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5 Years Old Today

Monday, June 9th, 2014

I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not to post this.

Today marks the 5th anniversary of my launching this site.  In previous years I’ve viewed this anniversary as a happy occasion, characterised us as the little site that could, run up fun graphics for Facebook and Twitter and thanked everyone for their continued support but this year I’m sorry to say, I’m just not feeling it.

When I started this project in 2009 I was most definitely naive and idealistic.  I had just adopted my own first rescue dog and was full of enthusiasm. In my innocence, I thought that hard pressed animal rescues and charities would welcome this idea with open arms, particularly when the service was free and not competing in any way with their fund raising or even sponsorship efforts and only helping raise public awareness of the plight of all Irish animals in a new and engaging way.  I invited rescues, charities and the pounds to open a discussion of how we could better tackle the common problems they had and even offered my web development skills for free to try to help address them.  In reality, right from the start, I met with sometimes vehement opposition even including personal  and nasty abuse from a small but influential number of people and their allies who felt that they ‘owned’ the area of lost and found pets in Ireland.  The odd thing about this was that much of the opposition came from parties I had actually gone to privately previously for advice on how the site should operate, who were invited to co-operate and who were given early access to it for feedback purposes in the first place and indeed some of the abuse came for people I thought were friends.  None of this was about the welfare of pets, it was essentially a one-sided turf war.

In fact, to this day, the only charities who I feel have really embraced this idea in any way close to what I had originally envisioned are Galway SPCA and  Kildare & West Wicklow SPCA, both of whom kindly carry our listings.  We have also had great support from private entities such as Topdog.ie, counntryhounds.ie and whatswhat.ie who I guess weren’t caught up in the politics but as for the rest of the rescues, charities and pounds, the response has been at best ‘meh’.

Due to all the negativity and questioning of my motives from the start, I decided to back off and go my own way, opting to build out facilities on the site and to develop our own communities on the social networking sites and let the rest of the animal welfare community go their own way too – it would of course have been great (and easier) to have them on-board but at the end of the day, organisations make their own choices.  This strategy has worked out reasonably well, the project has grown substantially on zero budget, I have had a chance to experiment, learn and build my web development, SEO and community management skills, fun is had, support is given within the community and the odd pet gets reunited in the process.  I have even had some tentative interactions now from organisations  which were initially quite hostile to the project but by and large I think its fair to say, we have remained outside the greater animal welfare community and I frankly don’t think that has been a bad thing

But at the end of the day, no project is an island and I suppose it was inevitable that I was going to crash into that greater Irish animal welfare sector at large again eventually – it seems that time has come.

I am so down today because I am in utter despair at the state of this community in Ireland at present, very fearful for its future and frankly, I am angry.

In recent weeks here I have written a couple of pieces in relation to the ISPCA, Dogs Trust Ireland and Donedeal which at this point over 1,000 of you have read. I think its no secret therefore that I find it appalling that these two major charities, who I would assume, receive funding from the public largely on the understanding that they will take a principled stand on animal welfare issues, are apparently only too eager to give Donedeal animal welfare credibility via their very public support, even if it means thumbing their nose at another major venerable charity who has acted in this matter purely on principle in the process.  I have been invited by a very senior member of the ISPCA to have a private discussion on this issue, leaving the public who fund them out of the loop.  I politely declined.

To all intents and purposes, it seems as if somehow, one (relatively small) business in Ireland is backed by two of our largest animal welfare charities to allow a certain level of ongoing animal abuse in the course of its business operations as long as it is willing to provide some funding to approved projects and other gestures in return.  I can only surmise that the animals who continue to suffer are seen as just acceptable collateral damage. How many abuse cases are deemed acceptable, 5, 50, 500? Your guess is as good as mine – these arrangements have been made in private.

I’ve been told I don’t understand the nuances here.  To me, there are no nuances, you either support and endorse those who facilitate animal abuse or you do everything you can to oppose them.

I believe this is simple.   In situations where the interests of animals are at odds with the interests of businesses, all animal welfare charities have a duty to the public who fund them, to be clearly and indisputably on the side of the animals and those who seek to protect them,  not on the side of the businesses.  When that doesn’t happen, not only do the charities who disregard this principle lose credibility themselves but also the entire sector does too, and good people start to believe that it’s OK to make bad compromises when they watch the ground slip from beneath them as principles are quickly eroded for the sake of  ‘pragmatic arrangements’ without vision or ambition.

There was an article in the paper yesterday where the ISPCA called for a ban on ‘sulky’ racing.  One has to wonder, if the race organisers came to the ISPCA and offered to give 50% of race proceeds to a project of the ISPCA’s choosing, saying that horse injuries and deaths were relatively rare, would the ISPCA be as facilitating of them as it has been DoneDeal?  How can anyone credibly call for a ban for one activity that leads to abuse and not another?

That’s all bad enough, but what really breaks me here is the silence of the other animal welfare charities and rescues on this erosion of principles and frankly, the apathy of the public, yeah you.

It is not enough sometimes just to click ‘like’ on Facebook.  If you feel something is wrong here, you need to contact these charities and businesses and tell them you expect better.  Or maybe ye all really just don’t give a crap and the likes are really just more about being seen to care than actually caring.  Charities and rescues, are you really willing to be bought off for a few free ads and the lowest of the low budget spay/neutering awareness website replete with pet classifieds marketing blurb?  I simply can’t fathom why people aren’t up in arms about this.

You can call me  a self righteous, attention seeking whiner, I don’t care, I’ve been called worse in the life of this project and beyond it believe me. You can ask me who the hell I think I am to speak this way.  Who the hell are you?  I have spent well over 5 long years, 365 days per year, in my own time, and at my own expense, earning my right to speak my piece here, so suck it up.  If you have evidence to prove that any of what I say here is incorrect, let’s be having it, the comments are open.

I guess I am saying it is hard to run this, day in, day out for over 5 years from just the sheer grind, but even harder to run it in the face of such cynicism and apathy and now particularly against the backdrop of an Irish animal welfare sector where leading charities are apparently so lost.

But I am not looking for sympathy here, I am looking for honesty, integrity and action or even, at this point, just an ounce of inspiration and hope – today it’s hard to see it.

So, happy birthday folks.

 P.S. To keep up with developments or share your thoughts on this ongoing Irish animal welfare Donedeal funding/championing scandal check out  #petsb4profit on Twitter

Please Note:  Today, Thursday June 12th, I have been contacted by Dogs Trust to say that they do not receive funding from Donedeal with I am very happy to pass on.  However, I still have very serious concerns over the relationship between Dogs Trust Ireland and DoneDeal.

Website Comes of Age – Self Service Listing Updates

Friday, 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+

Thursday, 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.

Pets in your Pocket – Mobile Site Goes Live

Monday, June 13th, 2011

First off, belated happy birthday to us as the site is now two years old.  As a practical form of thanks to everyone who has given their encouragement, support and advice on this project, I have today released version 1.0 of our mobile site.

Will It Work With My Phone?

The Lost and Found Pets Ireland mobile site should be compatible with the majority of  ‘smartphones’ out there now including iPhone, Symbian, Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile based devices.  While it is not intended as a full replacement for the main website in terms of functionality, I think there is enough there to make it useful for many – especially considering that almost 8% of our traffic at this point is coming from Facebook mobile.

Mobile Site Home Screen

So What Can It Do?

The mobile site allows users to search and view our listings just as they can on our main site.  Search results can be filtered by status (lost, found or both), species (dog, cat etc) and county.  Full listing details are available along with facilities to easily call or text the person who posted the free listing.

If you have a GPS device built into or attached to your phone and a browser that supports it such as Mobile Safari (iPhone/iPod) or a Webkit based browser such as those found on Android and Symbian devices you can view a map which displays the listings around your current location.

Lost and Found Pets Listings Near Me powered by GPS

Finally for now, there is a simple feedback form which you are welcome to use to let us know how you are finding the site, your ideas for improvements etc.

OK, Sounds Good – Where Is It?

Those using mobile browsers will be automatically redirected to the mobile version by default.  You can disable this by clicking on the ‘View Full Site’ button on the mobile site homepage.  For those of you on regular PC’s and those of you who wish to re-enable the default redirection, there is a graphic link just below the logo on the main site.

The Mobile Future

I hope later in the year to release an Android app which will provide full site functionality.  Given the costs involved in creating an iPhone app it is unlikely I will be providing one in the near future without some form of sponsorship.

Final Thanks

Building a mobile site which works consistently across so many different devices is not a simple endeavour  and I want to think some folk for their help with testing, specifically Siobhan Borgo for help on the Android side of things, @CookiieDivine for the indispensable iPhone/iPod screenshots and @SoniaKd and @LindaHayden1 for feedback on the UX.

Our Pet Listing Shortcodes Explained

Monday, February 7th, 2011

What Are They?

You can think of the pet listing shortcode assigned when you post a lost or found pet listing on the site as the reference number for that free ad.  Each is a 6 character, alphanumeric code uniquely identifying your listing.  You should note that the case of the code is important; for example, the shortcode n83bji does not refer to the same listing as N83bji.

For Contacting Us

If you need to contact us regarding your listing you should always quote the shortcode associated with it which is available on your listing page and is also sent to you when your listing is originally approved.  This way we can be sure we are dealing with that particular listing.

For Sharing

Every listing has a standard URL or web address – http://www.lostandfoundpets.ie/shortcode or http://lostandfoundpets.ie/shortcode so you can use these to link to and share your listing from other sites.  The latter form of the URL can be particularly handy for use in situations where you don’t have many characters to spare, such as in SMS messages or in tweets.

New Site Feature

If you want to view a particular listing you can type or paste the corresponding shortcode into the shortcode field in our search section at the top left-hand-side of every site page and we will automatically take you straight to that listing – no need to click any buttons or press any further keys.