Facebook film crew visits Muncie Animal Shelter after Pokémon Go ad goes viral

<p>A Facebook film crew visited The Muncie Animal Shelter on July 18 to talk with volunteers as they walked dogs and played the mobile game Pokémon Go. <i style="background-color: initial;">DN PHOTO REBECCA KIZER</i></p>

A Facebook film crew visited The Muncie Animal Shelter on July 18 to talk with volunteers as they walked dogs and played the mobile game Pokémon Go. DN PHOTO REBECCA KIZER

After a Muncie Animal Shelter Facebook post about the mobile game Pokémon Go went viral, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post and USA Today readers across the nation have now heard all about the small college town.

The post was simply an advertisement asking local residents to come volunteer to walk dogs as they catch Pokémon. But it caught the world's attention. Currently at nearly 10,000 "likes" and more than 28,000 shares, Facebook itself has even noticed.

On Monday, a small crew from Only Today, a production company out of Portland, Oregon, traveled to Muncie to create a video about the shelter's Pokémon program. Their finished product should publish on Friday on Facebookstories.com.

Kyle Fisher, one of the cameramen with the crew, said he thinks this will be a great story to tell. He spends his days traveling nationally and internationally just to tell stories for Facebook.

"This is awesome," Fisher said. "From what I hear, [the shelter] was pretty deserted before, there wasn't too many people here. They said they've been getting at least 80 people a day now, and that's pretty impressive — and it's all because of Pokémon.

Eighty people a day is just enough to walk every dog currently in the shelter, and Director Phil Peckinpaugh said the number of volunteers is increasing, and their number of dogs is going down.

More than 200 people came in to volunteer just on Monday. And the shelter credits six dogs' adoptions to Pokémon Go.

Fisher's Facebook story, centered around the shelter and its unique idea, will also partially focus on one Muncie volunteer who came to the shelter to play the viral mobile game and walk a dog, but actually ended up falling in love with the dog and adopting it.

Due to the amount of volunteers, the shelter actually had to start turning people away around 3 p.m., an hour and a half earlier than they planned. Each dog had been walked at least two to three times.

But that didn't stop people from enjoying the pets. People still went into kennels to play with the dogs, and some even went to play with the cats.

Realizing the hype from the game might eventually go down, Peckinpaugh said he only hopes the shelter can keep some of the volunteers as regulars.

"If we can retain even a small percentage of these people, it would be just fantastic and ideal," he said. "I hope we can carry some over to our shelter opening soon on Riggin Road."

The shelter's director even plays the game himself and said he's a level 6 trainer. He originally got the idea for the Pokémon dog walks after playing the game with his own daughter and dog. 

He said he never expected this to blow up, and for Muncie to get "Facebook famous."

"We just kept watching how many people the post reached. It started out at 10,000, then 50,000. … We thought, 'Oh my gosh, this is going to reach 100,000.' Today we've reached 2 million people," Peckinpaugh said. "We have a film crew here. We've been on international news. I've conducted interviews from Germany, France, the UK, Canada … it's just a mind-boggling, fantastic experience, all thanks to Facebook and Pokémon Go."

Ultimately, Peckinpaugh said he thinks the game isn't just a positive thing for the shelter's dogs, but for everyone. He even said, "don't knock it 'til you try it," to those who haven't given the game a chance.

"While I could see how someone could get an unhealthy attachment to it, I think the naysayers about the game just don't understand," he said. "Even if you take away what we're doing here, ... I have never, ever seen so many young people in particular out exploring our community."

Beyond getting people outside and being active, he thinks the game can help the local economy.

"There's people on foot walking around Minnetrista, downtown … the River Walk," Peckinpaugh said. "If it takes a video game to do that, that's great. That's what our community needs. They're going to stop, go into a store, and that's great for our community."

Even with recent counts of accidents due to Pokémon Go, the director said he's not worried about the safety of volunteers or the dogs while they're walking.

"I think that the reward here is much greater than the risk," he said. "A lot of people that come, they start out playing the game, but they end up putting the phone away because they're having so much fun with the dog."

Zach Trimble, a Delta High School student, came twice in one day with hopes to walk some dogs and play the game.

He said he didn't find any rare Pokémon, but he didn't really care and was happy to be with the dogs. He also thinks the game has been a positive thing for small communities since its release.

"It's brought together people," Trimble said. "Yeah to walk the dogs, but also it's created these small communities, around Minnetrista and campus. I'm actually meeting cool people just by playing. And I'm getting outside even more than I did."


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