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Stray Thoughts

Our Response to Dr Andrew Kelly of the ISPCA & DoneDeal on Online Pet Classified Ads

May 16th, 2014


On May 15th, Irish classified ads website published a blog post attempting to defend itself from a statement by the Dublin SPCA which raised several serious animal welfare concerns it had with the pets classifieds published on

Since DoneDeal have opted, probably wisely, to disable the commenting facility from at least this particular blog post on their site, I have been forced to respond here to the points raised by them, the ISPCA and Dogs Trust Ireland.  I intend to do this over 3 separate posts.  Here’s part one. (update: you can now read part two, my response to Mark Beazley of Dogs Trust Irelad here).

I have reproduced the content of the blog to provide context and sense for my responses which are in bold text to distinguish them from the DoneDeal content.


Dr Andrew Kelly, CEO of the ISPCA said, “We recognise that online advertising of animals for sale is here to stay and will not disappear in the near future.

Online advertising of animals for sale will certainly not disappear if large and respected (at least up until now) animal welfare charities such as the ISPCA and Dogs Trust Ireland continue to aid commercial sites such as DoneDeal in making this practice acceptable and normal.  DoneDeal, by their sheer size, to a large extent, are in the best position to shape public perception and educate attitudes towards this practice in Ireland. If they were to cease publishing these ads, it would send educational shock waves far and wide.

With this in mind, we work with DoneDeal to address concerns around the advertising of animals online.

What is the nature of this work exactly?  Can you detail it?  Is there any transparency in this process for the public or other animal welfare charities to observe?  If so, which ones?

It is important to remember that animals are not sold online only advertised for sale.

Perhaps I am being dumb but I don’t understand the significance of the distinction here – many of the animal welfare issues the DSPCA have correctly highlighted come from the actual ads too, which have shown animals being abused, as much as from the sales that follow.  Also the inescapable fact is that the ads facilitate the sales.  I don’t believe anyone expects they can extract a puppy from their modem, randomly or otherwise.

We are working with DoneDeal and other organisations to establish an Irish Pet Advertising Advisory Group.

What other organisations?  As one of the largest animal welfare charities in the country, have the DSPCA been approached to participate in this initiative?  If not, why not?

How will this group work exactly? Who will fund it?  How will members be chosen?  How will guidelines be arrived at and what meaningful sanctions could be imposed on any site who chooses to disregard these guidelines.  Basically, what seems to be being planned here is a system of self-regulation based on unspecified guidelines from unspecified parties for commercial websites with much greater resources than those who would oversee implementation and police them and I think we are all too painfully aware of how badly such systems have worked in Ireland to date – e.g. financial regulation.

We believe that by working together with DoneDeal and other animal welfare groups we can improve animal welfare and make sure the public are responsible when it comes to pet advertising.

Firstly, the way this is phrased grammatically makes DoneDeal sound like an animal welfare group themselves and this is most certainly not the case.  They are a commercial entity with the sole imperative of maximising profit which means doing whatever they can, legally of course, to increase the number of paying advertisers on their site.  I find it odd, to say the least, that you simply accept the bona fides of DoneDeal at face value on their commitment to animal welfare, particularly in the context of them having given a number of undertakings in 2010, when they faced a similar PR difficulty, which were never actually implemented according to the DSPCA.

DoneDeal are such a huge entity in online selling in Ireland that there could be no more effective way to send an educational message to the general public as to the value of good animal welfare than by ceasing to run this section of their site and if the ISPCA are keen to educate the public and DoneDeal are keen to demonstrate their commitment to animal welfare, I think this is the logical outcome the ISPCA and Dogs Trust Ireland should be pushing for.

Let’s be clear here, the publishing of these ads by DoneDeal is a commercial decision, made to maximise profit as is normal for any business.  However, live pets are not a normal product.

Due care for animal welfare can only be guaranteed if there is a strong commercial incentive to encourage it.  Those using DoneDeal have the power to insist on it by no longer giving the site their business unless they see tangible change confirmed by suitably qualified independent third parties.

In addition, publishing plans on the DoneDeal blog is a pretty strange way of initiating the kind of group that seems to be being proposed or is this group already a ‘done deal’?

Dr Kelly, you seem committed to ensuring that the public are responsible when posting pet ads but to be honest I’m not really sensing the same gusto in assigning responsibility to the websites publishing these ads for profit.  This to me is more than a little reminiscent of the way the drink industry focuses on the responsibility of the individual to control their alcohol consumption while at the same time conveniently ignoring the contribution of those who profit from alcohol sales to the alcohol problem via their marketing activities etc.

We also recognise that online advertising makes the sale of animals much more transparent and traceable.

In reality, online pet classifieds sites drastically lower the barrier for unscrupulous sellers wishing to enter the pet selling business by providing an easily accessible and very cheap platform for them to reach thousands more uninformed buyers than they would be able to reach if such services did not exist and DoneDeal is a behemoth in this area in Ireland.   Without DoneDeal’s assistance, it is very possible that many, if not most of these sellers could not make the volume of sales necessary to sustain their businesses at all or at least at their current scale and it would most certainly make it much harder for such businesses to be started.

As described by the DSPCA, the information that DoneDeal currently stores on it’s sellers is utterly ineffectual in providing traceability to the  legal standard necessary to support prosecutions and it seems very disingenuous of DoneDeal to carry any statement by themselves or others that claims otherwise as surely they would know this for the protection of their own business interests.

We have worked in the past with DoneDeal to track down those who have engaged in illegal selling.

And how did that work out?  As described above, given that according to the DSPCA, the information DoneDeal collects on its sellers is not sufficient to enable legal standard traceability, please can we see details of prosecutions that have been taken, the success rate of these in bringing sellers to justice and the sentences imposed?

If DoneDeal was to shut down in the morning much of the market would be driven underground and it would be much more difficult to track down illegal sellers. We would urge members of the public who spot suspicious sellers to report it immediately either to us or DoneDeal.”

No. If Donedeal was to shut down ONLY its pet classified section in the morning, it would remove one of the country’s largest platforms for unscrupulous sellers to trade in abused animals at volume to an unsuspecting public.  It would also send a strong and clear educational message to the public at large, and indeed such sellers too, that animals are not some inanimate commodity and that it is no longer acceptable in this society to treat them as such, particularly without any effective policing. It would send this message way more effectively than any campaign that could be dreamt up by any charity. DoneDeal would, of course, have to forgo the other 50% profit from these classifieds though in the overall context of the site’s business, this can hardly be a very significant amount and if their commitment to animal welfare is as profound and ingrained as they claim, I can not see how this could be a problem for them.

Finally Dr Kelly, for any animal welfare charity to foist the responsibility, time and expense of policing commercial sites like DoneDeal back on the (non-expert) public who fund that charity and inevitably onto other charities too, rather than publicly and unequivocally pinning the responsibility and expense where they should lay, at the door of said sites who profit from these activities, and particularly at a time of austerity such as this, is actually an outrageous proposition in my honest opinion.  To do so from the blog of one of those websites, effectively endorsing all their actions with the ISPCA stamp of approval and assisting them in maintaining their most profitable position, is, at best, monumentally misguided.  I can only hope you will read this and reconsider your position before those who fund your organisation reconsider theirs.

I will link to the next instalment when I have a chance to go through it and respond.  In the meantime, unlike DoneDeal, I welcome all comments and debate :)

Happy Valentines Day!

February 14th, 2013

Just wanted to wish all our users and friends a happy Valentine’s Day. Here’s hoping you and your furry, feathered or scaled friends are feeling the love today!

Happy Valentine's Day animal lovers

For Irish animal lovers

Lost & Found Pets in Your Pocket – Android App Released

January 8th, 2013

OK, so I’m not a natural born blogger and its been a while since I last published anything here but hey, its the quality not the quantity right?

Truth is, I only ever blog with I have something to announce or something to complain about and this post is no exception.  Happily its an announcement in this case as you may have guessed from the title.

Today, version 1.0 of our free app for Android phones went live in the Google Play Store.  Being version 1.0 and the first Android app I have developed, we’re starting off pretty simple.  The current feature set for the app is as follows:


Listings Near Me

View our current listings in your area using Google maps and the geolocation facilities on your phone, depending on which providers you have enabled, radio, wi-fi or full GPS.  You can limit the display of listings to either lost, or found, or both.  Each listing on the map is represented by a marker just as on the maps on our website, red ones for lost listings, green for found and also, just as on the site, tapping on any marker will reveal a summary of that listing along with a photo of the pet if available.  Tapping on a summary takes you to the listing details screen – see below.

Listings Search

You may also search our listings using a simple form which allows you to filter results by listing type (lost, found or both), pet type (dog, cat etc.) and county.  Results are returned most recent first, 10 at a time to use as little bandwidth as possible with 10 more being pulled down as you scroll down through the list – infinite scrolling of a finite list – confusing, I know.  Each result once again features a summary of the listing and a photo if available and just as with the map view, tapping on a listing will take you to to the listing details screen.

Listing Details

Just as with our mobile site, each listing gets its own details screen featuring 3 tabs, one for the pets details, one with facilities to contact the person who posted the listing and the final one to allow you to easily share listings.

On the pet details tab, you can view all the details for that particlar pet as well as a photo if one is available.  You can expand this photo to fullscreen by clicking on the little expander button at the top right of the photo.

The contact tab provides the contact name of the person who posted the listing as well as buttons to allow you to easily directly call that contact, pre-populating your dialer with their number, email them via a simple form or send them an SMS which we also pre-populate for you – all you have to do is add your own personal message.

The sharing tab features a single button which launches the standard Android sharing dialog from which you can choose an app (email, Facebook, Twitter or Google+ etc) to share a listing with family, friends or colleagues.

Additional Features

Finally, the app features facilities to send us feedback via another simple form and to share the app with others – obviously, the more phones we are on, the more chance we have of getting pets reunited.

Does It Run On My Phone?

Currently the app only supports phones running Ice Cream Sandwich or above (ICS – Android 4.0+).  I  would like to support older devices but I don’t have anything to test on so if you have an older android phone or device running Honeycomb (Android 3.0) you are no longer using that you would like to provide/donate for testing, please let me know.

Will There Be An IPhone App?

Unlikely.  Due to the time and resources necessary to develop on IOS it’s pretty unlikely we will release an iPhone app (at least without some form of sponsorship).  However, iPhone users still have the mobile version of our site which contains all the functionality of our Android app – at least at present.

Ratings Count!

If you find the app useful and want to show your support for the site and the idea behind it, please rate the app in the Google Play Store and share it with your family, friends and colleagues.


I’ve thrown up some screenshots of the app below for your delicatation but you can go ahead and install the app right now direct from the Google Play Store.

Website Comes of Age – Self Service Listing Updates

November 25th, 2011

Up until recently, the main focus in the development work on the site has been on getting the listings out to as many people as possible via the social networks where we have communities.  Now, at long last,  I’ve finally finished coding up the listing update facility.

If you have posted a listing on the site and need to amend it, you simply go to your listing page and choose the ‘Manage’ tab at the top of the listing.  You will now find a link there to initiate the update process.  When you click that link, we send an email to the email address originally posted with the listing which contains a link to a web page which allows you to update your listing, add a photo, amend the gender etc – basically whatever you need to change.

Initially at least, we won’t have an approval process, so updates you make will be immediate.  The listing will retain its original web address so links to the listing you have already shared and posters you may have printed out will still point to the correct location on the site.

In addition to updating the information displayed on your listing page, we automatically send out a post to our Facebook page, and a tweet on our Twitter account to alert folk that the listing has been updated.  In the case of Facebook, we also add a comment to the original post, alerting anyone who may be subscribed to the comments that the listing has been updated and that they should go check it on the main site.  We also alert the search engines again to let them know that the content on your listing page has been updated and that they should re-crawl it.

If your listing didn’t originally feature a photo but now does, this photo will be also sent to our Flickr account, as well as to our accounts on Twitpic.  Same thing happens if either your listing keeps its original photo or you decide to replace the original one with a better/clearer one.  In those cases we also upload the new photo to Flickr but this time we also add a link to the original photo to the new photo and vice versa so folk can find any previous information that may have been added before and after the update.  The photos are also reissued on Twitpic.  With the launch of Google Plus, we are ceasing support for Picasa for which we have exceed our upload allowance for in any case by a factor of 4 at this point.

You may have noticed there is no mention of Bebo and MySpace in the update process described above and that is intentional.  With the virtual demise of these sites in terms of their popularity here in Ireland, and with the launch of Google Plus, I feel it makes more sense at the point to put our limited resources into the communities which are thriving and engaged and neither Bebo or MySpace has ever really shone for us in terms of user engagement or interaction in any case.  Eventually my intention is to phase our presence out on those networks entirely.

I hope you find the new features useful.  They will also hopefully free up a little time for me to add yet more new features to the site.  If you have any questions  or comments, feel free to leave a message below or drop me an email.

Ireland’s Lost and Found Dogs, Cats & Other Pets Now on Google+

November 10th, 2011

In our continuing drive for complete Web domination  for our lost and found pet listings we are happy to announce that you can now find  our official page on Google+ (or Google Plus if you prefer).

A screenshot of Lost & Found Pets Ireland on Google Plus

Our engagement with Google’s social networking efforts has been relatively sparce up until now.  We did have a Google Buzz account to which we piped our listing Tweets and we also had a dedicated Google Wave, I even went so far as to code a bot to automatically respond to listing requests from our Wave participants but both these services have since been axed by Google.

However, it looks like Google+ is here to stay, particularly with the fundamental seachange in search to a social model.  Now when users who are logged into Google (including GMail users as well as those using Google Plus) conduct searches, the results they see are increasingly influenced by the activities of others in their social circles that Google is aware of such as friends, family and colleagues, in an attempt to increase personal relevance of the results.  Much like the Facebook ‘Like’ button, the Google +1 button aims to fuel a recommendation engine for the entire Internet to make its search results, more relevant and therefore more useful to its users, and more users equals more advertising revenue for them. To put it another way, if one of your friends ‘+1’s a particular web page or site, you are much more likely to see it in your results than if your friend had not ‘recommended it’.

So, what does this mean for Lost and Found Pets Ireland and more especially the visibility of the listings here in Google search results.  Well, as with our listings on Facebook, in order to maximise the reach of the listings in people’s searches and their news streams on Google Plus, those who list here should ‘like’ and ‘+1′ their own listings and make a concerted effort to get their family and friends to do likewise in order to get the listing out there to the maximum extent possible.  All pages on the site, including the listing pages, include a ‘+1′ button as well as a ‘like’ facility and I cannot stress highly enough the importance of using these.  While I have done my best to automate the distribution of listings around the web via our networks, the change in search I spoke of above now gives YOU the power to make the absolute most of the technology.

Similar to Facebook Fan Pages, this week, Google opened up facilities to businesses and organisations to create Google+ Pages.  As mentioned above, users = advertising revenue for both Facebook and Google and therefore it is difficult to imagine that Google will not use its substantial lead over Facebook in providing search to promote its own social network by favouring its own ‘pages’ in search results and that is basically why we are now on Google+.  Its also worth noting that our presence on there makes accessing the listings from mobile devices somewhat easier for folk as there are Google+ apps now for all the main phones out there and these will compliment our own mobile site.

At the moment, I am posting listings there manually while I await Google to provide a facility to automate that process as Facebook have.  With on average around 10 listings per day, this is obviously quite a time consuming activity and  I will be closely monitoring (both in terms of user engagement with our Google+ page (whether folk are adding it to their circles and +1’ing the listings & site and in terms of performance of listings in the Google search results) whether the extra effort is really worth it or if I should simply wait until an automated solution is possible so again, you basically get to decide on the resources I put into this.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Google+ and any ideas you may have to make it even more useful for folk using the site.  Just drop a comment below.