It's love at first byte as dog owners log on to pet networking site

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The Independent US

Online social networking is no longer just for singles and students, now even dogs and cats can get online, after a fashion.

Dogster.com has eme-rged as the Facebook/MySpace for our four-legged friends, where the animals have their own profile pages likes, dislikes, best friends and tricks. It has become a runaway success.

This is no amateur operation being run out of a dog lover's bedroom. There are also podcasts, or rather wagcasts, and a Catster FM radio show which feature breaking news. And the site is also attracting some serious money.

Ted Rheingold, the founder of Dogster has watched his photo-sharing site grow into a meeting place of tangled online leashes where pet owners chat online and even arrange to meet The New York Times reports that one group of 100 West Highland terrier owners convened at a dog friendly motel on the Carolina coast.

Dogster recently received an "angel" investment of $1m from Wall Street high flyers with track records in spotting hot new internet trends. Michael Parekh, the founder of the internet research group at Goldman Sachs is on the company's board. Another investor is creator of the social bookmarking website del.icio.us that was recently snapped up by Yahoo.

Dogster already has some 250,000 dogs online. The poochs' owners can register for free, post photos, write in online diaries or use the forums to discuss issues from health and obedience to fashion and movies. They can (at $20 a year) post extra photos.

After Dogster came Catster, with 145,551 members, soon to be followed Mr Rheingold says by websites for horses, birds and fish.

"All these people come for the same reason everyone else is on the internet: they found people who are like-minded," he said. "They were missing what I call a certain kind of social-ality in their lives. What we feel that we've learnt how to do is connect people, mostly adults, about something they're passionate about."

The New York Times writer Michelle Slatalla, who signed up her Labrador retriever Otto, agrees.

"That was my initial reaction, too," she said. "Even after I realised Dogster was urging me to relate to my dogs in new and unusual ways. Like reading their daily horoscopes on their profile pages."

Soon her pet was receiving email messages from other dogs. One read, "Yippee! Kansas has invited Otto to join the Dogster group called All Fur Fun! ... Where Every Critter is a Winner." He was also being bombarded with spam the online kind that is.

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