DENVER, CO – Shelsea Ochoa and Brice Maiurro had an idea to connect with friends, neighbors and the human community while locked-in under the threat of coronavirus. In less than three weeks their vision had become a Facebook page and a movement with more than a half million followers in 99 countries around the world according to Maiurro.
When the couple launched the “Go Outside and Howl at 8 pm” page on Facebook on March 27, it was a vision and a summoning wrapped up in the group’s name. It is, after all that simple.
Ochoa and Maiurro were encouraging people to go outside at 8:00 p.m. and howl. No matter what time zone, no matter where in the world, go outside and howl. Howl for support, love, loss, loneliness, fear, sadness, joy, for whatever personal reason, just howl.
“I’m an extrovert,” said Ochoa. “I get energy from people and not being able to work and be around people, I was feeling isolated and wanted to connect with other people. I thought, how cool would it be if one person responded?”
She said her next-door neighbor came out the first night and wanted to join her and Maiurro. Then Ochoa got a response from the distance within a day of her first howl. She revealed that not all their Congress Park neighbors were keen on the idea in the beginning. Ochoa said, one nearby neighbor asked, ‘if they were done yet,’ the first few nights. Apparently converted, even he recently joined the nightly ritual.
The howling in the Denver area has become a nightly routine like tucking in babies and brushing teeth. “There’s lots of emotion in it, it’s joy, it’s catharsis for people cooped up, it’s a way to be able to connect with each other.” said Ochoa.
“I think we hope it (the howl), is whatever it needs to be for the person howling,” said Maiurro. He said he hears from group members that they howl for lots of reasons. Recognition of people on the front lines, job loss, stress relief, grief, seclusion, connection and more. It appears the reasons for howling are as different as the individuals doing it. Maiurro said feeling lonely and having the howl returned is just beautiful.
The howling has reached far beyond Denver these days. Spend a few minutes scrolling through the posts on the page and it becomes quickly apparent that folks are howling all around the country and the world, and openly sharing why they do.
Numerous members of the group identify as being from New Jersey. They posted from Gloucester, Hillside, Rockaway, Rumson, Sussex and more. Graham Davies of Barnegat, said he howls to help him, “release energy and forget about all the bad stuff going on.”
Davies said a cousin of his in another part of the state turned him on to the movement. Now he goes out at night with his dogs and sometimes his girlfriend, down by the lagoon and howls. “No one near me howls, it’s pretty quiet down here this time of year, but I do it anyway,” he said. “My dogs haven’t joined in yet.”
He had some advice for those Jerseyans reluctant to give it a go. “Enjoy it, it is such a great release from depression, anxiety or whatever,” Davies said. “So go outside and just let it rip.”
The Howling Community
Ochoa and Maiurro expected they could draw a decent crowd to the Facebook group because they each have a large network of connections through their work and community volunteerism and activism. They admit they were surprised by the amount of reach they got and how quickly they got it.
Maiurro added that when folks hear the howling around the city at night and inquire, they soon learn about the nightly ritual. “People are asking what the howling is about, it is the ultimate word-of-mouth,” he said.
Even though the explosive growth of their Facebook group would be the envy of social-networking marketing mavens, they don’t take personal credit for size of the group. “This was done by the community and the credit should go to everyone participating,” said Ochoa.
The couple said howling seems to be bringing people together that might not traditionally be together by views, geography or circumstance. “This movement is very inclusive, so many different types of people, ages, cultures, interests, politics, at least people can howl together,” said Maiurro.
To those who think howling at the moon might be something to try but find themselves restricted by inhibition, fear or threat of their housemates, Ochoa offered some words of encouragement. “Some people are excited, some people are timid, people are overcoming their fears and I think it’s good for you, taking a bit of a risk,” she said. “It’s a new context we are living in, give yourself a chance to try something new.”
Whether howling continues after the restrictions under which people are living are lifted is unknown. Maiurro was contemplative. “I imagine it (the nightly howl) will take its natural course,” he said. “It will be a celebration when it can end. People will be able to be with each other again. We see it as a way to help people through a hard time, not a philosophy.”
Reflecting on the memories people will have of this time in their life’s history, Maiurro said he hopes when people remember this hard time, that they will remember howling bringing hope and light.