Susie’s Senior Dogs is the Best Facebook Page Ever!
Published March 2014 #ICYMI
One woman launched a movement to save senior dogs. Her name is Erin O’Connell, she’s 29 and lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Five weeks ago Erin created a Facebook page called, “Susie’s Senior Dogs,” with the tagline “Matching humans and senior dogs one bond at a time.” Word spread fast and now the page has 139,000 likes and is responsible for 25 senior dog adoptions. I wanted to find out what had inspired this great effort so I clicked “Like” on the page and sent a private message asking for an interview. Erin graciously agreed to talk about her instant-soup campaign success.
Dorri Olds: What gave you the idea for Susie’s Senior Dogs?
Erin O’Sullivan: The first part of my story is about my boyfriend Brandon Stanton. He runs a project called “Humans of New York.” He takes photos of random New Yorkers. Brandon lives in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, and three years ago he spotted Susie the dog and her previous owner. He took a photo of Susie, who was 11 then, and posted it to his blog with the caption, “This is the best dog.” Soon afterwards the owner contacted Brandon and asked if he could adopt Susie because his new wife said they couldn’t keep the dog.
Brandon was hesitant at first. Friends said he’d be crazy to take the dog; a senior dog would die and he’d be better off getting a puppy. Who doesn’t love a puppy, right? But Brandon felt bad for Susie. He didn’t want her to go to a shelter so he took her in.
Susie is Brandon’s dog?
Susie is technically Brandon’s dog because he adopted her and if Brandon and I were standing next to each other Susie would jump inside of his lap but I love Susie so much, too. She really is the best dog in the world. Just for fun I started a page called, “Susie The Dog.” It started getting likes and I wondered how to take that already engaged audience who loved Susie and make it more than random meaningless posts. I didn’t really plan anything out but I had this vague idea and made the new Facebook page, “Susie’s Senior Dogs.” Within 48 hours the new direction took hold.
How do you think you got so many followers so fast?
It’s really thanks to Brandon. He had been building his own big audience by taking photos of people he interacted with in New York City. His audience got so big he even has a book now. His Facebook page is up to 3.5 million likes so I asked him if it would be okay to post a link to Susie’s Facebook page. I told him I’ll do all the work and he’d get lots of love. So he said okay. When I’d posted a photos to my Susie’s page I got 400 likes but when Brandon shared it on his page, Susie’s Senior Dogs got 100,000 likes in one night!
What breed is Susie?
We’re not sure what breed she is. Her ears make her look like she’s definitely part Chihuahua and the poof frizz of hair on top of her head makes her seem like she’s part Chinese Crested.
Did you know things were going to catch on this fast?
We were on ABC World News and we’ve been filmed by Animal Haven. It’s been a whirlwind. I just hope we keep spreading the word to encourage people to adopt a senior dog. You know, you can plan and plan in life, but sometimes an idea just comes to you and it works. This was like that.
Empty the Shelters (ETS) recently had its fifth pet adoption event in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A whopping 2,631 pets were rescued! That number includes adoptions that took place in the week leading up to the event plus one glorious day when 1571 pets were adopted—726 dogs, 827 cats, and 18 other animals.
ETS is the loving brainchild of the BISSELL Pet Foundation (BPF) founder, Cathy Bissell. She is a former journalist turned philanthropist and part of the 140-year-old company, BISSELL Homecare, Inc. BPF also raises money for shelters throughout the U.S. Cathy told us her inspiration for starting the foundation.
“I’d been working on fundraising for the local Humane Society,” she said. “A Black Lab was brought over to me. He was this gorgeous, regal six-year-old, beautiful beyond belief. His family had given him up because they wanted a puppy instead. I was so mad. I mean, who does that?!”
Thanks to this one big-hearted woman, we have sweet stories to share. One family with a handicapped daughter and three sons adopted a Pitbull at last year’s ETS. This year, they returned to adopt another Pitbull so he’d have a companion. The two dogs became fast friends, and the family is thrilled.
Another success tale is about a boy, an only child, who came before the big adoption day. He met a Black Labrador that won his heart. Cathy said, “His mother drove him two-and-a-half hours so they could be the first in line. That’s how badly this boy wanted that Lab.” Since then, Cathy heard from his Mom who said the two immediately became best friends.
Eastwood, named after the actor, is a Golden Retriever who was born with a deformed leg. It would’ve cost thousands of dollars to fix. “This sweet abandoned dog, found as a stray, was the last dog left in the shelter,” Cathy said. “He was adopted by a fantastic family that has six cats and another dog—all rescues and the father happens to be the head coach of the Detroit Pistons basketball team. So, I like to say that rescue was a slam-dunk.”
Jack, a herding dog, was born in Kentucky and officially labeled a mutt. Part Australian Bernese Mountain Dog, he was mixed with Border Collie. At the age of one, Animal Control removed this malnourished pup from his home and transported him hundreds of miles to Michigan. There, his luck changed.
Q: Why do some dogs freak out when you go to pat them on the head?
A: Moving toward a dog quickly and reaching over the top of a dog’s head can feel threatening. Just like humans, some dogs are born less affectionate, not touchy-feely, and don’t like having their personal space invaded. We unfairly put pressure on our dogs to accept everything we throw at them. It’s important to know your dog’s individuality. If your pet doesn’t enjoy being picked up, snuggled, or hugged, respect those feelings. Some dogs will shun touch because of past unpleasant experiences. Dog owners who constantly pick the dog up, grab their collar, discipline their dog physically by hitting them or approach too quickly or in a threatening way are programming that dog to lose trust in hands. Dogs don’t understand our emotional reasons for doing things. Even well meaning owners who attempt to interact in a loving, affectionate way can cause a freak out. Some approaches feel overbearing from the dog’s perspective. Think about relatives who grab you too fast and hug too hard. It feels overwhelming and you hate it, right?
Q: Why do dogs look like they feel guilty when they misbehaved?
A: What we interpret as a guilty look can be a display of submission, a dog’s way of saying, “I understand that you’re not happy right now.” Signs of submission include tail down, ears down, head down, or body low to the ground or rolling onto their back to expose the belly. This type of dog body language does not mean the dog feels guilty. Many dog owners say, “My dog knows when he did something wrong.” The reality is, if you walk into a room and your favorite shoes are lying in the middle of the floor chewed to bits, and you shout, “FIDO, WHAT DID YOU DO?!” your dog may slink away and retreat to a safe place but not because he knows what you’re unhappy about. Only if you’ve caught your dog in the act of an unwanted behavior will your body language and stern tone be associated with the canine-misdemeanor taking place at that moment.
Q: Why is it so difficult to train dogs not to bark or pull on their leash?
A: Confusion is the biggest underlying factor where problem behavior is concerned. Don’t assume a dog should know how to walk on a leash. You have to teach the dog what you want. Dog owners complain, “My dog won’t come when I call him.” How much time has been spent teaching what the word “come” means? To raise a happy, well-behaved dog, owners need to commit time to teaching. Another issue that can get in the way is not providing leadership. Dogs who perceive themselves as the boss may pull on the leash or bark. Exercise is very important, too. If a dog is not physically and mentally stimulated they can suffer from boredom or anxiety and problem behavior will ensue.
Q: Does a dog have to be extremely intelligent to learn complicated tricks?
A: Some of the smartest dogs I’ve met were accused of being stupid, stubborn, or deaf. They weren’t. They were confused by their owners’ unclear communications.
Q: How can a dog be taught not to eat food off the street?
A: Take time to teach the command, “Leave It.” Begin instruction inside the house where’s there’s less distraction. That will make it easier for your dog to learn. Use less tempting items at first. Get your dog to understand that looking to you when he hears “Leave It” will get him a higher-value reward, like a piece of cheese or meat, and lots of praise. Incrementally move to more distracting environments and use more tempting items to test your dog. Don’t expect your dog to learn if you haven’t worked toward creating this habit. Also make sure your dog is getting the nutrition he needs daily. If your dog isn’t starving for nutrition he’s less likely to scavenge for food on the street.
Q: My dog swallowed pieces of toys a few times but never made a connection between that and the intestinal surgeries. Why?
A: Dog behavior is determined by immediate outcome. It makes sense to us that the dog shouldn’t want to re-live an unpleasant operation but the dog doesn’t make a connection between the two events. That’s human thinking. The dog thinks, “I like swallowing chewed pieces of toys because they smell good and make me feel full.”
Take Your Dog for a Long Walk in the Mornings
Your dog won’t be happy with the diminished time they get to spend with you due to your business commitments so it’s important you make sure you take your dog for a long walk at least once per day, even if that means you have to get up an hour earlier in the morning. There is no good to come of letting your dog out in the garden and then expecting another family member to take the dog out for a walk during the day when you could be getting up earlier to do it instead. Deep down, your dog will wonder why they don’t get to see you as much, but as long as they get to spend at least a little time with you per day, that’s is all that matters.
Make the Most of Your Weekends Off
When running a business, it’s hard to have any time off at all, but any time you do get off should be spent with the family and that includes your dog. Whether you go on a day trip somewhere or even just for a walk around the park, try to get your dog involved as much as possible so they don’t feel left out. Even if you are running a successful business that takes up most of your time, it’s always important to make time for your loved ones and that includes your dog.
Buy Your Dog Regular Treats
This doesn’t necessarily mean buy your dog any treats related to food. Instead, buying a new chew toy once every couple of months, and a small treat every week or so, could be the difference between your dog knowing you care and thinking you don’t.
You may well have achieved an online MBA degree via one of the many online MBA programs to give you the business administration experience required to succeed in running your own company, but none of that will matter if you do not spend some time with your loved ones once in a while. Your dog might be a dog, but it doesn’t mean that they do not understand what is going on around them. So please keep these tips in mind to keep your beloved dog a priority.