Tag: dogs

Social animals: rewriting the underdog story in the age of social media

 

Tuna looks upon the line of fans waiting to get his “pawtograph” for the book titled Tuna Melts My Heart: The Underdog with the Overbite. Tuna fans flocked to BookPeople on Friday, March 6, 2015 for the book signing and opportunity to take photos with the Instafamous dog.

He saw hundreds of people waiting in line — the usual. Fans were squealing his name in adoration. Young and old would wait for two hours on a Friday night in Austin, Texas. For what? They had come from far and wide just for a signed copy of his book and a chance to take a quick picture with him. It was surreal — something you’d expect to be humbling, like playing Madison Square Garden. Yet, all he could think about was the squeaky toy one of his handlers was dangling high up above his face.

Tuna, the Chihuahua-Dachshund mix, internet celebrity, and inspirational figure for the modern era has come a long way from his humble roots on the side of a Southern California road, where he was abandoned as a puppy — presumably, because of the trademark underbite and crumpled neck for which he is now famous.

“You know, I like to call him Sir,” said Tuna’s owner Courtney Dasher, to a packed house at BookPeople for a book signing to promote his new book, Tuna Melts My Heart: The Underdog with the Overbite.

Tuna’s inspirational underdog story starts in 2011, when Dasher adopted him and quickly began posting pictures of her pup’s peculiarly pronounced pearly whites to an Instagram account.

“[Tuna] reaches all demographics,” Dasher said. “I think people from all different walks of life are drawn to him so he speaks to different people’s hearts and situations by being quirky and unconventional.”

Now his website, TunaMeltsMyHeart, has more than 1.2 million Instagram followers. That’s right — this dog has more Instagram followers than you. That’s also more Instagram followers than actor John Stamos (553k), actress Amanda Seyfried (831k) and just slightly less than comedienne and star of The Mindy Project,  Mindy Kaling (1.4m). Somebody get this dog a Super Bowl commercial!

In 2012, Tuna's Instagram went viral, increasing from 8,500 followers to over 32,000 in less than 24 hours. Tuna now has over 1.2 million Instagram followers.

In 2012, Tuna’s Instagram went viral, increasing from 8,500 followers to over 32,000 in less than 24 hours. Tuna now has over 1.2 million Instagram followers.

If you think this is all just the work of a fame-hungry Chiweenie, however, you’d be wrong.  Tuna has not forgotten his roots and is using his celebrity to give back to his favorite cause, according to Dasher.

“We’re being used as a catalyst to change people’s days,” said Dasher. “I look at him as a vehicle to bring people a lot of joy, and on our tours, like anytime we do anything, we want to be able to support animal rescue groups.”

Donations that night went to local animal rescue group Austin Pets Alive!, which brought to BookPeople a puppy who, much like Tuna, was born with a congenital defect that could hurt his chances for adoption. Tuna was only too happy to pose for a picture with the puppy whose front paw will likely be removed due to lack of sufficient bone structure.

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Tuna poses for a photo with Austin Pets Alive puppy, Scooter who was born with a defect in his front paw and abandoned by previous owners before APA rescued him.

An APA! volunteer said Tuna’s celebrity helps raise the visibility of the nonprofit’s work in an important way.

“It’s one thing to hear Austin Pets Alive!, you can adopt an animal from them,” the volunteer said. “It’s a different thing to see the puppies and kittens and cats and dogs that we’re saving at an event like this.”

She also said social media is huge for promoting animal rescue — even in a city like Austin, with a thriving network of animal rescue groups and an army of volunteers touting its dog-friendly distinction as the largest no-kill city in the nation.

“Social media is how people find out about us: without social media all you’ve got is word of mouth, which isn’t going to get you very far,” she said. “Social media within your own organization is even big for us: it’s how we can plead for a new foster home.”

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Fans hold up their smart phones to snap photos while Courtney Dasher introduces Tuna before the book signing on Friday, March 6th, 2015.

Tuna’s Instagram has become a social media tool more powerful than Dasher ever expected.

“Social media is an outlet to connect with a community that is global, which is so fascinating to me,” Dasher said. “I don’t look at this as just an Instagram account. I have a lot of responsibility attached to me now and I want to make sure to use it to promote things that are encouraging and uplifting.”

Tuna may be the first Instagram pet to go on tour, but if he’s the first one you’ve heard of, you must not be one of Milla the cat’s 200k Instagram followers. The feline with comically small ears, whose owners ask for donations to fund treatment for her heart disease, is just one of an increasing number of Instagram pets with followings that dwarf those which rescue organizations can attract.  Compare the 8,400 followers of APA!’s Instagram to the 97k followers of Elfie and Gimli, two brother and sister cats born with dwarfism.

Tuna’s cartoonish appearance has helped catapult him to the top of the pack, but there is also a place on Instagram for more conventionally cute cats and canines. If you would like to share your own rescue pet’s story, but feel you don’t have time to cultivate a following,  you can submit a photo and story to Rescue Pets of Instagram. It has 71k followers.

While social media on Facebook and Twitter have played a significant role in grassroots movements for social change in recent years, University of Texas at Austin journalism professor Robert Quigley says there may be a reason Instagram is appealing for promoting animal rescue, in particular.

“Considering Instagram has more than 200 million users, it’s a great place to spread a message and get people involved,” Quigley said. “It’s the perfect place for an animal rescue message, because Instagram is a visual medium. Who can turn down Tuna?”

Life Is Ruff: A Look Into Austin Pets Alive!

By Faith Daniel, Cheyenne Matthews-Hoffman and Nataly Torres

Austin is on the heels (or paws, if you will), of celebrating its three-year anniversary as a No-Kill city. Being a No-Kill city means that regardless of shelter overcrowding, having lots of mouths to feed and wounds to heal, Austin hasn’t given up on us.

My name is Shasta and I’m a youngin’. At a little over one-year-old, I’m a rambunctious pup that wants to play fetch and have my belly rubbed at all times of the day. I don’t really know what I am, but the folks at Austin Pets Alive! say that I’m a terrier, pit bull mix. What that means, I don’t know! What I do know is that I’m one of more than 200 dogs at the shelter and that doesn’t include my feline friends. That’s a lot of fur to clean up!

Located off of Cesar Chavez Street, Austin Pets Alive! has lots of room for us to run around and play with our two-legged friends. We even have Lady Bird Lake next door if we want to take a dip in Austin’s cool waters.

The volunteers who take care of us pack our days with lots of events. Our mornings off start with play group, where my pup friends and I chase tennis balls and roll around in the dirt. Meanwhile, my other human friends are getting my kibble ready. Breakfast is the most important meal, right? After I chomp on my kibble, another volunteer gets my bandages and medication ready.

You see, I have Happy Tail Syndrome. Dogs get in their feelings often and whenever we’re really excited, we wag our tails profusely. Oftentimes, we wag our tails against hard surfaces like coffee tables and kennel walls. Whacking our tails against these hard surfaces causes cuts and bruises that really hurt. As a result, they have to put medicine on ours tails and wrap ‘em up to keep them from getting infected.

After getting my tail fixed, it’s playtime again! I can’t get enough of my canine friends! After a few more hours of roughhousing, walks along the property and dinner, it’s time for bed. Volunteers like Cassie Olivio feed us dinner and stay with us until it’s time for bed. I walk on over to my kennel to lay my head down and dream of bones and treats.

Throughout the day, many people come and visit us. In the past couple of months that I have been at Austin Pets Alive!, many of my friends have found loving homes and warm beds to sleep on. “Austin Pets Alive! thrives on saving dogs and cats that we think deserve another chance,” says volunteer Cassie Olivio. Between 2008 and 2012, 17,624 pets were adopted from Austin Pets Alive!.

“Some of the challenges that we go through are that people stereotype dogs. There’s so much inbreeding going on these days and anything with a blocky head and short hair is automatically stamped the label pit bull, which may not be true,” says Olivio. Austin Pets Alive! educates the public in understanding that every single dog and cat deserves a chance, medically and behaviorally.

The streets of Austin are ruff, so adopt me!

Fun, tail waggin’ pictures.

Pit Bull Infographic

APA! Adoption Numbers

 

Divine Canines provides pet therapy across Central Texas

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by Sheila Buenrostro, Jeffrey Kahn and Katey Psencik


Divine Canines is a dog therapy organization that provides therapy services to more than 20 locations throughout Central Texas. The types of facilities services include hospitals, nursing homes, special care facilities, elementary schools and more. Divine Canines operates on the motto “Ordinary dogs, extraordinary service,” which, according to executive director Max Woodfin, means that any dog can be a therapy dog.
 

 


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Pet therapy has been scientifically proven to be mentally, physically and emotionally beneficial. According to Paws for People, a nonprofit organization that provides pet therapy services, animal therapy provides the following benefits:

  • Lowers blood pressureeaselly_visual
  • Increases cardiovascular health
  • Releases endorphins
  • Diminishes pain
  • Lifts spirits
  • Provides comfort
  • Increases socialization
  • Reduces loneliness
  • Improves focus
  • Improves literacy skills
  • Provides motivation
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Makes people happy

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Seven designs were awarded prizes, in categories such as “Best In Show,” “Best Urban Dwelling” and “Greenest Design.” Winners tended to be houses that considered the taste of owners as well as the comfort level of their dogs. Big D Design Architect Dan Campos explained his firm’s contribution, which won a prize in the “Best Backyard Bungalow” category.

“This house is inspired by mid-century modern architecture,” Campos said. “It has very clean lines, and retro colors.”

He said the house’s side vents allow for airflow, and its rubber roof stops sun absorption to keep dogs cool on hot days. The house’s construction took two weekends, Campos said. His firm has now competed in four Barkitecture events, though this year is their first to win a prize.

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Girl places her dog into the water of the doghouse. Photo by Rebecca Wright

Girl places her dog into the water of the doghouse that won the Most Unusual award . Photo by Rebecca Wright

“We’re very excited,” Campos said. “It’s a opportunity to do something I really care about and that is good for the community.”

A pug brought by Pug Rescue of Austin is excited by the crowds. Photo by Rebecca Wright

A pug brought by Pug Rescue of Austin is excited by the crowds. Photo by Rebecca Wright

For Pug Rescue of Austin, one of the five Barkitecture beneficiaries, 100 percent of the money awarded to the organization will go toward paying veterinary bills for their pugs, Board of Directors Vice President Alicia Zalot said. Typically. The Pug Rescue of Austin’s expenses range from $5,000 to $7,000 each month, and the nonprofit organization relies on donations and volunteers, she said.

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“We are incredibly grateful,” Zalot said. “An event like this really goes a long way toward helping a lot of pugs.”

The organization also brought some of its rescued pugs to meet potential new families. Zalot said the interesting designs and atmosphere are a good way to attract people who would otherwise be unaware of the rescue community. The rescue organization hoped the event would encourage guests to consider adopting.

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Zalot’s organization is one of 110 animal rescue groups partnered with Austin Animal Services, the city’s official animal shelter and authority. Deputy Chief Chris Noble said partners are vetted to make sure they are responsibly run. He said Austin Animal Services relies on nonprofits to solicit donations and to take the lead on most fundraising events around town.

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“As a municipal shelter, we are stewards of taxpayer dollars, we have to be very careful about the money being spent and staying within the expectations of the taxpayer,” Noble said.

He said events such as Barkitecture are a good way to shed light on the homeless animal population in Austin.

To view the winning doghouses, click here.