Please note: this is an old article. To contact Desert Dogs, please scroll down to the updated links in the bottom of the post
Here is a great social media case story that shows how simple yet effective social media marketing can be.
First the problem that the clever social media marketing strategy helps to solve, far away in a corner of the Central Desert of Australia:
The dog plague
Aboriginal people used to travel and hunt with Dingos. Dingos can find their own food and, just like wolves, produce just one litter of puppies per pack per year (only the alpha couple breeds) and thereby keep their populations in check.
Then domestic dogs of European origin replaced the Dingos as aboriginals’ companion dogs. Domestic dogs are needy and dependent and, unlike the Dingos, breed prolifically. As a result, many remote townships suffer from overwhelming numbers of dogs. The camp dogs roam in packs and are often starved, sickly and aggressive due to malnutrition, fierce competition for resources and lack of veterinary care. Sometimes they even eat people.
Aboriginal families have to deal with as many as 20 dogs per household and typically have little knowledge about feeding, animal health (or human health for that matter) and breeding control. Vet visits are rare. Parasites can transmit to their human companions and cause skin infections, chronic sores and internal infections. While the dogs are in principle considered family members and valued as companions and guards, their sheer number make them a pest and in some cases a danger.
Authorities’ attempts to cope with the dog problem range from shooting sprees (didn’t go down well with the dogs’ owners) to ad-hoc incident-responses (shoot offending dogs and some of their mates), to a 2-dogs-per-household policy which has proven difficult to enforce.
The only cure that seems to work is humane dog control programmes where vets, in understanding with the locals, come out in the communities and de-sex, micro-chip and worm all the camp dogs. However, the programmes rely on funding from outsiders; the communities have neither vets nor money.
The Desert Dogs project
‘Desert Dogs‘ is a non-profit organisation which works with the camp dog situation in Yuendumu, an aboriginal village 293 km Northwest of Alice Springs.
In Yuendumu, the dog situation was the usual out-of-control story until seven years ago when Gloria Morales, assistant manager of the Warlukurlangu Artists aboriginal arts collective, started the Desert Dog project in cooperation with vet Dr Honey Nelson and supported by RSPCA Alice Springs. The project works to reduce and control dog numbers in Yuendumu and, ultimately, improve the health and welfare of both dogs and people based on the ‘healthy dogs = healthy people’ principle.
The Desert Dog programme has gradually halved the dog population in Yuendumu by de-sexing great numbers of dogs, euthanising unwanted and hopeless dogs, and exporting puppies to Sydney. The camp dog are also treated for parasites, diseases and injuries, and the programme has greatly improved the health and well being of the dog population.
People from Yuendumu and nearby local communities bring abandoned and sick puppies to Gloria, who fosters the rescued puppies on her property with her own 20 camp dogs until they are strong enough to endure the flight to Sydney.
The puppies, which are fostered by Gloria ‘The Dog Lady’ have had a wonderful puppyhood. Some pups have been with Gloria since they were only a week old and have learned ‘doggy manners’ as they have to share with 20 other dogs. They are given excellent food, wonderful walks in the bush (including swimming in billabongs) and this means that they don’t have the tragic issues of many city dogs which have been abused. All the desert dogs get on with other dogs, avoid trouble and have learned to be submissive. They ignore cats and other animals and like children and as they are crossbreeds they are very healthy due to hybrid vigour.
(From Desert Dogs’ website)
From camp dogs to city dogs via Facebook
Then Roz and Wayne, Desert Dogs’ foster care family in Sydney, take over. They regularly travel to Yuendumu (one at the time) to select puppies and accompany them to Sydney in batches of six each time. A new batch is picked when a prior batch is sold.
The puppies are de-sexed, vaccinated, and worm treated after they arrive in their new foster home in Wollongong, Sydney. Their first time as suburban animals are spent roaming the garden, playing with the kids and big dogs and wrestling with the puppy-loving cat while Roz takes hundreds of photos and videos and upload them to Desert Dog’s Facebook page.
Members of the current batch of Desert Dog puppies in Sydney, immersed in happy play while they wait for their new homes.
Puppy profiles are posted on the major pet rehoming match-maker website Pet Rescue with vivid descriptions of the puppies’ personalities, and shared on Desert Dogs’ Facebook page.
People who have ‘liked’ Desert Dogs’ Facebook page see new puppy listings and updates in their facebook feed and can comment and ask questions about the puppies. They may visit the Facebook page and see more photos and updates, or share the listings and photos with their Facebook friends (maybe just to say ‘Look isn’t this puppy cute’… and thereby give the puppy potential viral reach).
Roz continues to upload heaps of new photos and videos of the puppies throughout their time in foster care and update about their whereabouts and personalities.
Potential puppy adopters can study a puppy they have in mind on countless pictures and build an imaginary relationship to it before they even meet the dog… a virtual connection which may pave the way for a real relationship.
Keep in touch
The page also helps the foster carers to stay in touch and see what become of the dogs they sell, in photo updates posted on the wall by the desert dog buyers. While the photos easily can be send via email instead, the public updates give potential buyers an idea about how Desert Dog puppies may look like as adults and that their new families are happy with them (of course, unhappy owners most likely won’t post updates…).
I suppose the online interaction also gives the foster carer a gut feeling of potential buyers before they make real life contact as well as feedback and ideas about what works and what doesn’t.
All in all, the Facebook page serves as an active online community around the Desert Dogs and their story. It is much more than just a marketing strategy; however it is a very effective marketing strategy.
Integrated online presence
Desert Dog’s online presence is integrated in various ways. Puppy listings on Pet Rescue are shared on the Facebook page, and the website has a social plugin which automatically publishes all Facebook posts directly on the website; so they are shared there as well.
Desert Dogs’ website tells the great story of the dogs with flair and passion, but it doesn’t stand alone. Desert Dogs has profiles on various dog-rescue websites such as Pet Rescue and Ozdoggy, and there are a great deal of articles about camp dogs and interviews with Gloria Morales on the web which also refer to the Desert Dogs.
Here is an interview with the ABC where Gloria tells about how aboriginal paintings without dog hair and paw marks in them are most likely fakes.
And the bottom line
You would be forgiven to think that camp dog puppies of plague-like origin from a remote aboriginal community would be a hard sell in Sydney, but not so. Roz and her family has rehomed more than 100 puppies during the past year alone plus some older dogs; and the speed at which newly arrived puppies are taken is impressive.
I think this is a great lesson in how effective social media can be – even for a tiny organisation situated in a remote & poor corner of a mighty desert.
Desert Dogs links. Updated September 2015
Website. Currently offline.
- Aussie Desert Dog’s new Facebook page. See also the Camp dogs facebook page, run by Desert Dog’s current Sydney foster carer. Pretty much same topic, same dogs.
Pet Rescue profile. Desert Dogs is no longer on PetRescue.
- Ozdoggy profile
- Gloria tells the story of the Desert Dog project. Read this, it is very interesting.
Update: Desert Dogs does no longer have a foster carer in Sydney, and does not appear to operate any longer.
Update September 2014: Desert Dogs does again rehome dogs to the Sydney/New South Wales area, and has a foster carer near New South Wales