Wild burro project seeks volunteers, adopters

The Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, based in San Angelo, TX, is currently working on wild burro projects in Arizona, California, and Nevada in conjunction with the federal government. Burros are a non-native species in the US and can quickly overpopulate in deserts, causing destruction to ecosystems, competition with indigenous species, and damage to Native American sites.

PVDR uses humane techniques to rescue these burros. The animals are then chipped, vetted, and then shipped to a PVDR training facility to be made ready for adoption. Burros deemed unadoptable due to medical conditions are moved to PVDR’s main facility in Texas, where they receive care for life. Burros deemed too wild or aggressive for adoption are placed on one of Peaceful Valley’s sanctuaries, where they too receive care for life.

PVDR is currently seeking adopters, and volunteers to become satellite adoption centers for PVDR. Learn more at pvdr.org.

Saving Lives takes a Village

We are the Village 

How to have a broken heart 

Bob Webster’s heart swelled for every adoptable dog he met. Browsing kennels from Salem to Portland, he saw the wonderful qualities in every set of puppy-dog eyes looking back at him. “They could be loved. They could be loving somebody right now. From an adopter’s perspective it’s hard. I want to help them all.” 

Single, active, 40-something Bob is an experienced adopter and lives on a large property with no kids or other pets. At 6’7” he seemed perfect for a gentle giant of a dog, especially one in need of extra attention.   

Bob was determined to use his unique situation to help a hard-luck case, which he found online with a regional rescue: an adult Rottweiler mix who had been in foster care for a long time. For this dog, the rescue required a commitment to working with a professional dog trainer. Bob dove into the challenge, working around the clock on training and socialization, which his new pal learned quickly.  

Then the unfathomable happened. In a surprise encounter with another dog, there was a terrible fight. Bob got hurt trying to break it up, and it proved fatal for both dogs. The second dog died from his injuries. Bob’s dog — after extensive heart-wrenching discussions with the rescue group, the trainer and the veterinarian — was euthanized.  

Bob (who is not using his real name here) is devastated. The life he tried to save is gone, along with another. 

The life and death struggle of rescue  

Shelters and rescues maintain detailed data on animals received, adopted, euthanized, returned after adoption, or transferred to other facilities. They have no means of tracking how every dog or cat fares in life after adoption, but outcomes like Bob’s are exceptional. 

While Bob’s case is unusual, it does highlight one important, sobering truth: adopters engage in a transaction unlike any other. A life hangs in the balance.  

Given increasing save rates and declining euthanasia rates in the Northwest, these days few dogs or cats die while waiting for adoption. Now, they live or die based on whether they can overcome the health or behavioral problems that made them homeless in the first place. 

“Everyone needs to know that there are no time limits in shelters in our area, so people don't need to ‘save’ dogs from shelters,” says BJ Anderson, executive director at Willamette Humane Society in Salem. There is no clock ticking, no “pull date” for shelter animals in our region. Thanks to hard-won save rates and collaborative efforts between shelters and rescue groups, the old “time limit” idea is an outdated one.  

Old challenges have been replaced by new ones. Anderson says, “Our shelter sees two trends in our local dog population: younger, larger, poorly-socialized dogs with mild to moderate behavior issues that impact adoptability; and geriatric, cute, desirable dogs with compound medical issues that require a lot of resources to be considered adoption candidates.”  

In the new model of cooperation, agencies can shift animals around the region to give them the best chance for rehabilitation and adoptability. 

Diane Young operates one of those agencies, Salem Dogs, which handles special-needs animals. Under her watch, dogs get medical and behavioral care while she searches out adopters most suited to their needs. Often, the ideal family isn’t the first one to express interest. “Adopting a young Border Collie to a sedate senior citizen home is usually not a good idea,” says Young. “Same with placing fragile dogs in homes with young children. Adopters need to cooperate with rescues to make the best match.”  

This brings front and center a primary pain-point between rescuers and adopters.  

“We have had people yell at us when we explain a particular dog would not be a good fit for them,” says Bobbi Roach, who volunteers with Oregon Dog Rescue in Tualatin. She wishes she could tell every adopter: “Please trust the rescue volunteers that work with the dogs every day.” 

Flexibility is key  

Roach likens her job to playing matchmaker between friends. “It’s a very real challenge, and often leads to fits of hair-pulling and head-banging,” she says. Adopters might arrive with their hearts set on a floppy-eared dog, but, “That floppy-eared dog may not like your children. You live in an apartment and Floppy Ear has severe separation anxiety, which will not endear him or you to your neighbors while you’re gone nine hours a day. You have a cat, you say? Floppy Ear hates cats.” 

The future of saving lives 

Pacific Northwest shelters are winning in the mission of saving lives. The Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland, combining animal welfare resources in the Metro Area, has achieved an 89 percent drop in euthanasia rates in nine years. Just down the freeway, Willamette Humane receives half as many animals as it did a decade ago, and saves a larger percentage of those. 

Professionals like Anderson are now tackling the next life-saving challenge: preventing animals from becoming homeless in the first place. This will require a shift in expectations. “We live very busy lives and expect our pets to accommodate our schedules — to be quiet when left alone and grasp housetraining in 24 hours; to always get along with kids and cats and dogs, and to never have issues like resource guarding.” With more families properly prepared to handle behavioral challenges, veterinary expenses, and the pitfalls of moving with pets, shelters will move beyond being the “halfway houses for pets surrendered due to lack of resources or knowledge,” and more will stay in their homes for life. 

The Citizen’s Life-Saving Toolkit 

In the work of saving more lives, it takes a village, a city, a state, a region. Here is advice from our rescue experts on how every individual can lend a hand: 

1.     Advocate, but do it with care. “The social media fervor for rescue isn’t really doing the best it could,” says BJ Anderson. It may help to share adoptable pets on Facebook, but only if your post links directly to details about the animal’s current status. Remember too that California municipal shelters with higher euthanasia rates don’t reflect our local reality.  

2.     Remember the most basic things are the most effective. “Adopt a rescue dog, spay/neuter every dog and cat, license/chip every dog and cat, keep ID on at all times, and comply with leash laws,” says Diane Young. 

3.     If you’re looking to adopt a dog or cat, “trust what volunteers tell you,” cautions Bobbi Roach. “If it’s a good match, they’ll be more than happy to adopt to you.” 

4.     Expect the unexpected. Pet-friendly rental deposits and landlord restrictions can be steep. Veterinary expenses can run into the hundreds and thousands, especially as pets age. BJ Anderson hopes veterinary insurance will become the norm to help people budget. For eye-opening price ranges on everything from grooming to pet sitting to emergency surgery, visit howmuchisit.org/dog-costs

Michelle Blake is a Salem, OR-based massage therapist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in national publications. Her husband wants you to know that she's a REALLY crazy dog lady too.

Lucky Puppy Becomes 11,000th Pet Adopted from OHS

Dec. 21, 2014: Staff and volunteers at OHS today celebrated the 11,000th adoption of 2014. The lucky dog was Lucy, a four-month-old Jack Russell terrier mix who was adopted by the Bruns family of Vancouver, Wash.

“This is what the holidays are all about," said Sharon Harmon, OHS executive director. "Our goal is to find homes for 11,000 pets each year, and it’s wonderful to see people opening their hearts to shelter animals. "

The large number of adoptions makes OHS one of the busiest shelters in the nation with one of the highest save rates. OHS adopts more animals from its shelter on NE Columbia Blvd. than any other single shelter facility on the West. Today’s adoption marks the fifth year in a row that OHS has reached the 11,000 mark for animal adoptions. The feat is especially remarkable because OHS never puts a time limit on how long a pet remains available for adoption.

Lucy (originally named Ornament while at OHS)  came to OHS from a shelter in California that was faced with too many pets and too few adopters. He is one of about 5,000 animals that OHS accepts each year from shelters in Oregon, Washington and California as part of the OHS Second Chance program.

Debbie Bruns said she was attracted to Lucy the moment she laid eyes on him. The Bruns family had met the dog for the first timeyesterday, and came back today to complete the adoption. They had previously owned a Jack Russell terrier who passed away.

#   #  #

The Oregon Humane Society is the Northwest's oldest and largest humane society. OHS receives no tax dollars and relies entirely on donations to support its adoption, education, and animal cruelty investigation programs. Visit http://www.oregonhumane.org for more information. 

New York Pit Bull finds sisterly love

A New York convent recently brought a new member into their fold.  Remy, a nine-year-old Pit Bull, was adopted by three of the convent’s sisters after they saw the older dog languishing in a local shelter.  “As soon as I saw the sign that said ‘9 years,’ I said, ‘This is the one,” Sister Veronica Mendez told TODAY Show reporter Laura T. Coffey.  “No one is going to want this one.”  Indeed, Remy had been at the shelter for more than three months, her gray muzzle and breed serious barriers for adoption.  The sisters were looking for a new dog to welcome into their home after losing a beloved dog to cancer.  They decided to adopt a shelter dog in danger of being euthanized, and were directed to Remy, who now enjoys walks, multiple cushy dog beds, and oodles of love.

Colombian woman turns home into sanctuary

For more than 35 years, Maria del Carmen Quiceno has given shelter to the homeless dogs and cats in her community of Risaralda, Colombia.  “I rescued my first mixed dog when I was 27,” she told El Tiempo newspaper.  “He had been abandoned and people abused him.  I couldn’t stand for that, so I decided to help him.”  Currently Quiceno shelters 63 dogs and 36 cats, many who were once sick, injured or homeless.  She has limited resources and relies on local veterinarians to donate their services, including spay/neuter, and others for food donations and help with daily care.  Quiceno once dreamed of becoming a veterinarian but couldn’t afford the training.  She says she will continue to help animals in any way she can.  “My love for them has no limits.”

Great save!

The Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland (ASAP) reports that the six largest public and private animal shelters in the Portland/Vancouver Metro area have saved 91 percent of all cats and dogs that arrived through their doors in 2013, an unprecedented number that’s nearly double the national average.  Since forming in 2006, participating ASAP shelters have decreased euthanasia rates by 76 percent, thanks mostly to the community of dedicated veterinarians, rescue groups, volunteers, donors and of course, adopters.  ASAP has also decreased the number of cats going into area shelters by 35 percent, due primarily to the highly successful “Spay and Save” program that has altered more than 41,000 feral, stray and privately-homed cats. 

“The people of the Portland Metro area take great pride in being green.  They should equally take credit for creating and working on sustaining one of the safest community for pets in the United States.” says Debbie Wood, Manager of the Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter/Washington County Animal Services.  “Our residents are working on solutions with the shelters — be it getting behavior training or advice to keep pets in the family, getting their animals sterilized to avoid adding to the shelter population, and supporting their shelters through adoption, fostering, volunteering or donating money.”  Learn more at ASAPMetro.org.

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover by Denise Fleck, Illustrations by Lili Chin   

About three times as many households get new pets each year as the number of pets waiting for homes in shelters.  Don't Judge a Book by its Cover goes a ways toward explaining that sad phenomenon.  It is heartwarming, and might just help sway the tide from shopping to adopting! 

As someone who works in an animal shelter, I couldn't help but find some of the ideas simplistic, such as “the shelter dog looks dirty, take him home and give him a bath — now he looks great!” or “older dogs don't chew things up.”  But as it’s a book intended for children and young adults this may be the way to teach a new generation that adopting rather than buying from someone who may be adding to the dog/cat overpopulation problem is a priceless gift for the dog and the adopter. 

The book also highlights giving senior and sometimes “less adoptable” dogs a home.  The protagonist, a young girl, [spoiler alert!] does not buy the adorable puppy she had in mind, but with the guidance of her parents adopts an older black dog who’d been getting overlooked.  Of course the big lesson here is don’t judge a dog by its appearance, and don’t predetermine that you can’t find the dog who’ll fit your family in a shelter — go look! 

My favorite feature of this book is the explanation pages in the appendix that delve into “Black Dog Syndrome,” great traits of older dogs, and breed discrimination.  If every child in America read this book, shelter workers like myself would be talking with an informed, insightful group of adopters in the future. 

The illustrations, which are pop-art/cartoon style, are very fun and appeal for the younger crowd.  The lessons of the book and the altruistic quality make it fantastic read for shaping the values and attitudes of today’s youth.  If you’re looking for a gift for a young person that will keep on giving this may be it!  

Megan Mahan lives in Eugene with her boyfriend, Jacob, their adopted yellow Lab Maddie, many saltwater fish, and two miniature Silver Appleyard ducks, Louie and Olive. 

Adopt an Adult This Holiday Season

Tank - 7 years old

Tank - 7 years old

The Bonnie Hays Small Animal Shelter in Hillsboro is encouraging people to think about “adopting an adult” this holiday season. From now until January 4, 2014, the adoption fee for all dogs and cats five years of age or older will be half-priced.

“We know the image that people have in their minds is usually of a puppy or kitten this time of year. We’d like people to replace that image with a grateful dog with some gray on his face or a cat who may be at an age where he’s a little less frisky,” says Deborah Wood, manager of Animal Services. “Part of the joy of adopting a pet is giving that animal a second chance at life. That’s always meaningful – but it’s even more extraordinary for an older pet,” says Wood. “These are animals that know they’ve been saved. They will thank you every day for what you’ve done for them.”

There is often a perception that people bond best with puppies and kittens, but people who adopt older pets often find that there is a depth of relationship that comes from the adoption that is unlike anything else they’ve ever experienced.

“These are also animals that are done with all the puppy and kitten problems – they’re usually not chewing shoes or climbing curtains. They just want to be loved and give love,” says Wood.

The usual adoption price for dogs is $150 – which will be reduced to $75 older dogs for the holidays. The regular fee for an adult cat is $50 – which will be reduced to $25. All animals are spayed or neutered, microchipped, and up-to-date on shots.

“What could be more in the holiday spirit than adopting an adult dog or cat who really needs you?” asks Wood.

You can see photos of adoptable pets on the shelter’s web site: www.WashingtonCountyPets.com.

The Bonnie Hays Small Animal Shelter is located at 1901 SE 24th Avenue in Hillsboro – right on the Tualatin Valley Highway next to Lowe’s and Home Depot. Adoption center hours are 11:00 AM to 5:30 PM Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and noon to 5:30 PM on Wednesday. 503-846-7041, www.WashingtonCountyPets.com.

Roxy’s journey comes full circle


I was definitely going to die.  The Angel of Death was bearing down on me, and I was disappointed that there was no grand flash of insight about my life’s legacy or whether we really did learn everything we need to know in Kindergarten.  No, it was just practical stuff, like, “Nobody knows I’m here, so . . . how long until somebody finds me?”  Then the thought, “Wow!  I totally had no idea the dog’s chain was that long!”  As for profound last words?  Forget it.  I think I managed “Gwaaah-oh-oh-oh.”  Try engraving that in stone.

Luckily though, it turned out the dark angel only wanted to lick my face.

Just moments earlier, the 75-pound, bow-legged, jowl-faced block of a dog had eyed me silently while I waited for someone to come to the door of the house.  No answer.  I got back in my car wanting to keep my camera dry while taking a photo of the serious, watchful dog.  She stood in a mud puddle in an October downpour, chained to an old RV.  I swung open the car door, aimed the camera, and reached into the console to toss her a peace offering — a little dry biscuit from my stash.  Then she came at me, a torrent of lips and mud and chain, coming at me like a linebacker.  She thrust her basketball noggin past me and into the console to vacuum the remaining cookie stash, then pasted my face in cookie crumbs.

The muddy gargoyle then wedged herself between me and the steering wheel.  Instead of meeting my end, I would later see this as the moment I’d embarked on a beginning.


On that day in October 2009 (aka The Day I Almost Died) I’d gone to the home to offer the family a fence from Fences for Fido — an all-volunteer Portland-based nonprofit that builds fences for free, to release dogs from chains.  Numerous people had emailed us about this lonely dog chained to the RV, and since we volunteers often have to visit several times before finding a family at home, I had begun jotting down my progress.

October 2009:  Referral says dog is chained 24/7, probably breeding her.  SWEET girl!!  Loves cookies!

December 2009:  Visited.  Left note on door.  Brought cookies.

January 2010:  Left note on door.  Brought cookies.

March 2010:  Left flier and card.  Brought cookies.

July 2010:  Located landlord.  He says family has 7/30 deadline to rehome dog.  Her name is Roxy.

August 2010:  Woman answered door.  Roxy lives with relatives now.  She’s in heat & they hope she’ll have puppies.  I talked about importance of spay.

January 17, 2011:  Family called.  Roxy fights with other dogs so they can’t keep her.  She had 7 puppies & family sold them.  If we know someone who wants her, we should come get her.

January 23, 2011:  Roxy is dog and cat aggressive in foster home.  Going into heat.  Foster parents need her out immediately.

January 27, 2011:  Veterinarian can board Roxy for 2 weeks and spay her.  Needs new foster.

February, 2011:  Jumped on dining room table to chase foster moms’ cat.  Needs to move immediately.  Do we have another foster?

Roxy, the crazy squirrel chaser tried to go through the cat door, got stuck, and ripped it off the wall.  "Everything she does is over the top." says Michelle.  "She's such a goofball."

Roxy, the crazy squirrel chaser tried to go through the cat door, got stuck, and ripped it off the wall.  "Everything she does is over the top." says Michelle.  "She's such a goofball."

Not surprisingly, when we searched for a place for this unsocialized cat- and dog-aggressive dog with no house or leash manners, the physical strength of a raging bull, and two foster home rejections, we found only one option:  my garage.

I covered the concrete floor with an area rug, brought in a heater, and enriched her environment with interactive toys and nose-work games.  While a mile-wide grin and full-body wiggle is pretty much Roxy’s baseline mood in any case, she seemed to think I’d housed her at the Ritz.  She clearly loved her new digs.

Those in my family were less thrilled.  Overhearing an unfortunate comparison between Roxy and the Grimm Reaper definitely didn’t help.  Worse still, my cat and two dogs could hear her out there, and smell her through the door.  The whole household was on edge.

I wasn’t much happier.  Roxy’s daily walks were a double-leash spectacle with a head harness, a chest harness, and a backup leash anchored around my waist.  Meanwhile, Fences for Fido networked tirelessly until we found an angel of a dog trainer who would take Roxy under her wing and foster her.

Within days, the trainer had fallen in love with this big mess of a dog, and she’d determined that Roxy was not aggressive by nature.  Like many dogs who spend their lives on a chain, she was simply socially inept.  The trainer went to work, teaching this middle-aged canine the social skills she should have learned as a puppy.  After four months a Portland-area rescue group had placed Roxy in an adoptive home.

roxy sleeping.jpg

Her new manners weren’t fail-proof, though, and Roxy soon flunked out of the home and the rescue group.  This time, though, the garage wasn’t my only option; Roxy now had sufficient social skills to come into the house, though still be separated from my freaked-out clan.  Fences for Fido went to work again, using a blog and Facebook and every conceivable contact, hoping to find a place for this dog who kept flunking out of her opportunities.

Months passed, and Roxy continued to make good progress.  My own dogs even started warily interacting with her, and my cat would cuddle next to her crate at night, even venturing a few head-bumps.  But for every good move there was another setback:  Roxy learned to vault over my 6-foot fence; she sees any open door as an invitation to run like the wind and not look back; and she adopted a serious life mission to capture and maim every vacuum cleaner, lawn mower, delivery truck and city bus she encountered.

Just when I feared I’d have to foster her for eternity, another opportunity arose — this time with Family Dogs New Life Shelter, who invited Roxy to spend weekends practicing her doggie social skills and meeting potential adopters.  Roxy’s string of flunk-outs had made me so protective that I discouraged every adopter with a too-short fence or a child that might forget to close doors.  The good folks at the shelter continued to patiently welcome her weekend visits, never losing hope.


My hope did waver, though, mostly from fear that Roxy’s next flunk-out would be something bigger than her many angels could fix.  Finally I asked trainer Lola Carey of Lucky Leash to assess Roxy and tell me what I could do to make her more adoptable.  Within a few minutes, Lola had every critter in my household relaxing together in the living room, and she assured me they could learn to live like that all the time.

So in July 2012, Roxy’s whole village celebrated on Facebook: the shelter staff, Fences for Fido, the trainers, the people who’d made photos and videos and blog posts to promote her and had driven her to appointments.  Ultimately 750 well-wishers “liked” the Facebook announcement that Roxy had been adopted by her long-time foster mom.

These days, when she and the cat are sprawled across my lap, or she’s wrestling with one of my other dogs, I sometimes think about the four-year journey that began when she vaulted into my lap and came to a happy ending when she joined my family.  I kiss her giant blocky head and say, “I’m really glad you didn’t murder me, you cookie fiend.” 


Michelle Blake lives and writes in Salem, OR, with her own dog pack, the occasional foster dog, and a dog-taming feline named Dudley.  Her writing has appeared in national publications.


When social media and animal rescue collide … good things happen

Family Dogs New Life Director Tasha, with her besties.

Family Dogs New Life Director Tasha, with her besties.

In preparing this article, this writer set off on a Google search, paused for awhile at Pinterest, followed a trail to YouTube, took a left at Tumblr, and wound up in the Facebook vortex, watching a video on The Onion before remembering the original mission. 

That’s how it goes for millions of us, every hour of every day.  Browsing, texting, tweeting, posting, sharing, friending (unfriending), following . . . whatever the verb, we’re an active bunch out there in the virtual world.

A recent Nielsen study reported that the amount of time spent on social media increased 21 percent in 2012 over the previous year, and that number is expected to rise, especially as social media has become more inclusive to people across the age spectrum, and as mobile networking has grown astronomically.

None of this will surprise Spot readers, many of whom are active in Spot’s own social mediasphere:  commenting on a tweeted article, Liking the bejesus out of a too-cute-for-words photo that Vonnie (Spot’s social media manager)  posted on Facebook,  alerting us to an animal-related event, and of course, sharing photos of animals in need.

Anyone in the animal world who is active in social media has logged on to find their newsfeed filled with posts about animals in need of homes, shelters requesting volunteers, supplies or donations, petitions to sign, fundraising appeals, and thankfully, plenty of happy photos of pets in the arms of their newfound forever families. 

Social media, and particularly Facebook, has allowed shelters, rescues and animal activists to exponentially grow their communities, expanding the reach of their missions and, for some, attracting new donors and volunteers.

Diana Grappasonno, Program Communications Coordinator at Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS) says that while absolute numbers are difficult to ascertain she feels MCAS has reached people they may not have otherwise through Facebook and Twitter — the two channels they primarily use.  “Social media has increased attendance at our events and volunteer orientations,” she says.  “It has also enabled us to meet specific needs.  If we put a call out on Facebook for towels and blankets, we can be sure someone will show up willing to help.”  Grappasono adds, “Being able to directly engage and communicate with the public is both extremely valuable and very cost effective.  Social media enables us to let the community know that our shelter exists and what we do.”

Oregon Dog Rescue’s (ODR) Barbara “Bobbi” Roach, agrees.  “Social media has allowed us to interact with our followers on a more as needed and personal basis.”

 Roach says that over the past year ODR’s posts of specific needs lists on Facebook have brought supplies and volunteers to their door, including one follower who made a sizable cash donation to replace the shelter’s flooring — giving ODR great financial relief.  “For every item donated,” says Roach, “that’s money going toward another dog’s medical needs.”

Roach also credits Facebook for an increasing number of young people volunteering to walk dogs and hold fundraising events at their schools.  “They use social media religiously to communicate and I think our strong Facebook presence helps them relate to us and closes that age gap,” she says.

The welcome increase in volunteers and donations notwithstanding, the bottom line of every shelter is to find homes for the animals in their care, and social media has been a boon here as well.

A quick perusal of the Family Dogs New Life (FDNL) Facebook page shows several photos of recently adopted dogs, along with an inspiring report on the dogs who’ve found forever homes in recent months.  While it’s difficult to distill hard numbers for adoptions directly resulting from social media, FDNL Shelter Director Tasha Giacomazzi says she does feel their Facebook presence has made a difference.

“It took a couple of years of an active Facebook page before we really started noticing a true increase in adoptions that came from that,” says Giacomazzi.  “The cool part is when people are following our page and reach the point where they’re ready to adopt, they choose to come to Family Dogs.”  Giacomazzi also notes that the ease of posting photos means people keep in touch long after adopting through FDNL.  “They’re posting pictures of dogs in their new homes, giving feedback, and allowing us to stay in the dogs’ lives.  It’s been fun to see that increase in our community over the last few months.”

ODR’s Roach appreciates that social networking has increased the number of potential adopters viewing a particular dog.  “There are numerous stories of how posting a plea has resulted in a dog being rescued,” she says, adding that in a typical week, ODR’s posts are seen by approximately 8500 people. 

Oregon Dog Rescue Volunteers (L-R) Melissa Jarvis, Kim Harney, Barbara Roach and Angie Henderson Rapp.

Oregon Dog Rescue Volunteers (L-R) Melissa Jarvis, Kim Harney, Barbara Roach and Angie Henderson Rapp.

Roach says these numbers reflect as much on the shelter as the community itself.  “Facebook gives us a heart; it gets us person-to-person so they feel like they know us.  I’ve had people walk into PetSmart, people I’ve never met other than through Facebook, and they hug me like they’ve known me forever.  You can’t do it with PetFinder.  People tend to Like groups they are passionate about, and share that information with their friends — leading our dogs to a much larger population than ever before.”

Engaging as a shelter or rescue with potentially thousands several times a day requires some thought.  All who contributed to this story agreed, saying they are aware of and conscientious about what they send into the social network . . . and what resonates with their followers.  Not surprisingly, adoption notices and “feel-good” stories are among the most shared and Liked posts.

“Happy ending stories are the most popular by far,” says MCAS’s Grappasonno.  “We feel it's important to share the successes.  We want our social media communications to be upbeat as much as possible, because it encourages people to follow us.”

FDNL’s Giacomazzi agrees  “We use Facebook to generally promote success stories versus posting pleas for help or adopters.  We try to keep our page a fun place for people to visit.  We’ve noticed that that seems to be a good way for our supporters and adopters to feel involved, part of the family, and come back to see what’s being posted.  When we do need something, like when we’re low on dog food or have a dog that’s been with us long term that we want to draw attention to, we tend to get a better response versus posting sad or depressing images.  If people are mostly getting things that are positive in their newsfeed, they’re less likely to skip or ignore our posts.”

Clackamas Dog Services Program Manager Deena Morando also finds that uplifting updates, interesting news and educational posts are the best way to represent their organization.  “We think of [our Facebook page] as a conversation with the community, and one of the driving motivators for us is to keep it positive.”

Morando notes another factor in not posting alarming content.  “If we have a dog we’re worried about, say a great dog that’s been sitting and sitting, we pursue other options, other rescues.  We never put out urgent messages because we don’t want people adopting out of desperation or guilt.  It’s tempting sometimes, but I don’t think it encourages adopting for the right reasons.  I’ve personally known of several really bad mismatches because people felt like they had to save this particular dog.  While that’s a noble motivator, long term it’s not usually best.”

MCAS volunteer Molly with a "Pittie in Pink".

MCAS volunteer Molly with a "Pittie in Pink".

Roach — who also manages a private network for a 300-member community of NW rescues (not related to ODR) —  finds that constantly being presented with extreme cases, particularly as a network expands, requires discipline — especially for rescues that rely solely on foster care, or in the case of her network, focused on regional rescue and transport.  “In the beginning I would look at every case, until I said, ‘No, we have to pick what we know we can handle.  You never take a dog that you don’t have room for because if you’re foster-based, you can have that dog for two years — are you prepared to do that?  It can get very overwhelming — I think over time you have to get a little hardened to all of those posts and use discretion.  I mean, we can’t help dogs in Connecticut or New York.”

Even with the potential challenges of social networking, overall, its impact on animal rescue has been positive and substantial.  Locally, tens of thousands of animals have been served, from those who’ve found perfectly matched forever families, to those who received vital vet medical care thanks to funds raised. 

Considering the newness of social media (that ubiquitous Like button’s only been around three years!), the future of animal welfare, with the addition of social media, has become much brighter. 

Have you adopted, fostered or volunteered as a result of seeing a post on Facebook or other social media? We’d love to share your story and photos.  Join the conversation with Spot’s community, which includes the rescues and shelters featured here, and so many more, plus pet lovers around the globe.  Find Spot on Facebook (Spot Magazine and Spot to the Rescue), Twitter or at SpotMagazine.net.