It was 7:15 on a Monday morning and Chase Muttley was circling the dining-room table in the Fishbein household, four of the five family members running after the 1-year-old Yorkiepoo.
For most families, this would have been an aggravating, if not overwhelming, experience, but Rachel Ezekiel-Fishbein and her husband, Joel, looked at one another and started laughing.
"This dog has the ability to bring us together," said Ezekiel-Fishbein, 46.
After losing three dogs, Ezekiel-Fishbein and her family were in the market for another pet. But their requirements — a small, playful dog with personality who rarely barks and couldn't jump up on the table — made it hard to find their perfect canine at a shelter or rescue.
The Elkins Park family was consistently disappointed; each time they found a dog they liked, it had already been selected by another family. "It was heartbreak after heartbreak," she said.
When a family friend suggested that the Fishbeins contact Mutt Match (www.muttmatch.net) — a matchmaking service based in Montgomery County for families looking to adopt a dog in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey area — Ezekiel-Fishbein called the owners, Liz Maslow and Meg Boscov, who are Jewish. In May, the Fishbeins welcomed their newest family member.
"I can't wait to get home to my dog," said Ezekiel-Fishbein. "There will be times when we're playing with him outside and I think, 'This is just what I wanted.' "
A Good Fit
Mutt Match, which began about a year-and-a-half ago and officially became a nonprofit in October, aims to provide families with a dog that best suits their needs. The process, which begins with a family consultation, can take anywhere from a week to a couple of months, depending on the family's needs.
According to the website, there is a suggested donation of $200 for the services.
With more than 22 shelters and rescues at their disposal, Maslow, 41, and Boscov, 44, send out each family's criteria to see if there is a dog that fills their need. If so, the duo will perform a temperament evaluation, combining the methods of various animal specialists.
If the animal passes, a meet-up with the potential dog match is arranged. Often, families take their new pet home that day.
Maslow and Boscov are both dog trainers who had been volunteering at Philadelphia rescues, specifically with dogs who were having issues with their adopted families.
"The dog was fine and the people were fine," Maslow said, "but it just wasn't the right fit."
That's when they came up with the idea of Mutt Match — a way to match dogs with compatible families.
"It's not always intuitively obvious for people who aren't in the field of dog training and behavior to know who the best dog is for their family," said Patricia McConnell, a certified applied animal behaviorist and author of more than 15 dog-training books.
"Just like dating, we're so often swayed by good looks" — you want that dog because he's cute and looks like a dog you had when you were a child, for example — "but it might be that inside those cute looks is a dog who would bite your 5-year-old child when they touch the dog while it's sleeping."
Out of the 45 families that have used Mutt Match since January, only one had had to return their canine. In that case, the dog had territorial issues — the dog wasn't receptive to the children coming near him when he was lying down — and Maslow and Boscov suggested swapping the dog with one that would be a better fit with the kids.
The family ended up finding another, more compatible dog.
"It becomes clear when you are a behaviorist how much pain and suffering the wrong match can cause," McConnell said, acknowledging a client who had a similar experience.
Finally, the family found another home for that dog and adopted another who is a better match. "But they went through six months of hell," she said. "Mutt Match can avoid that."
Boscov and Maslow, who each own three dogs and have children, acknowledge the benefits for having a dog in the family dynamic, including befriending their children, cheering them up and giving each family member someone to talk to.
"We can't imagine living life without a dog or dogs as part of our family," said Boscov. "And that's why we really would like to find dogs that enrich people's lives."
The pair's first successful match — a phone call from the family when Boscov and Maslow were in a pet store — elicited jumping and screaming in the aisle.
The best part "is still that moment when you hear from the families that they love the dog," attested Boscov.
"It's such a rewarding experience," added Maslow. "It's addictive."