Does social media hysteria kill more lives than it saves?

Camp Cocker Rescue monitors more than thirty five high kill shelters within a two hundred mile radius of Los Angeles on a daily basis, there are always several cocker spaniels that are considered middle aged or senior or special needs in some way (such as blind dogs).

We do our fair part in taking in nearly every major medical cocker spaniel that enters our shelters, after being hit by cars, or needing cataract surgery or ear ablation surgery or any other number of major medical issues.

The rescue landscape has changed in the last five years. It used to be every shelter had at least one cocker spaniel and it was not uncommon to see three to six cocker spaniels all sitting in one shelter. The dogs in danger were of all ages, young to middle aged to seniors.

So with social media sharing, more people than ever can find out about the cocker spaniels in our shelters here in California. This in theory, should be a good thing, right?

Well, what seems to be happening is that all of the younger cocker spaniels, any dog under the age of five, are being cherry picked by the other rescue groups and quickly. On the first day that the stray hold is up, the rescue groups are there waiting when the shelter doors open to grab a young healthy cocker spaniel. Many of these dogs have been heavily networked on social media, much of it with misinformation (such as “this dog will die at 5pm today!”).

Much of the hysteria on social media is fraught with fake facts to the point where it becomes a hoax. Camp Cocker continues to get contacted about dogs that have been killed in shelters a long time ago, because people will see a post on social media, not bother to call the shelter directly to fact check, and then contact Camp Cocker to beg us to save a dog. We get emails like this every day and this is what led us to create a SHELTER NETWORKING FORM.

Now whenever anyone is networking a shelter dog to us, we ask them to please take the time to actually call the shelter directly, confirm what the actual facts are and get a correct and current status on the dog. We also require that anyone networking a shelter dog to us to please go in person to the shelter and spend one-on-one time with the dog they are wishing to network to us. To send us video clips of the dog being handled from head to toe (to show for no reactivity issues) and video clips of the dog on a leash meeting other dogs or at the very least, walking by other dogs behind their kennels (to show any leash reactivity issues or dog reactivity issues). Many people will say “I don’t live near the shelter” and to those people, we ask them to please go to the source of where they found out about the dog on social media. With some time and effort, you can ALWAYS find someone that is willing to go to a shelter to evaluate a dog in person. People can do this from all over the country, it just takes some effort.

We recently had someone networking a dog to us that only lived an hour from the shelter and she said it was “too far away” for her to drive to, that it was our job to do this and she was doing her part by sending us the shelter photo of the dog and asking us to rescue it. This is so frustrating because all of us here at Camp Cocker are volunteers and many of us have easily spent up to eight hours driving to help rescue a dog. With Los Angeles traffic, it can be four hours one way to get from Ventura county to Riverside county, just to save a dog.

So back to the current landscape of rescue here in the Los Angeles area . . .

Camp Cocker had been trying to get some of these younger and more adoptable doggies from our shelters but every time we try to get one, even if we send a volunteer to the shelter to stand in line the day the stray hold is up, we are often beaten out by the other rescues. Okay then, that’s fine. We’ll accept that Camp Cocker has a very minimal chance of getting a cocker spaniel from our shelters that is in an “adoptable” age range.

Well that is of course, if the dog does not need major medical. The major medical dogs, no one else will touch and it’s almost a guarantee that if you ever see a cocker spaniel hit by a car or needing major ear or eye surgery, the other rescues are staying clear of those dogs. It has not been by design that Camp Cocker has become known for taking in the most expensive medical needs dogs, it has been by default. The other rescues simply want the young easy to adopt dogs.

Is that REALLY rescue? It’s a legitimate question and something to think about when you see rescues that are flipping high volumes of shelter dogs, that are all young and healthy. It’s not numbers of animals that counts in rescue, it’s the quality of the “rescue”. What types of dogs are they taking from the shelters? Is the rescue going to go all the way for thorough vetting/rehabbing and give as much time and effort and thorough approach to the re-homing process?

Camp Cocker has recently begun taking in dogs from South Korea and this effort has been supported solely by donors who specifically want to donate towards those rescue efforts. The dogs in our rescue group right now that are in the “adoptable” age range of five or under, are all from South Korea. Without those dogs, we would only have middle aged/older dogs and special needs dogs in our rescue. Some people are not happy to see us take in dogs from other countries, but we have been really transparent and clear that donations are not coming away from local shelter dogs. Without these younger dogs in our rescue group, we would have quite a challenge attracting any adopters at all.

Why are dogs older than five so much harder to adopt out? We wish we knew, it’s a mystery for sure. In fact, eighty percent of the adoption applications we receive, all specifically state they will only consider a dog up to age three. Well that is an almost impossible request to fill for someone. Generally when we have dogs under the age of three, they are so high energy that finding the exactly right adopter that has the time/energy/stamina for the daily cardio is a challenge.

The cocker breed can live up to sixteen years of age or longer (with keeping their weight healthy and daily exercise and high quality nutrition). It’s not uncommon for a ten year old cocker to live another six years. Think about that, six years! A lot can happen in an adopter’s life in six years, they can get married, get unmarried, have children, move, change careers. Six years is a long time to make a commitment to a dog and adopting a cocker spaniel that is eight or ten years or older is SUCH a pleasure to have at that age. They are past their young hyper years, they are more moderate energy, calmer, don’t require the daily cardio that a young dog demands, they are often house trained. Doesn’t an older dog sound like a dream come true? Why then, won’t more adopters open their hearts to consider adopting an older dog?

So then that leads us to the problems created by social media hysteria. There are always middle aged and senior cocker spaniels in our shelters and in fact, it is mostly the seniors that are in danger of ending their lives in the shelters. In an average week here in the California shelters, there can easily be at least a dozen senior cockers sitting in the shelters and yet no one is getting upset over them. No one is trying to network them to try to find them a forever home. Most of these senior dogs just quietly sit in the shelters, do their time, until there is no more time and they are euthanized.

Every week, the social media hysteria will be going on with one or two specific shelter cockers, sometimes with cockers that are not even really in any danger. While everyone is following the hysteria feeding frenzy, other nice dogs are losing their lives because the adrenaline rush from the hysteria is much more exciting to participate in and the eyes are all drawn to where there is excitement.

No one seems to care about the morbidly obese cocker spaniel that has been sitting in one of our shelters for more than a month now. No one seems to care about the grey faced older spaniel sitting in a shelter since March. Or the other dog that has also been sitting in a shelter since March, that is aged as eight years old (he looks to be a bit older by the white on his face).

So the question at hand is - does social media hysteria save more lives than it kills?

We want to ask all of our supporters who wish to network shelter dogs to us, to please submit the SHELTER NETWORKING FORM first, and do not skip any of the specific information that we ask for. It is not helpful to simply post shelter photos on our Facebook page or email us shelter photos. When we are receiving more than two hundred emails a day and a hundred of those emails are of the same shelter dog photo, it is taking our attention away from other legitimate emails that could involve something actionable that could actually save a dog’s life. We have asked people to please not post shelter photos on our main Facebook page at Camp Cocker Rescue and to instead, post it on our Facebook page that has been set up SPECIFICALLY for networking Cockers in Shelters - California.

We also want to ask everyone who gets swept up in the social media hysteria over a particular dog, to please also consider that there are other dogs that are getting no attention or networking at all. Those silent invisible shelter dogs need YOU to speak up for them. The first place to start looking for all of those dogs that are getting no attention on social media, is to go to PetHarbor.com and do a daily search under “lost my dog” and under “adopt a dog”. Then one by one, start calling each shelter to get more specific details about each dog (you can use our shelter networking form for a guideline on what types of questions to ask when you call a shelter). You will be shocked at how many nice doggies are silently dying in shelters because everyone is focusing on only one or two specific dogs.

If you would like Camp Cocker Rescue to network a specific shelter dog to our supporters, then you must be willing to put in the time and effort to get every single piece of information that we need on that dog as requested in the shelter networking form. (you would be surprised how many people just skip half of the questions or put n/a which gives us nothing to use to help network the dog)

And the next time you see hysteria being created over a specific dog on social media, here’s the smartest thing you can do. Stop, pause, call the shelter that dog is at and first confirm the dog is actually there and that the dog is in danger. Many of these hysteria situations could be halted if only people would fact check before sharing the hysteria.

Also consider, what can YOU PERSONALLY DO that is actionable, other than sharing the hysteria over a particular dog. Can you find someone that you personally know that would go to the shelter and adopt this dog as their forever pet? That is probably the number one way that people on social media can help, but yet no one thinks of doing this.

We understand that people get caught up in hysteria and that many people don’t care who the dog goes to or what type of “rescue” gets a dog - all they want is to see freedom photos of the dog leaving the shelter. After that, the dog can be shipped off to some unknown sanctuary of horrors or to some animal hoarder and no one cares to follow up. Often these dogs that get all the hysteria surrounding them, come with high pledges for donations and this will attract the wrong type of “rescue”.

Thank you for listening to this message that asks for you to get out of your comfort zone of just sharing shelter photos and feeding into social media frenzy. Instead, ask yourself if you are ready to do something that is more actionable to help more shelter dogs. It’s easy to get caught up in drama and hysteria and it’s HARD to keep a level head, and do the boring hard work of shining the light on the other dogs in shelters that no one is networking at all.

Good luck village and we hope this helps to get people that are networking shelter dogs to start networking in a smarter way that can save MORE lives, not cost lives.

Much appreciation for considering this message.

Cathy Stanley, Camp Cocker Rescue founder