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Special Report: Saved From Death Row by Social Media

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LAWTON Okla_ 3-4 million dogs and cats are put to sleep in animal shelters across the US each year, but many people are saving pets from death row by a simple click of a mouse.

Imagine if you could save some or even adopt a pet with just a couple clicks of a mouse. It may sound crazy, but we found the number of shelters and rescue groups using social media to spread the word about pets in need is growing, and the number of people responding is astonishing.

A tail-wagging yellow lab named Splash was once on death row in an animal shelter. With the clock ticking, the rescue group "Lucky Lab" posted his picture on its Facebook site, in hopes of finding him a home ASAP.  1,000 miles away, Peter Christmas and Janet Belsky fell in love with the lab.

"He was an older dog that's hard to adopt, and we kind of figured that he was not going to have a very good shot at getting adopted," Peter said. 

Janet soon typed a response on the Facebook post that ready "With a name like Splash, he belongs here on the lake. We would love to take him."

He's not the only one. Lucky Lab rescue's founder, Katherine Martin, said social media helped save these dogs and hundreds of others. 

"Dogs who have just a matter of minutes to survive are able to get pulled from these shelters," Martin said.

These life-saving campaigns aren't only going to the dogs. 7News found the number of shelters and pet rescue groups using social media to spread the word is exploding, saving cats, horses, cows, piglets, guinea pigs, rabbits and even ferrets.

"We took a look at a specific group on twitter called the ‘Animal League', and we could track it," Social Media Expert Patrick O'Malley said. "The number of followers they had on Twitter increased 30% just in the last three months."

Sometimes the posts are dire, with actual expiration dates listing the date and time a pet has to be adopted by, or the animal will be euthanized. Social media is also helping save pets with special needs, like a three-legged dog, named Cookie.

Donations for her medical care came pouring in, and someone living hundreds of miles away from the pooch saw a post and adopted cookie moments before she was going to be put to sleep.

"Social media, and Facebook in general, has helped us raise a lot of money for dogs we ordinarily wouldn't have the funds to help," Martin said.

Rescue groups are using Facebook and Twitter to arrange transport for adopted pets to their "Furever Homes", by organizing transportation through volunteers or donated frequent flier miles.

As for Splash, his happy tail took him across country to his happily ever after with Janet and Peter.

"I'm so glad we did this. We just love this dog," Janet said.

"The dogs tend to know they've been rescued also," Peter said. "They know they've been saved, and they're forever grateful to you."

The Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said they urge shelters to advertise pets on social media before putting them to sleep. They said while pets may not be able to talk, they're definitely finding their voices online.

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