Many of us who use social media have found it useful for spreading information about dogs needing rescue. But as in many things about this new information age, there is a dark side to what we see, read and are sometimes unrelentingly exposed to.
Spreading misinformation on social media isn’t limited to Russians or bots. Sophisticated algorithms are especially adept at zeroing into likes, dislikes and shares between friends. We are seeing that the benefits of social media can also be used to make the serious problem of overpopulation of animals worse.
You many find yourself part of a Great Pyrenees breed rescue group that you never asked to join or you may innocently join one. The groups share photos of the owners’ dogs and share information and advice. These are supposed to be open forums but unfortunately most are tightly controlled as to the content and information dispensed. The people who run these groups, regardless of their qualifications, act as the arbiters (intentionally or otherwise) as to what is correct or incorrect with behavior, ownership, breeding, and medical issues. Hundreds of comments, many of them conflicting, on how to manage a dog’s behavior or illness can follow a clueless owner’s post when clearly a visit to the vet or behavioralist is what is needed.
In most of these groups, people proudly share photos of their dogs and puppies, receiving praise and admiration for them. Unfortunately all this photo sharing only encourages more people to go out and get puppies. Backyard breeders have a field day posting their latest litters, often times asking people to message them directly so they can provide cost and direct delivery information. Some puppy pushers try to garner sympathy by saying they are “accidental” litters but what is "accidental" when you own unspayed females and unneutered males?
There was a time twenty years ago when Pyrenees were only available from AKC-affiliated breeders or a local breeder or farm usually within a drivable distance. The internet changed that. Puppies became available online for viewing and could be shipped via air freight. Instead of relying on pet store sales, disgraceful puppy mills posing as breeders online shipped puppies directly to buyers. Promoting puppies via the web required a website investment or affiliation with one but now social media has gone a step further and opened up the market to any seller who can publish a photo. Pet store sales of puppy mill dogs, once a major issue in rescue, are nothing compared to what we are seeing now on social media. Anyone with a litter can promote them to thousands of people, most of whom know little about the breed or will exert much responsibility to learning about or managing their dog’s behavior.
Another trend, the interest in homesteading and raising farm animals, also being fed by social media, is contributing to the proliferation of Pyrs. Pyrs' livestock guardian qualities are being promoted to those who decide homesteading is for them. This winter we saw how the hardiness of the breed has been exaggerated to the point where people leaving 12-week old puppies alone in zero degree temperatures in dog igloos are being told it’s o.k. Unfortunately when the homesteaders get bored or decide it’s too much work, which happens all too frequently, the animals are abandoned or surrendered to overcrowded shelters.
Although knowledge of the breed is growing exponentially, knowledge about the breed has failed to keep pace. Lack of fencing, barking, Pyrs' roaming tendencies, same-sex aggression and other serious problems don’t make it to many people’s radar until they own a Pyr and are at a loss on how to deal with these very common problems.
NGPR is receiving 10-15 requests for assistance weekly now and the number has been increasing steadily, fed by social media which unfortunately does not provide a safety net for all the animals promoted on it. Participating and sharing on these group pages only makes the problem worse. Beware of where you go and what you share because you may be contributing to making what is already a very serious animal welfare problem with this breed much worse.