I’m an admitted “lurker” in Facebook groups. I’m a member of hundreds of groups, nearly all dog or pet related. They pepper my feed as I scroll during my lunch break or as I’m relaxing in front of the TV at night. They provide an escape from other, more stressful parts of my life. But, I see life-changing personal connections happening in real time, and life-saving commentary occurring even though members are in different time zones, and sometimes different countries.
As with all groups, the reason for online groups existing can be vastly different. The communities they help to cultivate can range from humor-filled to strictly transactional based statements of fact, and everything in between.
You can truly find any group for any purpose. And when you do, you may also find resources and people that will change your life and your pet’s!
“I turned to my husband and asked, ‘Where’s Sammie?’ and in the span of time it took for me to ask, for him to understand, and for us to realize Sammie was not in the house, we heard the car hit her,” says a friend. “From the sound of it, we didn’t expect her to get up, but she sprung to her feet and bolted.”
It was maybe 40 seconds between my friend’s question and the vehicle hitting their small dog, but the events that spiraled in the aftermath of those 40 seconds were harrowing for my friend. She and her husband live in a new-to-them New England city, and they tried to navigate the best way to find their now-missing, and most likely hurt, dog. They called municipal shelters, placed articles of clothing with familiar scents near their front door and the neighborhood was canvassed on foot and by car. By nightfall, Sammie was still missing, and my friend grew increasingly anxious as the night progressed.
I learned of my friend’s plight the next day, and I quickly sent her a laundry list of resources for reuniting a lost pet with the pet’s parents. In addition to telephone numbers for shelters, animal hospitals and rescues, I provided her with at least seven lost-and-found pet Facebook groups she didn’t know existed. Frankly, until then, she didn’t have a reason to know why they existed.
She joined the listed Facebook groups, and began to fill the prompts given, which aided in memory joggers for her in her frantic state. The members also provided helpful insights about possible scams and posting physical posters in the neighborhood. In essence, they all provided a checklist, and helped her to navigate a very stressful process when she wasn’t able to think clearly.
Less than an hour after her Facebook group posts, she received a call that her pet had been found in an area just outside the line that would cover the neighborhood Facebook group she had posted in.
Following a trip to the nearby 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital, Sammie was home safe with some minor abrasions and bruising.
“I’ve been running the group for five years now. It started out a love for the breed, and I thought to myself ‘This might be fun, and maybe it will drive some additional traffic to my blog,’” says Carol Bryant, the moderator of Club Cocker: Wigglebutts Worldwide, a Cocker Spaniel breed group. Carol is also the creator of Fidose of Reality, a blog focusing on Cocker Spaniels. Finding a channel for additional blog traffic was appealing.
While her initial goal was driving users to her site, she wound up realizing the Facebook group took on a life of its own. “What’s come out of it is this community of friends, of people helping people, of people who say kind things to one another,” Carol says. “If someone doesn’t post for a few days, people will ask ‘Where are they? Are they OK?’ It has become something that I never thought it would and has become an integral part of my digital life.”
She’s not alone: The thousands of members in her group engage daily. They share wins and joyful moments. They share health scares and medical questions. They share their crushing sadness of loss and their fond memories of dogs who have crossed the Rainbow Bridge. It’s a community in every sense of the word, and many of the people who are members will likely never meet each other in real life. If they do, there are bound to be hugs and butts wiggling, a trait well-known in the Cocker Spaniel dog breed.
You’ve probably heard the expression “herding cats.” I’m sure that’s the way it must feel to oversee a gaggle of volunteers and fosters for a large municipal shelter that services two large cities. COVID-19 made managing eager volunteers and fosters even more challenging. Frequently changing safety guidelines and limited contact meant reduced numbers of people allowed in a building, if at all. The needs of the pets in shelters didn’t dwindle, even when the number of in-person volunteers did. This made virtual communication and creative ways to coordinate involvement paramount for pet rescue organizations.
Heather Cahillane was literally and figuratively herding cats in her role as volunteer and special projects coordinator at Thomas J. O’Connor Animal Control & Adoption Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, throughout the pandemic. She uses a foster Facebook group to help inform engaged volunteers.
Beyond housekeeping announcements, it is also a way for fellow volunteers to learn from each other. “Not that staff don’t want to help, but sometimes it’s nice for staff to be able to feel like they can go home and decompress between shifts,” says Heather. “The Facebook group can be a nice place for when a volunteer is having an issue. It’s 8 at night, and something is going on with a foster that doesn’t rise to the level of being an emergency but the person dealing with the situation is feeling a bit nervous and decides to put something out on the group page. Suddenly, all these volunteers will share: ‘This is what I did, and this is what you can do.’ Which winds up being a great support for each other, while also providing support for the staff because the volunteers have an additional resource to connect with.”
I remember reading a statement from a volunteer veterinarian in a Facebook group dedicated entirely to pet parents posting medically related questions and photos. Volunteer veterinarians then shared insights about the issue, how severe the situation might be and the appropriate next steps the owner should take.
“Those, sir, are nipples,” the veterinarian calmly stated. It was in response to an exasperated post of a clearly concerned pet parent who noticed marks on his male dog’s chest and was concerned at what they could be. The vet didn’t pass judgment in his response; there’s no room for that kind of interaction in this group.
While this specific exchange could have been considered funny, the pet owner was legitimately concerned and he was able to seek answers when a regular call to their veterinarian was not an option.
Obviously, not all interactions in this group end this way. There are some serious situations that arise that warrant the need for an emergency trip to a veterinarian. In an increasing number of geographic areas, access to emergency care can be hours away. Volunteer veterinarians in this group help provide information about resources and possible care as the pet parent prepares for the trek to the nearest provider.
There are thousands of dog-related Facebook groups. These range from breed specific, training and enrichment, athletics and activities, health and wellness, pet loss and grieving, support for people who work in the pet industry, and any other option you can imagine.
If you find yourself seeking groups after reading this, keep in mind the following points:
First, most groups post rules. Take the time to read the rules before you join, as they likely give you an idea of what types of content is allowed and if it’s the right fit for you. Second, engagement means you’ll see more of the content in your feed. If something in a group calls to you, like it or comment on it. Then you’ll have more of that type of content show up in your feed down the road. Lastly, have fun. If nothing else, you’ll see more photos of dogs!