Volunteers at metro-area animal shelters often photograph adoptable dogs and cats and post their pictures on Facebook or use other social media outlets to promote adoptions.
Networking through social media also can help in reuniting lost pets with their owners, they say.
But officials at Norman Animal Welfare say such postings can be problematic.
Supervisor John Bowman said personal information on a tag on a recent posting led to numerous phone calls to a family that was dealing with the death of a loved one, who also happened to be the animal’s owner. The calls were disturbing and inappropriate, he said.
That incident led to a stipulation at the Norman shelter that any photographs taken by a volunteer on duty automatically became the property of the shelter.
“We’re not saying volunteers can’t take photographs, but that they should do so under the direction of staff,” Assistant City Attorney Rick Knighton said.
Volunteer Jeff Bloomgarden said the policy was discriminatory and had a chilling effect on efforts to get animals adopted.
“The public can come in and take photos and post them on their Facebook pages, but we can’t. We are being penalized for volunteering. There’s a false distinction being made here between citizens and volunteers,” he said.
Oklahoma City animal shelter spokesman Zach Nash said the shelter embraces the use of social media. It has its own Facebook page and website, and both volunteers and staff use Twitter, as well, to promote animals for adoption.
“We use social media constantly, heavily, every day,” said Acting Superintendent Jon Gary. “We even have private Facebook pages to communicate with our foster families.”
Social media is used to advertise adoption events, engage with citizens and post photos of adoptable animals, he said.
Gary said he favors volunteers taking their own photographs and putting them on Facebook pages.
“Anything that shows our animals in a good light, I’m all for. Anything we can do to promote adoptions, we want to do,” he said.
In Edmond, shelter supervisor Nicki Smith said volunteers are not prohibited from photographing adoptable animals and posting pictures on their Facebook pages, but the shelter, itself, does not have a Facebook page. The shelter relies on its own website to promote adoptions, she said.
“We find it duplicates our efforts too much to do both,” she said. “We update our photos on our website daily, while photos of adoptable pets on Facebook tend to remain on the site past when an animal gets adopted. It can cause confusion.”
About 50 volunteers in Norman — most of them members of Fans of the Animals of Norman — turned out Monday at an animal shelter oversight committee meeting to air grievances, including the perceived ban on volunteers photographing the animals.
Bowman said volunteers are not banned from photographing animals and, instead, are used specifically for that purpose so pictures of adoptable animals can be posted on the shelter’s website.
Norman has a unique problem right now, though, he said, in that a new shelter is under construction.
“Because of that our adoptable animals and animals that are not ready for adoption are all in together. They’re not segregated. We don’t want someone posting a photograph of someone’s pet and advertising it as being an adoptable pet, when it’s not,” he said.
For that reason, he said, staff needs to be in charge of what animals are being photographed.