COLUMBIA, S.C. — In an age when privacy melts away with each picture upload and status update, life’s simple acts broadcast over the Web can touch a worldwide audience.
How else could a stray dog that lived for years in the woods between a Sonic and a Waffle House in West Columbia, S.C., gain fans from Europe and Asia, and turn the University of South Carolina webmaster who adopted the mutt into an Internet celebrity?
Shaggy, a 6- or 7-year-old light-haired dog with a long nose and dark soulful eyes, was saved by social media. Her rescue was coordinated on Facebook, promoted on Ustream and feted on Twitter and YouTube.
A tire store employee, Manuela Schafer, was frustrated in her attempts to capture Shaggy for years and asked for help in late December from a California animal rescuer, Eldad Hagar, who has 82,000 Facebook followers.
“She had been terrified, chased and hurt,” Schafer said of Shaggy.
After Hagar’s advice to Schafer — to lure the dog with food — failed, the animal rescuer traveled cross-country recently and put out a call on Facebook for 40 volunteers to help collar Shaggy.
People came from as far away as Raleigh, N.C. — more than three hours from West Columbia — to gather at dawn on the chilly morning on Jan. 20 to help a stray dog on Platts Spring Road.
The hunt took two hours and because of the heavily wooded terrain was one of the toughest in Hagar’s nearly five years of rescuing animals.
Another problem: Shaggy’s matted fur was so thick that the needle on a tranquilizer dart did not reach her skin, Hagar said. So volunteers created a long wall with $800 in tarp materials to keep the dog from escaping while Hagar cornered Shaggy.
Schafer finally was able to pet the stray that she had followed for years. “She was pitiful,” she said. “I just cried.”
After getting her out of the woods, Hagar aired daily live streaming online videos of Shaggy from his hotel room, providing updates on her condition and answering viewers’ questions. Thousands of people worldwide watched the dog’s first days of recovery after years in the wild.
“She was sleeping like 90 percent of the time,” Hagar said.
One of those early-morning volunteers, a follower of Hagar on Facebook for six months, fell in love with Shaggy after watching the videos. Her adoption interview, in the hotel room with dog and rescuer a week ago, was captured on Shaggy’s live online feed so people learned her name.
Patty Hall became a hero to Shaggy’s fans.
Since the adoption, hundreds of people — from the Southeast United States to Southeast Asia — have asked to become Hall’s Facebook friend. Many sent e-mails with congratulations and shared their pet-rescue stories.
“I was in situations where I rescued dogs from the streets and took them to shelters. Then, I started following Shaggy, and I could not stop watching,” wrote a man from Albania. “Whenever I see a stray dog … I now remember Shaggy Ann. Eldad did a great job and you are guaranteeing that this work continues. Please give her a kiss from me!”
Hall, a webmaster at the University of South Carolina who describes herself as an introvert, is grateful but a bit taken aback about going from one of many Internet fans to a center of attention.
“At first, she was reluctant with all these people around wanting to talk to her,” Hagar said.
People asked for updates on Shaggy, who must overcome heartworms, a broken tail and a herniated diaphragm, likely from getting hit by a car, as well as learning to be around people again. But Hall wanted to separate life with her new dog from her personal life.
She started sharing photos of the dog on one of two Shaggy Facebook fan pages others had created ( www.facebook.com/FriendsOfShaggy). The week-old page has received nearly 4,000 likes. Hall started a YouTube page for Shaggy to post videos ( www.youtube.com/user/ShaggyAnnHall).
Hall couldn’t escape the mania even in picking a veterinarian. A nurse at a Columbia practice exclaimed this week, “I was hoping we would get Shaggy!” when she learned the famous dog was going to be a patient.
Dozens of fans offered tricks for giving Shaggy heartworm pills in response to Hall’s Facebook post about the dog’s recent vet visit. The post generated nearly 250 comments and more than 700 likes in 12 hours.
Hall has grown more comfortable with the attention, interacting with Shaggy’s fans by asking questions and replying to some of their comments and many of their e-mails.
“Yes, she’s my dog, but I feel like it’s everyone’s dog,” Hall said. “So many of these people have invested their money and their time. One person said they didn’t clean their house for three days because they were watching the videos. That’s why I don’t resent their interest.”