WATERVILLE — Earlier this month, a pair of bonded Shih Tzus were brought in to the Humane Society Waterville Area for adoption. The staff knew that finding a new home for the pair would be difficult, so four days after the dogs were on the adoption floor, they put a call out for prospective families on the shelter’s Facebook page.

The response was instantaneous.

The next day, at least three people were in the lobby jockeying for the chance to get the pair of little dogs, shelter director Lisa Smith said. People called from as far away as Blue Hill and Portland to ask whether the shelter could hold the Shih Tzus for them.

“People were almost fighting for these dogs,” Smith said.

It’s an example of the power of online social media, particularly Facebook, a tool local animal shelters are turning to increasingly to find new homes for animals, connect lost pets with their owners, raise donations and stay in touch with their community.

People have responded, filling the shelters’ Facebook pages with likes, comments and shares, building a robust social media presence driven by multiple posts a day and plenty of photos and video of adoptable pets, adorable pet moments and popular animal-themed memes floating around the Internet.

Social media seems to connect with people better than other forms of outreach, said Kelsey Cler, the website and volunteer coordinator for the Franklin County Animal Shelter on Industry Road in Farmington.

“It’s so easy for people to share on Facebook. It’s more passive than searchable websites. That’s something active. This is something that might just come across your news feed,” Cler said.

The shelter has attracted about 8,500 likes, and it typically posts three or four times a day. More frequently, people are coming in looking to adopt a dog they saw on a Facebook post rather than through other sources, Cler said.

After pets have been adopted, the shelter likes to post updates about the pets’ new lives to keep followers engaged.

“Even coming from my own experience, I try to follow positive pages,” Cler said. “With animals, you just want feel-good stories.”

The biggest help is with stray pets. Posting a stray on Facebook and cross-posting through the popular Maine Lost Dog Recovery site gets news about the animal spread into the community quickly, and more and more often it brings in a grateful family to collect a lost pet, Cler said.

Back at the Waterville shelter, Smith agreed that Facebook has been a useful tool to spread the word about lost and stray pets.

When she took over as director in 2014, Smith expanded the shelter’s Facebook presence. Now at least three staff members are posting to the page, and likes have grown to almost 11,000. The shelter brings in rescued animals from the Southern U.S., and the person helping transport them posts descriptions and photos days before dogs are ready for adoption. It’s basically marketing dogs, Smith said.

“People want stories. They want the background,” she said.

Another staff member coordinates posts on stray and missing pets, and another focuses on donations and programs.

With the system, dogs sometimes last less than a day after they are put up for adoption, as they are snatched up quickly by a new family.

Operations director Melaine Martinez of the Kennebec Valley Humane Society in Augusta said the shelter’s Facebook page, which has tallied more than 11,000 likes, is more useful than pet adoption databases, such as petfinder.com, which can be outdated and inaccurate.

“It’s better than any other website we’ve found,” she said.

Facebook also helps attract donations.

Just last week, Monitor of Maine, in Benton, offered to donate a bag of wood pellets, up to a ton, to the Waterville shelter for every bag followers bought and donated. Within 24 hours, two tons of pellets were headed to the shelter.

Cler, at the Franklin shelter, said that shelter also uses the site to solicit donations but tries to be precise, avoiding asking for donations every day or week so people won’t become jaded to the need. Earlier this summer, it asked for $1,500 to help a dog that came in badly hurt.

Despite its utility, Facebook has its limitations. Adoptable dogs get a lot of interest, but the same isn’t true for cats that shelters are trying to get people to adopt.

The shelters also have to police comments, which, as they do on most online venues, can become mean-spirited, inaccurate or vulgar, Smith said.

Although the shelter takes down comments that are inappropriate, it often tries to correct inaccurate statements and help educate people, she said.

“I actually look forward to those comments,” Smith said.

However, with the sites’ popularity, keeping track of all the comments has become a job in itself.

Managers at Kennebec Valley had to intervene recently with their staff member who handles the Facebook page to keep her from working on the page so much, even on her day off, Martinez said.

“There are times when it can be burdensome,” she said, but she added that for the most part, the pros far outweigh the cons.

“We’re definitely not going to give it up at this point,” Martinez said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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