Malicious Viral Rumor Increases Pet Adoptions

A rumor regarding the closure of an animal shelter in ‘Montgomery County’ has caused pet adoptions to increase nationwide. However, government officials are concerned and have sounded the alarm to alert unsuspecting animal lovers to the fact that the rumor is nothing more than a hoax.

An organically sent email that simply stated: “An animal shelter in New Jersey is closing tomorrow. They currently have 80 dogs and 30 cats. They are adopting animals for free tomorrow between 12 and 4 p.m. All the remaining animals will be euthanized.”

The email was signed with a simple frowning emoticon.

Spreading the Word

Shocked and concerned readers of the email spread the word by posting the information on Twitter, Facebook and their personal web pages as well. The rumor spread like wildfire, causing 19 “Montgomery County” shelters across the USA to become inundated with phone calls from concerned citizen regarding the shelters pets, who they believed were going to be euthanized if they were not adopted immediately.

However, embedded inside each email was a link that, once clicked, tried to wreak havoc with the person’s personal computer.

It didn’t take long for the US government to become involved and on Wednesday, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) released a warning to the public about these links.

The warning by US-CERT simply stated:

“Users seeking details on rumors about the closure of a ‘Montgomery County Animal Shelter’ may be led to click on illegitimate search results which attempt to download malicious code. The rumors are being spread via e-mail, forums, and social networking sites, usually taking the form of a plea for readers to contact the shelter and adopt animals prior to the shelter’s closing.”

A division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, US-CERT has acknowledged that it is “monitoring the situation.”

Montgomery Shelters

The health officer and director of animal control for the Montgomery Township Health Department in Belle Mead, NJ, Stephanie D. Carey, stated that not only can the shelter only hold five dogs and ten cats at a time:

“Ironically, we only had one animal for adoption on site that day.”

However, the animal shelter started to receive phone calls from concerned people wanting to adopt a dog or a cat from the animal shelter.

“It exploded overnight, and by 7 a.m. we had 200 calls and another 100 by later that morning,” said Carey. By the close on Wednesday, Carey, believes that the shelter had received about 1,000 phone calls.

“There were a few angry people, but an overwhelming majority were concerned and just wanted to help,” she said. “About 100 people showed up at our shelter yesterday afternoon. Usually we get three adopters a week.”

Carey, and the rest of the staff quickly referred the callers to the Animal Alliance of New Jersey. “The animal alliance got a lot of phone calls, so it turned out to be a good thing.”

Anne Trinkle, the executive director and founder of the Animal Alliance of New Jersey, stated that the rescue group had received a 25% increase in the amount of people who wanted to adopt, and had dealt with over 100 calls on that day alone.

“We’re thrilled and grateful for whatever motivates people to flock to this agency to adopt,” Trinkle said. “There was definitely a silver lining to the misinformation being spread out there.”

19 other animal shelters in different Montgomery counties nationwide benefited from the euthanasia email scare.

In Montgomery, Alabama, Scott Missildine, the volunteer coordinator at the Montgomery Humane Society, stated that the shelter had received at least one telephone call every six minutes:

“All day the phones were ringing. People were worried about us closing.”

The Rumor

Officials believe that the rumor started when it became public in August that the contract between the town of Conroe and the Montgomery County Humane Society in Texas would come to an end on 21 September. Almost immediately there was a response from animal activists who demanded to know what would happen to the animals at the shelter if they were not adopted out before the end of the contract and falsely believed that the humane society would actually euthanize any animal left un-adopted after the five day holding period by the time the contract ended.

However, even if the animal is still there after the five day holding period, it will either be sent to another adoption agency first before being considered for euthanasia. And even before euthanasia, board members and volunteers would have been allowed to adopt an animal.

So far, the Humane Society for Montgomery County has been able to adopt out several hundred pets. This amount is the highest adoption rate ever for the humane society.

Photo Credit: Dave Parker

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