You look at your phone, and there’s a picture of Megan and her wrinkly bulldog — underbite protruding.
Ray scooping up his beagle. Nicole cuddling her shar pei. Denise doting on her poodle, which she happens to carry in her pocketbook.
You’re not looking at an advertisement for the SPCA. Rather, you’re on one of the newest additions to a growing pool of dating apps, designed to help you find love (or — depending on the app — some briefer stand-in for love).
Do we humanize our dogs, or do they dog-ify us? No matter how you see it, our dogs are cherished members of the family. And like any good pare…
“There’s a disconnect between what people want from most dating apps, and what dating apps provide,” explained Leigh Isaacson, the 30-year-old co-founder and CEO of DigDates, a free dating app for dog lovers and dog owners.
Research indicates that 55 percent of single Americans own pets. “So we created an app that leads with one of the things in life that’s most important to people: their dog!”
Or, as the app puts it, "When you’re dating and you’re a dog person, nothing matters more than finding someone who fits into your dog-forward lifestyle."
In the year since the app launched, Dig has attracted 30,000 users. And, while there are users across the country, the app wasn’t founded in some far-off tech haven like San Francisco. Isaacson founded it with her sister in New Orleans.
“So, it all started back in 2016,” Isaacson recalled.
Her sister, Casey, was dating a guy who tried, for her sake, to be a "dog person." By the end, he didn’t want the dog in his apartment and, if Casey did bring her dog, he’d put towels down because he was worried about shedding. (And, let the record show, according to Isaacson, this dog barely shed.)
Dig was founded on the idea that dog people understand other dog people. “We should be filtering in our dating life by what’s most important to us,” Isaacson said, “and while physical attraction is important, a dog is a central part of an owner’s life. Acknowledging that would have saved both my sister and her ex so much time!”
Lizz Evalen, who has been on the app for about two months, said, “Because dog owners have a deep responsibility toward something other than themselves, I’ve noticed they tend to be compassionate. They seem to be open to understanding others.” Plus, Evalen added, “dogs are freakin’ amazing and I want them in my life!”
A unique dating app
The advantage of dating apps is that it allows users to connect with potential partners outside of their social circles. The disadvantages — depending whom you ask — are many. Isaacson found users are on as many as three or four apps at a time, spending as much as 10 hours swiping each week. Not surprisingly, they don’t often find that to be time well-spent.
“We’re taught to value personalities,” Evalen said, “but then online dating turns us into something different. We look at a picture for two seconds and decide yes or no. Then, if you happen to match, maybe you want a relationship and he wants a hookup, or vice versa!”
Dig aims to mitigate that frustration by slowing things down. When you log onto the app, potential matches are presented in groups of five, and you can decide whether you “Dig” them, “Really Dig” them, or want to pass on them. There are also a lot more dog pictures than your average dating app, which is more fun to look through than, for example, the dating app-stereotype of a shirtless man hoisting the large, dead fish he caught.
But there are other ways Dig differs from most dating apps as well. Dig suggests dog-friendly date locations near you and was described by the women-focused digital media company Refinery29 as “one of the most wholesome dating apps out there.” Users are 70 percent female (which might make it the only place in modern dating where the odds favor men finding a match), and generates revenue with dog-related advertising for local sitters, walkers, and doggy costume shops. Dig also hosts live events.
“This isn’t a hookup app,” said Matthew Wheelahan, who has been using Dig since he discovered it five months ago in a social media class at Tulane University (though Isaacson laughed and said matches can use the app however they want). “It uses a powerful common interest in your life to connect you to other dog lovers.”
In an event last year, the Isaacson sisters successfully pitched the National Day Calendar to add National Dog Mom’s Day as a holiday (sharing a day with other holidays such as “National Foam Rolling Day”). Hundreds of Dig users and their pets came out to the (dog-friendly) Deja Vieux food truck park on Tchoupitoulas Street to celebrate the day.
“Now imagine if Tinder threw a live event,” Isaacson said. “What would that look like, and who do you imagine you’d see there? That’s probably the best way I can describe how our app is different.”
She's proud to present a New Orleans-based company to a national audience, said Isaacson, who has a background in broadcast journalism and teaches at Tulane University. “It’s one of my favorite things to talk about.”
Dig hired a chief technology officer, Charles Feinn, who moved to New Orleans from the Bay Area back in 2014 — the app's first full-time employee outside of the Isaacson sisters — and all dogs featured in their marketing material or on social media are up for adoption at New Orleans-area animal shelters.
And, when she takes her idea to other cities, Isaacson says, people love that Dig is not just another Silicon Valley startup.
“New Orleans has a reputation for throwing a good party, and I think that’s something Dig is pretty good at,” she said.
Thanks to their first big investor, also from the area, the Dig team is riding a fresh wave of momentum. The app is being launched in Miami on Thursday. “It reinforced that we’re onto something with value,” explained Feinn. “It’s going to allow us to (grow) a lot faster than we could have otherwise.”
And Leigh and her team believe that can only help more people find the romance they’re looking for.
“I think Dig provides a dating situation with less pressure,” she said. “You have dogs right there with you to talk about. Someone’s going to have to pick up dog poop. Or you’re going to find a little hair in your food, and — because you both love dogs — you’re going to laugh, and you’ll let your walls down a little bit.
At least that’s the hope.
“Or,” she laughed and shrugged, “if it doesn’t go well, at least your dog will have gotten a walk out of it!”