You can’t be a cat lover on Facebook or any other social media site for long before you start seeing posts like this: "SUPER URGENT!!! RED LISTED, WILL DIE TOMORROW!!!! PLEASE, SOMEBODY SAVE THESE POOR LITTLE FURBABIES!!!!!!" These are, naturally, accompanied by photos of sad, terrified, or sick cats in cages, along with a long blurb of text that most people who share these posts never read.

The comments on these posts are often along the lines of Photoshopped images of praying cats, teary-eyed emoticons, and line after line of prayers to the saint or savior of the commenter’s choice. They also seem to have ridiculous numbers of shares.

It’s all well and good to want to help cats, especially cats who need to be pulled from open-admission shelters, but the vast majority of people who share these posts are either not being helpful or actively doing harm to the cats in such dire need of rescue.

"But JaneA," you may say, "How could I possibly be hurting efforts to rescue these poor furbabies by sharing this post? The more people who see it, the more likely these kitties will be saved!"

Well, yeah. About that …

If you live thousands of miles away from the location of the cats who need to be pulled, sharing them isn’t helping. You get bonus unhelpful points if nobody in your social network lives anywhere near the poor, doomed furbabies.

If you don’t read the information in that blurb under those photos, you may not realize that this request is days if not weeks old, and the cats in question have either already been pulled or euthanized. By sharing outdated posts, you’re interfering with the ability of rescuers to help save the lives of cats currently in need.

If you see a post and comment on it with something like, "I wish I could help, but I live too far away/don’t have the money/don’t know anyone who could take this cat," why bother? Rescue groups have to read every comment on posts they share, just in case there’s a comment from someone who could do something. If you can’t be part of the signal, at least don’t be part of the noise.

If all you can offer is prayers, don’t copy and paste a 1,500-word prayer into the comment. Again, that’s being part of the noise and not part of the signal. You can pray all you want; there’s no law against that, and if that’s what you can do, feel free to do so.

“So, what should I do if I want to use my favorite social media outlet to help cats in need?” you ask. Great question! Here are a few ideas.

  1. Find a rescue group in your area and volunteer your time and your network to help them help cats. Don’t expect it to be all happy endings and rainbows, though.
  2. If you do want to share a listing, read that "long and boring" blurb to find out if the post is current before doing so. If it is current, share the date of the rescue group’s original post; hopefully this will reduce the number of outdated shares.
  3. Don’t create a fake profile just for cross-posting SUPER URGENT RED LIST posts. Doing so puts you in violation of most social networks’ terms of service and can actually result in action against the rescue group you’re trying to help.
  4. Think about people in your network who may be able to connect the rescue group with individuals or organizations that can help. Talk to those people, let them know you’re volunteering with a rescue group and see if they would be willing to help if cats in the area need their assistance.
  5. If you do have connections who can help, don’t call on them every single time you get one of these posts or you’ll wear out your welcome pretty quickly. Target your requests carefully, considering the area in which the individual lives, their own rescue interests, and their limitations in terms of health, resources, and time.

If you want to help cats on social media, don’t just "spray and pray." Think, check your facts, volunteer your time, and be deliberate about requests you make for assistance. That’s how you do social media rescue advocacy right, and that’s how you can help create a happy ending for cats in need.

Do you use social media to help rescue groups? How do you do it, and what has and hasn’t worked for you? What do you do when you see one of those URGENT DEATH ROW posts? Please share your thoughts in the comments and help us all to be better social advocates for cats in need.

Read more from JaneA Kelley:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.