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Arriving at the Facebook page for “Pets on Death Row” is heartbreaking. “I get the euth list every night from Animal Care & Control (AC&C) and post it on Facebook,” says Kay Smith, a New York City animal activist who runs the page. “There are always so many cats -- 25 to 30 -- and if no one steps up, they all get killed the next day.”
Smith’s page is just one example of how social media is gradually transforming the process of rescuing and adopting animals. Her project is very local in that it only posts info about cats in New York City shelters. For a more national approach, other efforts -- like Let’s Adopt! (USA) -- allow people to post information concerning rescue cases from all across the country. In fact, the Let’s Adopt! movement started in Turkey, but has grown exponentially thanks to the nature and power of social media.
“We started as a simple Facebook group in order to find homes for my rescues,” says founder Viktor Larkhill. “Less than four years later, the group has expanded into a truly global network with growing communities not only in Turkey, but also in Indonesia, Bulgaria, Germany, France, USA, Canada and Australia. All of this, and in such a short period of time, would have been impossible without social media in general and Facebook in particular.”
Smith agrees that social media has taken her efforts to a level she never could have achieved offline. She and Larkhill attribute the increased success to a handful of areas where social media (both also have Twitter feeds) gives them a boost:
Speed With the click of a button, Smith can post the entire to-be-destroyed list to her network.
Specificity With pictures and bios, shelter cats become more than just an idea; they’re personalized, with faces and stories to tell.
Amplification Says Smith: “I post the list, and if somebody with 500 friends or Twitter followers clicks to share it, all those other people see it. And if four of those people click ‘Share,’ it could go to 2,000 more people, and it just snowballs.”
Convenience Schlepping to the shelter is an event, but logging on to Facebook or Twitter to window-shop is a cinch. Smith wonders if it can sometimes be too easy and lead to owners who aren’t ready for a rescue case. But Larkhill says the Net can also help those matters thanks to community.
Community Social networks can help rescuers get to know the people they’re playing matchmaker for. “It has enabled us to build an unprecedented level of trust with our community,” says Larkhill. “By looking at someone’s profile, we can tell a lot about someone. Used correctly, Facebook provides us a deep insight into people’s personality.”
Online Cat Rescue/Adoption Resources
Other national projects that have a social media presence include The Shelter Pet Project, Pets911 and Adopt-a-Pet.com. Aside from Twitter and Facebook feeds, they also have searchable websites that are a pet-seeker’s answer to online dating.
Beyond that, Smith suggests looking for local activists and organizations in your city and recommends always going to the shelter to visit the cat before making a commitment. If you’re not able to adopt, you can still get involved. Find out if your local shelter has a social media presence, or if someone advocates for the cats there. If not, start your own Facebook page for them. “I believe the potential has only just begun to be tapped,” says Larkhill. “As the level of connections increases, the power of the network increases.”
Elijah Merrill is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Daily Cat. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Discover.