Thousands drawn to Columbia stray Shaggy’s online ‘dog diary’

ashain@thestate.comJuly 2, 2013 

Since Shaggy was saved by social media in January, the one-time Columbia-area stray dog has fostered an online community attracted by the story of her recovery and the chance to find friends.

Patty Hall, the University of South Carolina webmaster who adopted the light-haired dog with dark soulful eyes, updates the “Friends of Shaggy” Facebook page frequently with news, photos and videos. Shaggy’s fans, in turn, share their own photos and stories.

Hall, who described herself as shy, has become friends with some of the nearly 5,800 people who have liked the page. They discuss books and swap pet stories.

Marylyn McLeod, a retired Augusta secretary who is among Hall’s new friends, ate lunch in Venice, Italy, last month with a Shaggy fan she met on the Facebook page.

“She has brought us all together,” McLeod said of Hall.

Hall “likes” or comments on all posts on the Facebook page. She takes photos posted on the page and creates albums – such as snapshots of people who gave their dogs stuffed lions like the one Shaggy received soon after being rescued.

“She has not just made this just about her,” said Leslie Richmand, a Plainsboro, N.J., counselor and another of Hall’s Shaggy Facebook friends. “Patty is talking to all these people like they are in her living room.”

Hall calls the page a dog diary that she realizes has become something more. Fans have sent her a number of gifts, namely dog toys and books. but Hall also has received a collar with a radio transmitter, a wine glass painted with a portrait of Shaggy and a Mother’s Day card.

“She started off as a dog in distress, and now she has become their friend,” Hall said.

Free advice

She now has plenty of friends she can rely on herself. Hall received a number of suggestions when Shaggy preferred to eat food off the floor rather than in a metal bowl. One Shaggy Facebook friend suggested a nylon travel bowl that would make less noise from her tags. It worked.

Hall shares lessons when she is describing what happens with Shaggy, such as her technique for keeping the dog – believed to be 6 or 7 years old – calm during vet visits.

“I realize that people inadvertently were getting help from me,” Hall said.

California animal rescuer Eldad Hagar, who traveled across the country to lead the effort to save Shaggy this winter, said the reaction to Hall and her dog is unusual among his estimated 4,000 rescues.

“I think it’s because it’s such a crazy story: This is a dog no one could touch for five years,” said Hagar, who returned to visit Shaggy in May.

Shaggy was a common sight to drivers and diners as she lived in the woods between a Sonic and Waffle House off Platt Springs Road in West Columbia. Hagar, who runs Hope for Paws, gathered 40 volunteers he recruited from a Facebook request and spent two hours on a cold January Sunday tracking and capturing Shaggy.

Hall, who was among the rescuers, decided to adopt the dog whose hair was so long and thick when she was captured that a tranquilizer dart could not reach her skin.

In the past five months, Shaggy has become less suspicious of newcomers though still will give a low growl and hide behind Hall.

Shaggy has survived scares with heartworms and a suspected tumor but still has problems with her hips. One of the Shaggy’s Facebook followers started a fundraiser for vet bills that generated nearly $7,400 in a matter of weeks.

“I didn’t want any (health) decisions be made because of a lack of funds,” said Kim Williams, a Burleson, Texas, office manager who started the fundraiser. “She lets us be part of Shaggy and in return she is our dog, too.”

‘Enduring and loving’

Many of Shaggy’s Facebook friends started following the dog from Hagar’s rescue effort that was promoted on Facebook and Twitter and aired on Ustream.

Richmand, the counselor, took her computer to work to watch with a livestream of Shaggy, while the dog recuperated in a Lexington County hotel room. She thought the dog might not make it.

“I was fascinated whether love could save this dog,” Richmand said. “I saw Shaggy come back to life.”

Richmand joined the Facebook page and was drawn by Hall’s posts: “She had a way with words that was enduring and loving.”

She sent Hall a message and the pair connected. They were part of a group of Shaggy followers who had a mini-online book club reading the novel, “A Dog’s Purpose.”

Shaggy’s Facebook page mimics Hall’s calm, easygoing demeanor that her friends say keep them interested in the site. Criticisms usually are policed by other posters defending Hall, who has asked for no drama on the page.

Most of all, Shaggy’s online friends say they find inspiration in the dog and Hall.

“There are little victories every day – ‘Shaggy went out today and wasn’t afraid of the storm,’ ” said Ann Fogarty, a Vacaville, Calif., public relations consultant. “It continues to give me hope. There are pieces of us that we’re like a stray, needing a home. This nurtures that part of us.”

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