Losing a dog is a heart wrenching experience that happens to every dog owner at sometime or another. Dogs jump, dig or climb their way out of yards, slip collars and break lines, dodge between legs or take off after something fascinating. All too often, dogs get agitated after a bath, and escape without a collar on. Sometimes there are even people foolish or malicious enough to let dogs roam free, or the simple human error of not quite latching a gate properly.
The Lost Dogs of Adelaide Facebook page is an amazing resource that lists lost dogs, cats and even rabbits, using the wide ranging Facebook community to try to reunite people with their lost pets, with some wonderful successes.
Often, it is the readership of this Facebook page that makes a difference, the likes and shares that spread the pictures and information out in wide circles, until they hit the right screen at the same time. Clearly, the people who read, like and share the items on this page are caring people who know that horrible moment when your pet is in danger. Because this is a public Facebook page, people who comment are usually sharing their real name, profile pictures and often access to their personal pages. You'd think that would make people mind their manners and behave nicely. Hmmm.
Last week, a friend here in Melbourne shared a Lost Dogs of Adelaide post about four huskies found in South Australia. They had been safely rounded up and put in someone's yard until a ranger came to collect them. The post was trying to help find the owners.
Unlike many of the posts on the website, this one attracted over 140 comments. When the owners were found, the announcement of the dogs being reunited with their people gained over 200 likes. Some well meaning comments from people not familiar with huskies led to others jumping in to reassure that these dogs were a healthy weight.
Other people were concerned that these dogs may have been the victims of an attempted theft or a malicious release. Unfortunately, huskies have been known to be used as bait dogs in illegal dog fighting rings, as they are tough enough to survive, but not aggressive enough to injure a fighting dog, so these fears are not unrealistic.
And there was a lot of discussion about the fact that the dogs were not wearing collars, and didn't appear to have microchips.
Many people felt that this was irresponsible, while others vehemently defended having dogs kept without collars for a variety of reasons. Some people stood on a pillar of authority as husky owners, while others had experience in other areas, but were confused about the breed.
The comments quickly turned quite acrimonious. (These are not in order.)
To put it mildly, I was stunned and disappointed that people would turn this situation into a slanging match. Even though every one of these comments was clearly identified by the name and photo attached, people apparently put no more thought into the nasty tone of their remarks than they did into their spelling or punctuation. I also feel confused about where the aggression came from, as I saw far more, far nastier comments saying "no need to judge the owners" than I did comments criticising the owners. Possibly some were removed by the page owners. Fortunately there were also many positive comments praising the people who'd caught the dogs and kept them safe, other hoping they made it home safe.
Once the owner was reunited with the dogs, it was announced that they were unregistered, and another round of slanging went off.
Only one person pointed out that councils use the "revenue" from registrations to fund ranger operations. Noone pointed out that councils are Not-For-Profit organisations that have to fund parks, community centres, libraries and sports facilities.
Another theme in the comments was the criticisms of the owner. Some people were even gleeful about the fines the owner might be charged with, even though these were not confirmed.
Many people jumped in on the point of "more than two" huskies, assuming that if the owner had registered all four dogs, she would not have been allowed to keep all four. Noone knew which council the dogs were living in, or whether it had a two or three dog limit. Noone knew whether the council allowed extra dogs with a special permit, although the possibility was pointed out... once.
The Facebook platform, like all internet cyberplaces, has great potential, but all platforms, like all dog yards, are limited by the way people use it. For every amazing organisation like Lost Dogs of Adelaide, there are people who will rant and rave, without considering the hurt that they do to people from the "safe" distance of an internet connection, even when they are no longer safely anonymous. I wonder who has hurt the owners of those huskies more, in a time of great stress and fear, the person who may have left their gate unlatched, or the people who compounded their distress by attacking the owners, the councils and each other?