As the popularity of social networking continues to explode, more and more people are finding old friends, making new ones and finding love at sites such as Facebook.
But it isn't only people who are benefitting from the interconnectivity the sites afford–man's best friend also is enjoying the fruits of social networking.
While, for years, rescue groups have used websites like Petfinder.com to list pets in need of new homes, Facebook has added another layer of networking that has resulted in thousands of canine and feline lives saved, rescuers say.
"Facebook and Petfinder have proven to be very useful tools in helping us find forever homes for our dogs and cats," said Lauren Dobkowski, administrator of the Meriden Humane Society's Facebook page. "They allow us to reach people who may never have walked through our doors if they hadn't seen an animal that interested them online.
Hamden resident Megan Shea started the City of Hartford Animal Shelter Facebook page last year after getting involved with the shelter that has one of the highest euthanasia rates in the state.
"Before I got into volunteering with rescue groups, I wasn't aware of dogs being euthanized in shelters, I wasn't aware of puppy mills or bait dogs," she said. "Because of volunteering with different rescue groups, I started to hear about all of these things which were very upsetting to me. If I didn't know about any of these things, I realized other animal lovers didn't know what was going on either.
"I thought by creating a Facebook page for the shelter, people will become more aware of what shelter dog's past was," she said, "and realize not all dogs who are brought to shelters get forever homes or second chances. I wanted to help in some way, even if it only saved one dog's life. I didn't know what to expect and didn't expect the page to become publicly viewed everyday and become a huge hit."
But it is a hit, with more than 2,200 fans and hundreds of dogs saved because of it.
"This page has helped hundreds of dogs get a second chance at life who wouldn't have had the chance to know what love was," she said. "Seeing the before and after transformation of a shelter dog is amazing," she said, stories she posts on the Facebook page under "Success Stories."
Facebook also has facilitated spreading awareness of animal abuse, as in the case of found thrown down the garbage chute of an apartment complex. Only hours away from death from starvation, Patrick now has almost fully recovered and is on his way to being adopted.
Several Facebook pages publicized his plight and contributed to the charges against his former owner being upgraded from misdemeanors to more serious felony animal cruelty charges. And now the mayor of New Jersey has vowed to build a new animal control facility in Patrick's honor.
And more recently in Missouri, a beagle puppy was removed from a man's home after he posted video of him "playing" with the dog. In the video, the dog was seen cowering in a corner trying to avoid the man's advances.
Outrage over the video, including the creation of a Facebook page, "Save Daisy," led to local authorities there removing the dog from the home. The puppy is in a new home now.
The convenience of the Internet lends itself to animal rescue, several involved said.
"People are so busy these days and the number of people who participate and use social networking is on the rise," Dombrowski said. "By allowing people to view our animals online at their convenience, it's almost like they are virtually visiting our shelter from the comforts of home or anywhere they might be. Facebook allows us to showcase our animals and also keep our fans connected to whats going on as far as fundraisers, events, and general pet care info."
Dogs and cats posted on pages often end up being shared over and over, getting wide exposure previously impossible before the Internet. Rescue groups organize transports that will bring animals across the state or even the country to the perfect new home.
"I consider it a very important piece of our public awareness campaign," said Melissa Izzo, Facebook administrator for the Friends of the New Haven Animal Shelter page. "It's a way to consistently be in someone's mind for a few seconds every day, at their leisure.
"It's also great because we are friends with other rescues and area shelters so if we post about an urgent dog and they have room for him, they can respond instantly," she added. "Likewise, if we post about a particular animal who really needs a home asap, if a member of the general public has a question about him, they can ask it right on the page and then that answer is there for everyone to see.
"It is also a very useful tool for us for our adoption events–someone checking Facebook before they go out on a Saturday morning might decide to stop by or tell a friend and maybe find the pet of their dreams," she said.
Petfinder.com is the free website commonly used by animal welfare organizations, she said, and it allows them to post animal pictures and their descriptions.
"Potential adopters can search the site by location or specific breeds they are looking for, and we can also immediately link all the Petfinder animals to Facebook," she said, "where Stratford Animal Control fans can share it on their walls and it spreads like wildfire."
"Social networking has allowed organizations to reduce our euthanization rates and promote fundraising events," she said. "Adoptions have gone up and the amount of money we have raised to help spay or neuter and care for these animals has increased significantly," she said.
"With the ever-increasing impoundments due to the downturn in the economy, Stratford Animal Control has managed to not euthanize any animals unless they were aggressive or severely sick or injured," she said, "and I don't know how we could do this and place all of the animals into qualified homes without utilizing the Internet."