The world of online pet spotting
The spread of smartphones and social media doesn't just mean that we can flood the internet with pictures of our own pets. We can also, if we want to, photograph every cafe dog and any front-gate cat we meet, and share the image.
And many of us do. In fact, it's now an established "thing". I follow a few Facebook sites that specialise in this "encountered pets" phenomenon – but till the past few days I've never thought much about why.
This week my husband Tom and I stayed in Auckland, at a place found through Airbnb. It was a little room and attached bathroom in what once was probably a shed or sleepout.
No complaints, very comfortable, 10/10 would stay there again. Especially if the cat's still there.
The Siamese cat who tiptoed up to the open French doors on a sunny morning, and stepped in without even a glance at our faces.
I don't mean to make him sound bold or entitled, because in fact he was tentative. It's just that he seemed too shy to look at us full in the face, at least to start with.
But he settled quickly. We let him rub around the furniture a bit, play with the string of the blind, knock around a screwed-up bit of paper.
Then he hopped on to the couch – slowly, as if half expecting us to sweep him off. And he sat between us and napped.
Cool story, huh? Travel adventures! But really, having that cat call on us by surprise and favour us with his company and affection, was remarkably calming and uplifting.
As any time spent with a pet can be.
And I made sure there were photos, and to post them on the Four Legs Good Facebook page and on another called Cats of Auckland. I wanted to share a little of the experience with people who I thought would appreciate it – and that, I suppose, is the whole basis of why we use social media.
I've followed Cats of Auckland for several years, watching as members followed their rules: don't post your own cat, or that of a friend; it's all about cats you meet as you move around Auckland. The thinking is that there are plenty of places that'll welcome the photos you take of your own pet (cough-Four Legs Good-cough), but this is different.
All these animal-photo-sharing sites have rules. One of the biggest sites is Dogspotting. As I understand it, Dogspotting is a competitive game in which people can try to get up-votes for their posts. Me, I just look at the pictures, and hit Like.
Dogspotting has rules, which are often the cause of stoushes on the comments threads. Main rule: pictures must be of dogs that are not your own, or a friend's. The site is to celebrate the dogs you meet in non-obvious circumstances – that is, not at dog parks or shows or agility displays.
Also, no service dogs that are on duty. Also, you're not supposed to show people's faces.
Then there are the rules of commenting. You're not meant to criticise, or lament, or get on a high horse about some issue that irks you. If someone posts a picture of an obese dog, you're not meant to harp on that.
It won't surprise you to learn that this rule is sometimes breached. As I know from a decade of blogging and comments moderation, there's too often someone who'll react with horror and throw a sodden blanket of outrage over any good vibe that you're trying to create. So I admire the rules and wish the constantly busy Dogspotting admins well.
A more charming feature of the world of online encountered-pet sharing is the jargon. Doggo, doge, floof, pupper, blep. The scores out of 10 borrowed from online trading feedback lingo.
But the thing I like most about all this is the pure love of animals that drives it, and the opportunity to share in it.
If you love pets, you don't just love your own. You feel delight to meet a talkative cat when you're out for a walk, or spot a sweet-faced dog under the next table at a cafe. You love the fact that at any moment you might encounter an animal that will lift your spirits just to see it.
And you have a camera in your pocket. In a moment you can have a photo to share with people who'll enjoy it.
To me, this movement of animal-photo-sharing is a good thing that adds to the amount of delight and beauty in the world. You may chafe at the rules, but they're needed. You may resist the cute jargon, but it's a shared code, and harmless.
So learn to deploy your camera quickly. Keep your eyes peeled. Join one of those pet-loving groups -- or start one of your own, and make your own rules.
And to go with these thoughts, I've gone back and found some photos of pets I've encountered who charmed me and stood still long enough for me to get a picture.