to the rescuer. To test the value of intervening at the earliest possible moment in an adoption, I worked closely with rescue volunteers to give timely support to their adopters for pet behavioural problems like destruction or barking. After rounds of iterations, the project showed impact on stakeholders. Firstly, it made some adopters reconsider their decision on returning the pet when they become more confident with the support. Secondly, it is desired by the rescuers as a patch to their existing adoption system due to their limitation on giving sufficient help. Finally, experienced owners found it an engaging way to enhance their relationship with their pets through the visualised progress.

Creating value beyond rescue

As an extension of Happy Re-Homing Guarantee, Happy Living Together aims to empower more owners, not only adopters, to foster a great long-term relationship with their pets by making the resources accessible and suitable for everyone. As I started the research, financial weakness was inevitably seen in every animal rescue individual and group. While many systems in the West rely on donations, it is very much unlikely for this to be sustainable in China. For MintKids, seizing the demand from the growing pet-owning population is a great chance to have the financial initiative.

special thanks

Special thanks to my tutor Andrea Edmunds, funder of Dogo App Rasa Žiema, Canine Behaviour Specialist Sue Sternberg, Sixth Tone Journalist Yiying Fan and everyone who supported and shared their stories with me, as well as to EveryDoggy for the consent of content use.

students involved on the project

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