Online animal guardian
1 April 2005 | 0
A love of animals and interest in the Internet led to one of Ireland’s best-known animal welfare sites being set up. IrishAnimals.ie (www.irishanimals.ie) is the brainchild of Denise Cox.
It was when Cox moved to Ireland that the seeds for IrishAnimals were sown. ‘When I moved here from Los Angeles in 1995, I was looking to change my life,’ she explains. ‘The Internet was still a pretty new concept, but I really jumped into it — especially the e-mail bit. I thought it had such communication potential, and I just fell in love with e-mail.’
It was her long-standing love for animals that pushed her towards setting up the site. ‘I have always been involved in animal welfare and I wanted to volunteer here,’ she explains. ‘I couldn’t locate an Irish welfare group, so I combined my new-found love of the Internet (and e-mail) and the desire to help, and started a website that initially was a small — but always growing — accumulation of groups and centres around the country.’
Cox wanted the site to serve as a central online resource for people involved in animal welfare and action groups, as well as the general public. Although there are plenty of US-based sites, there was nothing providing information for an Irish audience.
The site’s first incarnation was in 1996 as the Animal Welfare Resource Site of Ireland. The site has developed from a free Web space address to Cox’s own virtual server with .com and .ie domain names.
However, it is always changing. ‘The biggest design overhaul was around late 2000, but it just is never, ever done. It’s unique in that it is entirely a personal passion of mine and provides no income, so it’s tucked in between the day job, E-Search, which happens to be a job I love, and the rest of the day.’
Cox estimates that she puts up to 20 hours a week into the site, between updates, mailing lists and monitoring the live discussion board (for which she has a co-admin).
As the site is non-commercial, it doesn’t have a large budget to raise awareness of it. Instead, it relies on word of mouth and press reviews.
‘I feel for a non-commercial site without deep pockets or advertising budgets, it’s quite active,’ says Cox. ‘Currently, the average successful requests for pages per day is between 2,800 — 3,500.’ The discussion board also has 22,962 topic views per month.
There are several sections to the site, but Cox believes that the most popular ones are the ‘homes needed’, lost and found, and discussion board sections.
According to Cox, thousands of dogs and cats have found new homes through the ‘homes needed’ section since it was added to the site in 1998. ‘The beginnings of that section, which now has hundreds of animals on it, was when I found a stray dog and thought — why not use my site to try and find a home for him?’
The success of the section has meant that one element of the site has had to be abandoned. ‘I used to maintain a “success through my site” section, but there are just too many now,’ says Cox. ‘Many people tell me they just like to look at the photos and read the stories — even if they aren’t looking to adopt. They usually end up telling someone who is looking to adopt about a dog or cat they’ve seen on the site.’
The Discussion Board, which was launched last year, has become extremely busy, says Cox. It acts as a gathering place for visitors and registered users to view or post urgent ‘animals in need’ messages, homes needed, and general queries about pet care.
The site also has various mailing lists that users can subscribe to. These include the IrishAnimals.ie Action List, which has about 250 people that can be notified about help needed, including transport and items needed. The Volunteer Call Sheet has a mailing list of 500 individuals who are not involved with a specific group, but are willing to help; they receive fundraiser dates, adoption notes, etc. ‘I’m also launching an HTML e-zine, which already has 3,000 subscribers,’ says Cox. The e-zine begins this month. Other sections of the site include Pet Care links, recommended services such as kennels and regional welfare groups.
A new addition to the site is the k999 volunteer service. People who care about dogs and are available to transport animals for groups can register at k999.irishanimals.ie.
Cox wanted to make the site as easy to navigate as possible.
‘My goal has always been to provide easy navigation,’ says Cox. ‘The design is straightforward, almost directory style, no flash, etc. Many of the people who visit my site are not huge Web surfers, and I want them to easily find their way around.’
On the strength of the e-mails Cox receives, users are very happy with the site.
‘I’m always getting e-mail feedback from people who have found the site by searching, because they need to post a lost or found, or are looking to adopt, or need pet care. Also, there are always welfare groups and individuals who start using the site to post “homes needed” and to join in the community of others — through the board, email, etc. It’s why I keep going on with it. I’ve made so many friends and acquaintances, often never having met them, all through the site.’
Cox is in the process of trying to raise the site’s profile through car stickers with the site’s logo. They will be available for purchase at a minimal price. Any money raised will be ploughed back into server expenses, maintenance costs, etc. Cox is also seeking sponsorship for the site.
‘I’ve got big plans for the site, but at this point it needs more than just my diligence and the kindness of skilled friends,’ she says. ‘I want to properly ramp it up to the next level — more interactivity and more backend database capability. I spend quite a bit of time updating the “homes needed” pages myself, and of course the other parts, updating links, contacts, etc.’
Despite these changes, Cox is adamant that the conviction of the site will never change, nor the community spirit it’s based on.