Facebook ‘Furrensics’: Sometimes Social Media Is Helpful in Real Life


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Social media often gets a bad rap as the place where self-involved people go to bore their friends-and sometimes complete strangers--with the mundane details of their day, but recently it helped me save my dog's life.

Maybe I'm being a bit hyperbolic. I didn't really save the dog's life. Here's how it actually happened:I've had my dog for about a year, and every 3 months or so she has these strange, late night episodes. It starts when she wakes me up in the middle of the night with her whining and pacing. When this first started happening I assumed she wasn't feeling well and needed to go outside, but when we got to the stairs she balked--acting as though she'd never seen stairs before. After I carried her downstairs, went outside, and arrived back upstairs, she got up on the loveseat where she usually sleeps and started looking back and forth as though she were watching a tennis match. Eventually this passed, and the next morning she was perfectly fine.

The next time this happened, I broke out the old Flip camera and recorded it. And yet another episode later I edited the video, posted it on YouTube, shared it with my Facebook friends, and eventually played it for my veterinarian on my iPhone. I'd become concerned that my dog might be having a mild seizure, and I was also wondering if it had anything to do with her flea and heartworm preventative.

The problem with dogs is that they can't tell you what's happening. Because I only adopted her at the beginning of 2012, I don't know if these episodes are a new development or something she's dealt with her whole, adorable life. Shockingly, my videos taken at 3 a.m. weren't the best diagnostic tools. My vet asked me to start keeping a log of these episodes and to get a better video where her eyes are more visible. In the meantime, I'd decided that with the onset of winter weather I would discontinue the use of her flea and heartworm medication and see if that changed anything.

I was unsure whether or not I'd ever see another one of these episodes now that I'd stopped using the medication, so I thought it would be wise to reconstruct a timeline of the episodes Maybelle had already experienced. While I knew they seemed to be a quarterly event-like earnings reports-I couldn't recall the exact dates they had happened, but I did know I'd been bugging my Facebook community with it. If I could find those old status updates, I would have just about everything I needed to know.

I quickly found the original episode on my Facebook Timeline, all the way back in April 2012-and was quickly reminded of the many explanations my friends had come up with-but apparently I hadn't bothered my contacts with updates on the second incident. However, I did have the Flip camera files, and those had date stamps! And I knew I'd uploaded the video to YouTube just days after the last episode, so I looked up that date and then worked back. Thanks to my Google calendar reminders, I knew I'd applied the medications on the 15th of each month.

Within 10 minutes or so, I'd pieced together an accurate "furrensic" (thanks to @techenvy for coming up with that term) portrait of Maybelle's late night neurological woes-and scared myself a bit with YouTube videos of dogs having seizures. And of course, I'd consulted any number of websites, looking for scientific and anecdotal information on the flea and heartworm medication she had been on.

Maybelle will be due for her next episode in February, which also happens to be when she needs some booster shots. I'll be bringing my log of events with me, and possibly-but hopefully not-another video of an anxious, frightened dog suffering through ... something.

We spend a lot of time writing about how social media-and other technology-can help companies increase sales or engagement and ultimately achieve business objectives. Sometimes we even talk about how these unprecedented real-time communication tools have made the global village even smaller and helped to support revolutions. But sometimes it has real practical uses for us regular folks too. Social media isn't always the best place to document your medical woes (though I don't think my dog has many privacy concerns), but as they say, "There's an app for that." And if there isn't, then there's a business opportunity.