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Social media is a powerful tool for rescue organisations, and used effectively it can make a real difference to cats and dogs in need. Facebook and Twitter posts allow shelters to share photos and news of adoptable pets and reach a worldwide audience.
There are numerous stories of cats and dogs that are successfully rescued and are lucky enough to find foster homes, or be adopted by a wonderful family. In some instances though, social media posts can create online chaos or have a negative effect.
Dramatic posts can turn people away
We’ve all seen the photo of the sad looking cat or dog accompanied by a dramatic headline with words like ‘at risk’, ‘urgent’ ‘will be killed’ ‘due to be euthanised tomorrow’ followed by many exclamation marks. It’s confronting and rightly so. These are tragic situations and are designed to get your attention.
However, whilst these types of posts will have the desired effect of encouraging some people to share the post and advocate on behalf of the ‘at risk’ cat or dog, sometimes they can have the opposite effect.
For some people, constantly seeing these posts in their newsfeed can be confronting and overwhelming and may contribute to a feeling of hopelessness. More often than not, these people will respond by clicking the ‘unfollow’ or ‘unfriend’ button or by hiding your updates.
If you work or volunteer for an animal shelter, please consider the impact of what you post as well as what you are hoping to achieve. For the benefit of all the animals out there, we’d like to suggest that you create a balanced social media feed. By all means continue to advocate for ‘at risk’ animals but balance this by posting some of your positive news stories too.
Be smart when sharing social media posts
If you advocate on behalf of animals in need, you’re probably active on social media and share posts from rescue organisations on a regular basis. This is fantastic and can be a real help, but be smart in your approach.
- Always include the original post so that your followers can quickly find the information source. This should include relevant details such as such as the location and postcode of the cat or dog in need, the animal’s identification number, and the best way to get in touch with the shelter.
- Understand your audience location and share appropriately for maximum impact. If 95% of your social media following is based in your local neighbourhood; focus on sharing the posts of animal shelters nearby. If your following is more widespread across the United States, then you can share posts from a broader geography.
Sometimes the best way to help is to keep quiet
Social media posts with dramatic headlines are designed to tug at your heart-strings – that’s the whole point. The flipside is that sometimes these posts lead to public outcry and shelters are overwhelmed by calls from people who are concerned about the cat or dog on ‘death row’, even though they aren’t in a position to offer practical help.
Animal shelters are typically under-staffed and run on a limited budget. When you phone them about a cat or dog at risk, there are probably 50 more people doing the exact same thing. If shelter employees are busy answering a constantly ringing phone, they’re not looking after the animals in their care. Despite your best intentions, you may in fact be creating more work for the shelter and preventing people who actually can help from getting though on the phone.
When you see a dramatic social media post about an animal in need do you comment? If you do, is it because you are in a position to rescue, foster or adopt? Maybe you can offer transport somewhere? Or are you just commenting for the sake of having a voice . . .
How many times have you seen comments such as: “I wish I could help BUT. . . I already have three dogs, OR I live too far away OR my boyfriend is allergic to cats.” It’s nice that you care (it really is), but if you can’t help, all you are doing is cluttering up a social media feed with your comments and making it harder for shelter employees to identify those people who can actually help rescue this particular cat or dog.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is to keep quiet and refrain from saying anything. Instead, please share the post and ask your friends to do the same.
How you can help pets in need
If you’re not in a position to rescue, foster or adopt, there are many other ways you can help your local shelter, such as volunteering your time or making a donation.
This blog post is part of the quarterly campaign for Be the Change for Animals – advocating to make the world a better place for all animals.