Net Results: Web is not a pet project for animal groups but a lifesaver

The arrival of Facebook has been a transformative animal welfare development

The ability of local rescue organisations to use Facebook to campaign and raise funds is truly imnpressive.

The ability of local rescue organisations to use Facebook to campaign and raise funds is truly imnpressive.

Thu, Oct 24, 2013, 01:00

Everyone knows that cats drive the internet. Lolcat pictures, the Grumpy Cat website, YouTube cats riding Roomba robot vacuum cleaners – felines rule.

All very cute – or exasperating if you don’t care for that kind of thing.

But there’s a more serious and productive relationship between the web and animals. The internet has transformed the ability of welfare organisations to find homes for stray or unwanted pets. It has also enabled rescue groups to increase their visibility and successfully fundraise.

The most visible example of this phenomenon is Petfinder. com, a US-based site that has been running for over 15 years, helping rehome about 20 million pets.

Available in the US and Canada as well as some US territories, many groups that use the site say at least half their adoptions now occur through Petfinder. This week 378,033 adoptable pets were listed from 13,569 adoption groups – quite extraordinary. The groups upload their listings; Petfinder-users can search for a new friend using a range of criteria – and there is (of course!) now a Petfinder app as well.

Rehoming pets
Using the net for rehoming pets has all sorts of obvious benefits. On the rescue side, being able to list to a single widely-viewed source increases the visibility of animals awaiting adoption, and allows the details for each to be presented as well as rehoming requirements. This helps screen out callers, and takes a large burden off the rescue or pound while allowing it to get the word out to more potential homes.

For someone looking for a new pet, having multiple listings from multiple sources, that can be searched in various ways, makes a successful adoption a far easier process.

Ireland has had such a service too, for just as long as Petfinder, although a bit lower tech. Irishanimals.ie was set up in 1996 by transplanted Los Angeles native denise cox (yes, she prefers lower case for her name) and quickly became Ireland’s one-stop shop for animal welfare information, lost and found posts, as well as rehoming listings for rescues.

Over a decade ago she was awarded the Irish Internet Association’s Net Visionary award, both for her internet-related day job, but also her prescience and dedication in setting up and running Irishanimals.ie

For those of us who do animal welfare work, the site was the way many of us first met each other, networked, and planned campaigns to get welfare laws changed.

The most transformative animal welfare development since has been the arrival of Facebook, enabling a rescue or pound to reach thousands of people instantaneously.

Finding foster and permanent homes for animals happens considerably faster, and the power of the crosspost for reuniting a lost pet with its owner cannot be overestimated, especially now that many Irish pounds have Facebook pages.

What truly impresses me, though, is the ability of local rescue organisations to use Facebook to campaign and raise funds.

Many, especially larger general rescues such as Dogs Trust in Dublin, ASH Animal Rescue in Wicklow, a Dog’s Life in Dublin, and the Irish Horse Welfare Trust, use the site to spread the word about fundraisers ranging from comedy nights to pub quizzes and auctions to sponsored walks.

Animals come first
One that really stands out in this area is Animal Heaven Animal Rescue (AHAR), run by the tireless Suzanne Gibbons in Kerry. The biggest corporates could learn from AHAR’s use of Facebook. The animals come first – with regular pictures and updates on new arrivals, special-care cases, trips to the vets, happy endings, visits by volunteers. Discussion threads under the posts can run to over a hundred comments, but AHAR takes the time to engage and discuss with its Facebook fans.

It has honed the art of the delayed reward – teasing Facebook page visitors with an initial post about a dramatic rescue, a special donation, or a financial goal reached, then making them wait for further posts, often at a specified time, to learn the details. It’s all done with a sense of fun and, boy, does it draw a response.

Such audience-friendly skills have also enabled it to raise an initial deposit of €20,000 on a new property for the centre in weeks. Just five months into the campaign it had reached €80,000 of the €100,000 mortgage from supporters in Ireland and beyond.

Now that would set tails wagging.

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