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The value of social media communities for dogs
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Abstract

This month, Jennie Doyle discusses her involvement in a breed-specific Twitter group for dog owners

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What can help your approach

  • Don’t immediately dismiss breed-specific groups on social media – they may contain a wealth of knowledge and experience to which you could contribute and also learn from.

  • Social media communities can provide significant support for pet owners, and could be a useful source of research ideas and participants.

  • Formal and informal patient support groups that interact closely with healthcare professionals are common in human healthcare, yet remain rare in veterinary medicine. A recent article in The BMJ describes their impact on one patient’s life (www.bmj.com/content/365/bmj.l1414).

I have a border terrier called Mabel, and, like most border terriers, she is irascible, independent and utterly convinced she rules the house. She is also allergic to a three-page list of things, which has resulted in my feeling like our regular vet is a family friend. However, she brings incredible joy and happiness to my family, which makes the care burden worthwhile – although surviving bathing her is an acquired skill.

It never crossed my mind on that sunny Saturday in July 2011 when she bounded into our lives that she would be the key to a new community – the #BTPosse Twitter community. As an insider-researcher, I researched and wrote a thesis on the #BTPosse for my Masters degree in 2018. Now, I am proud to call this group of people and their dogs my friends.

The #BTPosse was established by owners of border terriers who tweeted in the first person as their dogs. The accounts are in the name of the dog, and the individual tweets are written from the dog’s perspective and are mainly about their daily activities – walking, chasing squirrels, causing mischief and, most importantly, food.

Over the past decade, this community has grown to include approximately 1100 members. It has marked births, deaths, marriages and possibly every facet of human and canine life, and, through it all, this ‘little corner of happiness’ has continued to provide friendship, care and support for its members across the globe.

A significant function of the community is to provide information and support when dogs are unwell; advice is shared, and recommendations for treatments and specific vets are given. There are specific groups for support for issues such as pancreatitis, seizures and allergies – the community admin keeps a list so that members can be put in touch with each other. There is also a well-established #PalsPorch hashtag where members highlight support for unwell dogs, along with a specific (deceased) dog who welcomes members #OverTheRainbowBridge when it is their time.

Instagram and Twitter accounts for animals have become increasingly popular, with people sharing all aspects of their pets’ lives on social media

Instagram and Twitter accounts for animals have become increasingly popular, with people sharing all aspects of their pets’ lives on social media. This has become even more common while people have been facing the impact of a global pandemic, with social media used as a form of escapism and an opportunity to communicate about their pets, who, in some cases, are surrogate children. While it might be easy to dismiss this as bizarre or crazy, that would be to severely underestimate its significance in people’s lives.

Membership of the community is not fleeting – almost fifty per cent of members have been part of the community for more than four years, with around 90 per cent checking their dog’s Twitter account at least once a day and around 50 per cent attending organised annual ‘Tweetups’. Relationships that start online often move through to in-person meetings, attendance at social events and community support.

The #BTPosse provides a form of escapism that can take minds away from the more serious aspects of life. As one member commented, ‘I love my border terriers unconditionally and have found people who feel the same’. This is social media at its best.

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