Column: After a 5-year wait, Chester goes viral, finds his home

Chester shown with a toy after a snow storm this winter. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)
Chester shown with a toy after a snow storm this winter. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

For all its drawbacks (that’s for another column), social media can sometimes be quite remarkable.

Last night, I came across a Facebook page — “Chester waiting for five years” — featuring Chester, a red-nosed pitbull mix at the North Fork Animal Welfare League’s Southold shelter.

If it were up to my wife, Ashley, we’d take every dog home — including Chester — but with her asleep on the couch, I couldn’t help myself from taking a peek at the page.

Of course, Ashley had already “liked” the page, though I was surprised to find out that — as local Facebook pages go — it had gained an uncanny amount of likes in only 15 hours: 1,393 to be exact! To put things in perspective, The Suffolk Times has about 10,700 likes.

“What was it about Chester that had gained so much attention so quickly?” I wondered. Beside the heart-wrenching photo of Chester with a message written on cardboard asking, “Why doesn’t anybody want me?” I had to find the answer to this question for myself.

So I stopped by the shelter this morning. Gabby Stoup, shelter manager and a 15-year employee, was trying to stay ahead of the phone calls and emails that were piling in; 150 emails had arrived overnight.

As we spoke, the phone kept ringing. Her inbox kept filling up more and more. Inquiries from Wisconsin, California, Michigan, North Carolina, Arkansas — Australia!?

Anyone who knows me knows I’m married to a “dog person.” My wife volunteered at the Southold shelter when we lived in Greenport and at Kent after we moved to Riverhead, for a combined five years. It’s how we ended up with our dog who — and this boggles my mind to this day — was at Kent for 3 1/2 years before we adopted him.

So I could personally see the appeal in Chester. I think there’s a part deep inside each of us that wants to love someone or something that the rest of the world thinks is unlovable. In the spirit of Easter, one could say it’s quite a divine thing to do — whether we’re talking about people or animals.

The thing about Chester though — and the thing about my dog, Chauncey — is that they really aren’t that unlovable. You just have to get to know them. Sometimes I sit and look at Chauncey and wonder how so many people passed him up. Their loss!

Gina Lepine, the trainer at NFAWL, calls Chester “The Court Jester” because of his goofy, fun demeanor.

Now believed to be about 7 years old, Chester came to NFAWL in 2010 and had a glimmer of hope of being adopted not long after. Like many dogs who get adopted, he found a home for a little while, but it just didn’t work out.

After that, shelter volunteers brought him out to parades and featured him through social media. Chester’s “advocate” — a Shoreham man with three dogs whose wife (quite understandably) won’t let him bring the dog home — comes in and checks on him periodically. Volunteers can regularly be seen walking Chester along with the shelter’s other 17 dogs in the area.

By this morning, Chester’s Facebook page had close to 2,400 “likes.” In a world where something can go viral in a split second, Chester’s chances for finding a permanent home had skyrocketed. And while it would be nice to think, “Well, why not do this for every dog?” Gabby recognizes that starting a page for each dog or cat at the shelter wouldn’t have quite the same effect.

One member of NFAWL’s board of directors popped in this morning while I was meeting with Gina.

“I wanted to see our celebrity,” she tells Chester, an excitable but well-behaved dog. Like my Chauncey — a Rottweiler/Lab mix — it’s hard to believe he’s almost 7 years old, he has so much energy. “I got a feeling you’re going home soon.”

Just before I was about to post this column online early Friday afternoon to help spread the word out him, the prediction became true: Chester had found his new home.

The Lake Ronkonkoma family who adopted Chester found out about him through a friend in Michigan who shared the Facebook page. After five years of hard work, Gabby said tears of joy were shed at the shelter about Chester’s new family.

Thanks to all those clicks and shares and “likes,” he’s being picked up for good tomorrow morning. Just in time for some Easter dinner table scraps.

Pinciaro_Joe.jpgJoseph Pinciaro is the managing editor of The Suffolk Times who, with his wife Ashley and newborn daughter, has two adopted dogs. They are not getting another dog. He can be reached at 354-8024.