Petworking! Social Networking for Animal Lovers
Finding a pet community that's right for you
Have you tried the animalistic side of online social networking? No, we don't mean the fact-defying Facebook and MySpace pages of people looking for dates. We're talking about pet-related social networking websites. Our favorite term for this new way of connecting with other animal lovers is pet networking, or petworking!
Birds, Fish, and Dogs, Oh My!
The internet is home to countless websites for animal lovers. If it runs, flies or swims, you can find it online. Bird lovers can connect via the forums on BirdBoard, while self-described Fish Geeks can swim on over to Aquaria. If you're a dog lover looking to get ultra-local, check out UrbanHound, which has sites for Chicago, New York, and San Francisco.
Although not exclusively focused on pets, Meetup is one way to connect with pet lovers in your hometown. With groups across the country focused on everything from the American Bulldog to Turtles and Tortoises, you're bound to find some animal lovers near you. And if there's a not a group in your area, you can start one or sign up to be notified when someone else does.
Some petworking sites are less focused on connecting people than on showcasing the pets themselves through photos, profiles, and blogs written from the pets' perspectives. Taking this last idea to an extreme, Petentials dubs itself the "Internet for Pets" and focuses on the animals rather than the owners. It's a cute idea, but can begin to feel somewhat gimmicky after awhile. On the plus side, Petentials does have a news section that aggregates pet-related stories from around the web.
Favorite Petworking Sites
But our top picks for online petworking sites include those that go beyond the cute photos and "pat the dog" features. The following sites enable pet lovers to build meaningful community, both online and off.
Catster.com and Dogster.com
Online since 2004 and patterned after Friendster.com, Catster and Dogster are two of the most well-established and well-known petworking sites. While some other petworking sites feel cluttered and hard to use, these two are pleasant to look at and easy to navigate - two essential elements for a positive petworking experience.
There's plenty of opportunity to connect with other pet people and build community on these sites. The forums are well-trafficked and cover a wide range of topics from food and pet fashion to training and grooming. The groups section enables users to meet other members (both people and pets!) based on shared interests or geographic region. Groups also have their own forums where members can post photos, messages, and calendar events. In addition to the forums and groups, Catster and Dogster both have an "Answers" section where visitors can post questions and provide answers for one another.
There is also a strong educational component to Catster and Dogster, including an extensive breed information center and humorous, yet insightful, cat and dog guides. The "Blogs" section contains pet-relevant news and a blog written by a veterinarian.
If you need information for the non-virtual world, look no further than the section called "Local," where you can search for listings and reviews of pet-centric places. Categories cover everything from healthcare and pet stores to pet services and pet-friendly businesses. There's a lot more on these sites, including adoption information, diaries of member cats and dogs, and contests and promotions of pet products. Overall, Catster and Dogster get a big "paws up" for having a lot of community activity and for being well-designed, informative, and easy to use.
UnitedCats.com and UnitedDogs.com
Founded by an Estonian Internet start-up company, these two sites are the newer rivals of Catster and Dogster. UnitedCats and UnitedDogs are available in a wide range of languages, giving the sites a more international reach than other petworking locations.
Each site contains a wiki (a collection of web pages that allows any user to create and edit content) about cats or dogs, but neither one is very extensive. Of course, this will change as more people use the site. In contrast, the forums do seem to generate a lot of activity. Similar to the groups on Catster and Dogster, these sites have "Clubs" that are broken down into categories. Unlike the groups on the other sites, however, users cannot search clubs by geography. But there are interactive maps on UnitedCats and UnitedDogs where you can search for cats and dogs in your neighborhood. Unfortunately, this feature didn't seem to generate a lot of information when we tried it. But the sites have tons of kitty and doggy photos, fun things like videos, and even a design-your-own-pet-tee-shirt store.
Compared to Catster and Dogster, UnitedCats and UnitedDogs simply aren't as extensive or as useful. Still, we give them two wags of the tail for their developing features.
Unlike the four sites featured above, PetPop is not animal specific. Here, cat and dog lovers can mingle with people who favor reptiles or bunnies. But a quick scan through the site reveals that both cats and dogs are still tops here. The site contains many of the same features as the other sites on our list, including pet profile pages and photos. As an added bonus, PetPop's groups and calendar are searchable by location and category.
PetPop also contains a fair amount of information for pet owners, including a section on pet news. In addition, seven pet health experts are on hand to answer user questions. The forums here aren't as well used as on some other sites, but still have enough activity to warrant a look. You will also find a pet-sitting exchange and an adoption center on the site.
PetPop says it's "where pets are popular." There are plenty of pets here, and the people who love them can find something of value, too. We give it two licks for effort.
The site's "About Us" page declares that ZooToo was founded by pet lovers in response to the massive pet food recall in 2007. Founder Richard Thompson, who is the former CEO of the Meow Mix® cat food company, wanted to build an online space to "allow people to make the most informed decisions for their pets using information provided by real pet lovers like them." The result is a well-designed site with a wealth of information.
But what really sets ZooToo apart from other petworking sites is a unique outreach component. In addition to sharing its revenue with shelters and rescue groups every month, ZooToo gives its members a chance to get involved with community pet projects.
The more you contribute to Zootoo by writing reviews, posting photos, and participating in online discussions, the more you can help pets and other pet lovers. Members' activity is translated into points that can be dedicated to various causes, such as The Zootoo House Shelter Makeover. In March 2008, ZooToo awarded a million dollar makeover to the winner of the first National Pet Shelter Makeover Contest. Members can also search for local volunteer opportunities and take part in an online pet food drive.
If you'd just like to find other pet lovers near you, check out ZooToo's Pets & People section. The Pet News page is packed with interesting and current animal-related content. The Pet Services and Pet Products sections are a good place to get information or to post your own review (and earn free product samples in the process).
There's even more to do on ZooToo: create an online journal, ask and answer questions, post or search pet-related classified ads, find animal events across the U.S., and join groups based on geography, pet type, and pet breed. To sum it up, ZooToo combines the best of online petworking with the passion of pet lovers, and puts it all to great use. Paws up, tail wags, and big licks all around for this site!
Jennifer McGuiggan is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two grey cats.