Pets on Twitter raise funds for needy animals
Dougal and Romeo live in different countries and have never met in person. One's a dog, one's a cat. But they're quite the party animals.
The two pets -- OK, their owners -- host "pawpawties" on Twitter to raise money for animal causes.
Every month, a date and cause are chosen. Through social networking, word spreads, the countdown begins and anticipation builds until the pawpawty and donation pledges begin.
It all started in February when Caroline Golon in Charlotte, N.C., opened a Twitter account for her rescue cat, Romeo, to make a co-worker laugh. She then turned the account into a fundraising program she calls Furpower, offering to donate a nickel to the Humane Society of the United States for every new follower.
"I realized that the pet community online was quite remarkable. I started raising money on Twitter right away," she said. "My number of followers exploded."
Golon launched a blog, Romeothecat.com, and people started telling her about other animal charities that needed help. Money came through donors who found her on Twitter, Facebook and the blog. She started selling magnets that said "Rescue Mom" and "Rescue Dad." Corporate sponsors started pitching in.
The real party started when Lynn Haigh of Stamford, England, came up with the idea of a Twitter party for pets. The former project manager in technology and banking turned to freelancing two years ago and wanted a "pet project" to keep her busy between contracts. That's when she and her 14-year-old cairn terrier, Dougal, found Golon and Romeo.
The women and their animals joined forces and their first pawpawty was held on March 17 -- St. Patrick's Day. They drew a crowd of dogs, cats, bunnies, even stuffed critters who toasted one another with barkeritas, meowmosas and money.
The mini-message marathons last a full day so pawtiers can check in at their convenience. Trivia contests and scavenger hunts with prizes have been added.
"People take on the personalities of their animals and get to say and do things that they probably would not do at a real party. I love to just watch the conversation or Twitter stream unfold," Haigh said in an e-mail.
The women use the Web sites firstgiving.com and justgiving.com to take care of collecting tweeted pledges and providing tax receipts to donors. There is a small fee but the women would be overwhelmed if they had to handle the money and the paperwork, Golon said.
Money from the first pawpawty went to Animals in Distress in Harrisburg, Pa., and the second to Kitten Rescue in Los Angeles. Most charities get about $1,000. Furpower usually doubles that because of corporate sponsors.
Ben Lehrer, the president of Kitten Rescue, said the donation came at the beginning of kitten season.
"It enabled us to rescue more. We are limited by our financial ability to care for the animals we rescue. So it quite literally saved lives," he said.
Haigh wanted to expand outside the United States, so she took over planning and they started alternating charities in and out of the United States.
Golon, who has another rescue cat named Pugsley, said her involvement started as an "experiment in social media," but it quickly became more. "If it weren't for the organizations that are in the trenches every day, many of us would not have the wonderful animals we have to love today."
Contest prize donors help too, Haigh said. Each month there are 50 or 60. "We have everything from a doggie life jacket to some tasty kitty treats and books by famous 'anipal' authors. It is heartwarming to see how generous people are with their time and money."
Golon is working on a free e-book that will help animal rescue groups use social media for fundraising, followed by a series of Webcasts.
"This is a great creative outlet for people. You can be silly and mingle with your Twitter community," she said. "What the Twitter founders had in mind is crystalized in pawpawties, a community coming together for a common purpose. They can make things happen."
-- Associated Press
Top photo: Caroline Golon holds Romeo as she works on her computer in her Huntersville, N.C. home. Credit: Nell Redmond / Associated Press
Bottom photo: Romeo relaxes. Credit: Nell Redmond / Associated Press