It’s no secret that photos of animals are hard to resist. But what about those heartbreaking images of sad cats and dogs who are waiting to be adopted from shelters? For many it’s just an invitation to look away. But thanks to some feel-good initiatives by dog lovers, the positive “paw-er” of social media is being harnessed to show shelter animals in a more appealing light to find them homes. Campaigns across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are saving a tiny portion of the estimated 3 million to 4 million dogs and cats euthanized every year in the United States.
Dallas Pets Alive, a volunteer rescue group in Texas, started digitally adding adoptable dogs to “selfies” (self-portraits taken with a smart phone) posted by users on Instagram, and then reposting them with messages such as, “Can I come home with you?” They began their #muttbombing campaign in February, featuring 26 mutts mugging alongside celebrities and ordinary tourists. So far, 18 have been adopted – such as Sandy, a sheltie mix that was added to the famous photo tweeted out by Ellen DeGeneres from the Oscars – compared with only four during the same period last year.
Then there is Brandon Stanton and his newly adopted 13-year-old dog, Susie, with a wispy white mohawk. When Mr. Stanton, photographer and curator of the well-known blog Humans of New York, formed a bond with his older pooch, it inspired his girlfriend, Erin O’Sullivan, to start a Facebook page called Susie the Dog, featuring older dogs who need homes. In its first three months, the page received more than 150,000 “likes” from Facebook followers, and at least 50 dogs whose photos have been posted are now curling up with new owners.
There’s little downside to this approach, says Inga Fricke of the Washington, D.C., area Humane Society. “Social media has become a hugely valuable tool for shelters and rescues to reach people” and convince them to adopt, she says.
Amanda Britt attributes the fact that she and her family have a new dog, Flora, to the social media savvy of Shannon Johnstone, a photographer in Raleigh, N.C., who takes portrait shots of shelter dogs as part of her Landfill Dogs project. The name intends to provoke. A grassy landfill is where Ms. Johnstone takes a dog most in need of finding a home for a playful photo session. It’s also a place where dogs who do not find homes will eventually end up. Part social statement, part public service, and part art, Johnstone posts her photos on Facebook. Some 92 percent of the dogs she’s photographed have found homes.
“The Landfill Dogs project had everything to do with [us] getting Flora,” says Ms. Britt.