- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 24, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO — eenagers have online cliques at MySpace; students star in Facebook; LinkedIn is an Internet networking stage for professionals; and dogs and their human counterparts run with the pack at Dogster.

San Francisco-based Dogster is a flourishing social-networking Web site for canines, referred to as “animal companions” instead of “pets” in the politically correct City by the Bay.

Among the furry friends featured on the Web site is Annie, an 11-month-old female beagle from Tennessee.

Annie loves carrots, belongs to a group called Beagles R Us and is humbly described as “nice with large ears.”

Her roster of friends includes Tank, a Shar-Pei in South Africa; a New York City golden retriever named Copper; and Beanie, a poodle living in Malaysia.

Annie has a blog, an online journal, to share her thoughts and adventures with friends.

She is among more than 290,000 dogs worldwide with Internet personas portrayed in profile pages on Dogster.

Felines have a kindred Web site, Catster, which is purring along with more than 121,000 members.

Dogster founder Ted Rheingold credits the birth of the pooch-oriented Web site in January 2004 to a simple observation.

“I realized there was nowhere to make a Web page for your dog, or more importantly, there was nowhere to share photos and stories about your dog,” Mr. Rheingold says.

“You could see photos online, but you couldn’t see their names — who’s this dog, what’s this dog’s favorite treat, or what’s this dog’s character.”

Dogster and Catster communities have grown to more than 500,000 members and quickly extended beyond Ameri-can borders. Countries with the most active members are Australia, Britain, Canada, the Philippines, Singapore and the U.S.

A few other facts provide a picture of the sites’ success.

In May, the company made more than $250,000 and had a healthy 22 million page views for both sites. It has 15 full-time and three part-time employees, according to a Dogster spokesman John Vars.

Labradors, Chihuahuas, golden retrievers and German shepherds are top dogs in Dogster demographics.

Along with sharing a beloved creature with the world via the Internet, Dogster and Catster members share tips about pet care or animal behavior.

“If you have any questions about your dog changing with age, or getting another dog or cat, all these people are online at the same time so can give you advice,” Mr. Rheingold says.

The Web sites grew from places for exchanging pictures and anecdotes to including features such as private message boards and lists of pets seeking homes in places around the world.

Catster and Dogster members also use the Web sites to form breed-specific clubs in cities.

A recently added feature lets people find local pet services such as veterinarians, groomers, trainers or dog walkers and learn how they are rated by peers.

“If you do a search right now for a veterinarian, you’ll find names, addresses, how far they are from you, and read reviews of what other dogs’ owners think of this vet or groomer,” Mr. Rheingold says.

While thriving on user-generated content in a way similar to other Web 2.0 social-networking Web sites, Dogster and Catster are being built to outlast trends, according to their founder.

“We want to be here for a long time,” Mr. Rheingold says.

Dogster is not just a business, and we don’t want just to sell it or make a lot of money. We pick what’s best for our users, what they want us to do, no matter if it’s the latest sexy technology or not.”

He also has resisted entreaties from animal lovers to become an online version of a biblical Noah, setting up Web sites for species galore.

“Every day, we get requests for horses, birds, fish, farm animals, lizards, or, ‘Please, make this, because I want to show off my spider,’ ” Mr. Rheingold says.

“We don’t have immediate plans to launch other pet sites, but we’d like to. We really want to make sure we get Dogster and Catster right. It may not take long, but we’ll probably stick to mainstream animals.”

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