Generally for something on the internet to go “viral”, it has to make people feel something. Joy, inspiration, amusement, hope, positive feelings are often most powerful drivers of clicks. But sadness can spread a story along social media just as wild fire fast as happiness, such was the case with Pete, a good dog who died on June 8th.

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It was a sad Wednesday when J. F. Riordan, @AudacityofGoats, posted the passing of his beloved dog for over ten years, Pete, with a simple paragraph of remembrance paired with a sweet photo.

I think the best tribute is just one word:

PETE!”

By afternoon the post was viral with over 97,000 likes and 4000 retweets and counting. And all for Pete, a dog probably none of these online well-wishers had ever met. So, regardless of how deeply adorable Pete was, … why did it go viral? 

The practice of saying goodbye to dogs has expanded in recent times, from the pet cemeteries of the past (do those still exist?) to acknowledging a pet is truly a family member. It’s become common, since the general public grew more familiar with the internet, to announce online the death of a pet as one would post an obituary in the newspaper for a loved one. It’s a universal experience saying goodbye, and so, people are very likely to empathize immediately with an online post focused on the last day of a pup despite the sad content.

Entire websites, subreddits, and social pages are devoted to the discussion and sharing the loss of furry family members. An important tool in processing loss is relating that experience to someone who understands, a role social media has been filling. Indeed, since J. F. Riordan first announced the death of Pete, they’ve been resharing older photos of Pete with more recent pics of his two German Shepard companions, Auggie and Eli, as they work through their own doggy sense of loss. The response, though reduced from the first viral burst, from an otherwise public of strangers has continued to be supportive.

It’s a beautiful thing that a positive gain in the advent of social media has been an avenue for pet owners to mourn their losses, as real as any loss, together.

As to why Pete in particular went viral? Well… social media is still fickle. Pete stayed viral for the content… but the pup having a common name in media (actor name, character name, and politics) definitely helped spread the word.

What’s important is… he was a good dog.

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