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The dog who came in from the cold

Sometime over the weekend of 13th/14th November my daughter and I saw the John Lewis Christmas advert on television. We both had the same reaction, that it was not right - or even Christmassy - to show the dog in the advert stuck out in the snow in an old-fashioned, doorless kennel. Then the program we were watching came back on and we forgot about it. When I went onto the Internet on the following Monday morning, the doggy circles in which I move were awash with people complaining about the advert - the inadequate shelter, the isolation of the dog - and it was clear that I was not the only one who hadn't liked this advert. Many people were advocating contacting John Lewis direct to express their dislike of the ad.


At around 8.00p.m. that Monday evening, it occurred to me that it might be therapeutic if we had a focus via which to share our feelings, and moan about the ad. I created the Facebook page I called Stop the John Lewis Christmas Ad. I had to Google how to make a Facebook page first, and it was quite a technological feat for me -in DogCast Radio my husband is the techie, I'm just the talker. I imagined that we would get 50-100 people gathered together, we would all have a good complain about the dog in the snow, and move on.


Three hours later the page had been "liked" by 300 people. Every time we refreshed the page, new people had joined. It was amazing, and quite scary - what had I started?


On the Tuesday I had to go off and pick my Mother up from the airport as she returned from a six week trip to New Zealand. When I got home I found that twenty fours after its creation, the page had 1,000 "likes". Wow! I knew I had to contact John Lewis on the page's behalf, which I did. They ignored me, and I had to contact them several times for the rest of the day (Wednesday) before they bothered emailing me a reply. That same day a reporter from my local newspaper, the Shropshire Star contacted me. When she got in touch with John Lewis they sent her a reply which misled her, and me, into thinking they were changing the ad in response to the campaign. This lead to a front page story, which was then picked up by national newspapers - none of whom bothered contacting me to check the facts, and sadly by the time they were reporting that John Lewis had pulled the ad, it was clear they had not. But on that Wednesday I rejoiced that it was all over - that I'd had a mad couple of days, including being interviewed about the campaign on air by Radio Shropshire's Jim Hawkins, but it was now all over.


Well it wasn't over and on Thursday I woke up to various emails and Facebook messages that the ad was still running. It took me til that evening to get a response confirming this from John Lewis, and on the Friday radio stations started contacting me again in earnest - local and national. This was scary stuff because although DogCast Radio has very healthy listening figures I get to record, edit and polish it - I don't have to do it live.


Another scary thing was trolls. Trolls are people who go onto Internet sites merely to argue and disrupt - and the Stop the John Lewis Christmas Ad Facebook page had a plague of them. At this point I realised that I needed help, so I asked Beverley Cuddy editor and publisher of Dogs Today for whom I have often written, and Muriel Brasseur a zoologist and experienced animal behaviourist I had interviewed for DogCast, to become admin on the site, with my daughter helping out too. Here's the important thing to remember about trying to administrate a Facebook page - DON'T! Not if you want to keep your sanity. Sharing the task helped enormously, and I learned that next time I need to ask for help before I reach crisis point. Next time??? - what am I saying?


The weekend passed reasonably quietly but on Monday I did three radio interviews (two national, one local) and by Monday evening I was being heckled by name on the Internet. Some of it mad me smile. I really liked "Who's your next target Julie Hill - Snoopy?" Don't think I dismissed this suggestion out of hand - giving him that typewriter that he would never manage to use with big Beagle paws is surely cruel, but to be honest I had enough on my plate at that point. It became serious on Monday night with libelous statements being made on the Internet about me. I had spent five long years building a name and a brand, and now that was being besmirched because I dared not to like an advert?


Meanwhile groups were springing up on Facebook in support of the advert. They generally didn't attract a lot of support, but my personal favourite was called Stop the Stop the John Lewis Christmas Ad Campaign. I'm only sorry someone didn't set up Stop the Stop the Stop the John Lewis Christmas As Campaign - I would've joined.


After an emotional plea to Beverley, she became the media contact for the campaign, doing a wonderful job spreading the word about the campaign, adding helpful information to her Cold Wet Nose blog on a regular basis. .Some degree of normality returned for me; it was still pretty full-on trying to combat trolls on the page, who used an ever growing range of ways to disrupt the site. Mind you the John Lewis site had more trolls than we did, so I suppose we got off relatively lightly. Muriel Brasseur brandished her troll bashing club wonderfully, and saved me from the syndrome known as Troll Bashers Elbow. The trolls sought to frighten people off the site, and we sought to protect them. For many nights my dreams were entirely about administrating the site, so there was no let up even at night!


John Lewis seemed to have adopted a policy of ignoring us - even when Beverley wanted a response from them for her national and very popular magazine they stonewalled her. On Thursday 25th a member posted on the Facebook page a response from John Lewis that the scenes of the dog would no longer be shown. After several hours of contacting the PR dept, we received a terse one line statement confirming this. My overwhelming emotion was relief. It had been a mad few days, and a Mount Everest of a learning curve.


So what did I learn? I discovered that Facebook and Twitter enable people to mobilise and stand together - even against big business, as well as being somewhere to post what you're eating for lunch. I found there are some truly lovely people out there, and there are also a few ratbags out there. I also learned that if you think something is wrong, stick to your guns because you never know what you might achieve.You can make a difference. It's worth saying here that getting that ad off air wasn't the be all and end all of anyone's life - it was just one aspect of a variety of measures most people on that page take to promote animal wellbeing and fight abuse or neglect. One wonderful side effect of the campaign was that the Save Lennox campaign for poor wrongly imprisoned Lennox got some extra publicity.


I've covered lots of issues to do with dogs - highlighted problems, and celebrated the enduring, fundamental and awe-inspiring bond between dogs and humans - it just happened that this Facebook page caught the public attention. Dogs don't belong in kennels - I believe they are happiest in a house with their people, because that's how we've bred them to be. I love my dogs and I want them with me not just at Christmas but every day. The campaign sprang from love - the love people have for their own dogs, and for all dogs - not from hate.


Another side effect of the campaign is that some doggy friends of mine have started to use John Lewis as a verb; "It's cold tonight so don't John Lewis your dogs!" Good advice - get them inside with you.


So will I be making any more Facebook pages? No definitely not. Never. Not for a long time. Give it at least a year. Certainly not in the next month. I'm busy over the weekend, we'll see what comes up on Monday morning....


A huge thank to Beverley, Muriel, everyone who joined the page, and who spread the word about the campaign.


Take care


Julie xx


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