This past week I read a really great piece that was posted on Facebook by 4Paws University. It was a powerful message and one that seemed to resonate with people (it had over 900 shares, 930+ “Likes,” and so many comments I had to quit counting. You can read the actual posting here: BONE TO PICK: THE RUSH TO ADOPT THE SAD STORY DOG.)
The post has to do with America’s penchant for the “sad story dog.” You know the dogs I am talking about, the ones that come from a sad situation, get shared in the media, and generate a mass swelling of people who want to adopt the dog and “save” them. It happens time and time again.
You and I have both seen those individual stories of that one dog who was abused and saved, or the dog who ended up in a serious, life-threatening situation and suddenly needed a home. But the most common situation you and I see is the one where there is a mass rush to adopt a dog after it has been rescued during a puppy mill raid. Stories like these make the local (and sometimes national) news. The pictures and video are usually heart-rending. People follow the story closely. When the dogs are ready to be adopted, there is usually a big media campaign to let people know about them and to encourage them to adopt.
None of this by itself is bad, but what gets missed is that some of the people wanting to “save” the dogs involved in the sad dog story are not always the “right person” for the dog and his/her needs. People who are drawn to a hard-luck story may be motivated by different reasons, and not all of them are motivated by the right reasons.
When foster Maggie and her fellow puppy mill friends were rescued, there was a lot of media attention around the raid and the care of the dogs. The facility that cared for them was flooded with adoption requests. I could not help but wonder the motivations of those who wanted to adopt a puppy mill dog. It wasn’t like this facility didn’t have dogs available for adoption before the raid, or that they ran out of dogs after the raid. So what motivated the people to adopt when they had not done so before? Was it the hard luck story? Did they see themselves as the hero in that story (rushing in to “save” the dog)? Or, did they want a certain breed that was rescued in the raid? Were they already looking for a dog and this just happened to be the right moment? Or, did they just act on impulse and get a dog with a story?
All too often we are motivated by the sad story dog without knowing a lot about what a commitment it is or whether the dog is a good fit for our family or lifestyle. Too many of these dogs are getting swooped up by emotion and being left behind by reality. Some of Maggie’s fellow puppy mill survivors have been re-homed, lost or discarded because the people adopting them did not know what they were getting into. They did not understand that the sad story dog they were getting was one that required work, time, patience and in many cases, another dog, to help them to start to live a normal life.
As adopters, we need to take more time to do our research. It’s great that people are excited and want to help by adopting a sad story dog, but we need to understand our motivations for adopting and recognize if it is a good fit. As rescuers, we need to be more diligent about who adopts a sad story dog. Rescuing a dog from a sad situation is not enough. We need to make sure that where they land is the safe landing we want for them too.
Sad story dogs will continue to come along. We just need to be prepared to ask the questions that will ensure it lands in the right home.
Millennials, the group that is expected to surpass Baby Boomers as the largest generation this year.
And it’s not just the pet industry that is taking notice. Almost every major company inside and outside of the United States is doing the same thing. Why? Because unlike generations past, millennials have influence. It’s not just their sheer size (in numbers) that is powerful, but also their reach. Millennials are more socially connected and more socially influential than any other generation. They are also ethnically and racially diverse, well-connected, technically proficient, and early adopters. They are unlike any other generation that has preceded it. They are the movers and shakers who will be impacting our world for many years to come, much like the Baby Boomers did in previous years.
With a generation this large and influential, it only makes sense that they would impact the pet world as well.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recently published a report on how millennials will change the way veterinarians do business. In “The Generation Factor: How the rise of the millennial generation could mean changes in the way veterinarians do business”, they laid out the differences between Baby Boomers, Gen Xer’s and Millenials, not only as clients but also as employees. The differences are quite distinct. For instance, the work ethic for Baby Boomers has to do with how many hours worked, while Gen Xer’s are about working smarter (not harder), and millennials are all about tasks completed and getting feedback and gaining consensus.
I am sure many animal welfare groups are taking notice, but I wonder if smaller, local shelters and rescues are as well? I hope they are because there is another reason that the pet industry is taking notice of the millennial generation – they think pet ownership is going to decline with them.
This means more competition between those who are selling pets and those who are adopting them out, and the adoption side may be facing an uphill battle.
Why? Because millennials are more likely to:
- Rent than to buy a home – This means more apartment and condo dwellers, the residences least likely to allow a pet.
- Move frequently – More than any other generation, which makes it harder to care for a pet long-term.
- Stay in college longer – Millennials have had a tough time in the job market due to the poor economy, so more are choosing to stay in college longer and get their masters degree or a doctorate. Owning a pet and going to college is also a possible deterrent.
- Be impulse buyers – They are less likely to wait and go through an extensive adoption process to get a pet.
- Purchase a pet from a pet store or breeder (including online) rather than adopt a pet from a rescue or a shelter – According to a recent survey by Best Friends Animal Society, by almost 50%.
- Believe that animals can safely stay in shelters until they are adopted – 38% of millennials vs. 28% of the total population.
No wonder the pet industry is worried.
All hope is not lost however, millennials are also more likely to get a pet earlier in their lives compared to boomers (21 years old vs. 29 years old), be single longer (and thus, may seek a pet for companionship), and are more civic-minded and more likely to get involved tomato a difference..
Rescue groups have an opportunity to make a difference now. If they are not doing so, they should start working to build a relationship with millennials in their community. Organizations need to be inclusionary and seek their input. They should also be open to new and innovative ideas on how to improve the organization, increase adoptions and connect with other millennials.
Other ways rescue groups and shelters can connect with millennials:
- Have a strong social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, etc.) and be actively engaged with followers.
- Make your website and social media platforms a place where millennials can get information and learn something new that can help both them and their pet. You need to be the online expert they go to when they want advice and support.
- Connect on a person-to-person basis. Two-way communication is important to them.
- Be open to texting and responding via social media platforms. Millennials are less likely to use email.
- Make what you provide, and what they are getting from you, is distinct and different. You want it to be share-worthy.
- Be more customer-service oriented. Millennials are individual social media companies of their own, so what they experience with you will be shared with their network of friends and family.
- Recognize their efforts frequently. Acknowledge the work done and the benefits experienced by the organization.
- Appeal to their desire to make a difference. Adopting a pet needs to be less a sob story and more of a motivator to do good.
Despite some of the concerns about pet adoption declining, rescue groups and shelters should be very excited about the impacts millennials can bring to the rescue community. Their innovative and creative ideas, combined with a dedication and desire to help, has the potential to make a real difference in animal rescue.
I know one millennial animal rescuer who is making a difference on a daily basis here in Minnesota. I am often in awe of her ability to motivate people and get them involved in rescue. She is well-connected, uses social media extensively and has saved more dogs and cats than anyone I know. She is a force to be reckoned with. Just imagine what could happen if we had 100 more people like her.
- Ad Campaigns Depicting Shelter Pets as “Damaged Goods” Are Misleading, healthypets.ricola.com, January 15, 2015.
- Best Friends Inaugural Pet Adoption Survey, Best Friends Animal Society, Nov 2012.
- Getting Some ‘Me’ Time: Why Millennials Are So Individualistic, npr.org, October 14, 2014.
- Half (47%) of US pet owners believe owning a pet is better for your social life than social networking sites, reports Mintel, PR Newswire, June 17, 2013.
- Many life milestones are out of millennials’ reach by Catherine Rampell, The Washington Post, Sept. 15, 2014.
- Millennials and Holiday Shopping, qSample Blog, Nov. 25, 2014.
- Most in U.S. Want Marriage, but Its Importance Has Dropped, Gallup.com, June 2013.
- Nearly Half Of Young Adults Prefer To Buy Pet Rather Than Adopt, Veterinary Practice News, April 26, 2013.
- Please Do Not Leave A Message: Why Millennials Hate Voice Mail, npr.org, Nov. 2014.
- The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2015, Deloitte.com, 2015.
- The Generation Factor: How the rise of the millennial generation could mean changes in the way veterinarians do business, AVMA, Nov. 1, 2014.
- The Millennial Pet Owner, PIJAC, by Nathan Richter, Wakefield Research.
- US Attitudes Toward Animals: HRC’s Animal Tracker- Year 7, Rump Dog Blog, August 4, 2014.
- Young Adults After the Recession: Fewer Homes, Fewer Cars, Less Debt, Pew Research Center, February 21, 2013.
Over the past couple of months, I have had several friends adopt a new dog into their household. Given the fact that each already had a resident dog in their home, it is understandable that each one of them worried about how to introduce the new dog into their home. They also worried about how the new dog would make their current dog feel and whether they would get along.
I remember how nervous I was in bringing each one of my dogs into my home. (I think you would have to be a fool not to be a little nervous and anxious!) Every dog is different and every situation must be managed to ensure success.
When Cupcake first came into my home as a foster, it was a tough go. Not because she wasn’t an awesome and very sweet dog, but because she felt like she had to establish her place as top dog right away. She claimed the couch and snarked at Daisy and Jasper whenever they came close to her. Jasper and Daisy were intimidated by her behavior. Daisy started staying in her kennel to avoid her.I think it was at this point I seriously considered giving her back to the rescue.
But then, I remembered to use the skills and knowledge I had gained from so many other trainers. I took away Cupcake’s couch privileges to eliminate any snarking. Then, I started enticing Daisy back to the couch with treats and rewarding Cupcake with treats as well to show her that staying on the floor was a beneficial spot to be. Soon, the snarking had stopped and Daisy was feeling less stressed. We worked on other things too: waiting for dinner, not stealing other dogs’ food, sharing toys, etc.
Introducing a new dog into your home when you have another dog can be difficult. I’ve been offering my own advice and suggestions when asked (think baby gates, crates and slow introductions), but then I remembered that I had attended a webinar earlier this year put on by the ASPCA. The guest speaker was well-known author and animal behaviorist, Patricia McConnell (PhD, CAAB, Author). The topic? Multi-Dog Households: From First Date to After the Honeymoon (You can find more materials and information here as well).
It was a great seminar and discussion and one that I suspect would be beneficial to many an adoptive parent and/or rescue or shelter. I’ll definitely be sharing it with my friends. You can check out her presentation deck here.
So how have you handled introducing a new dog into your home? What worked? What didn’t work?
Reading the latest news on Steve Marwell, owner of the Olympic Animal Sanctuary (OAS), made me realize once again how few of us have actually spent time asking how this all came to be in the first place.
How did a man who had never registered his charity with his state, and who collected donations but never made any of the required disclosures needed to maintain his good standing as a rescue or sanctuary, able to fool so many rescues and animal shelters into sending their unadoptable dogs to him?
How did no one know about all the dogs living in crates and kennels and in extreme conditions, with little to no food? How did this place pass as a sanctuary and continue to receive dogs for years?
The whole awful and disturbing story brought to mind a blog post I had read back in 2012. Written by Jessica Dolce, “How I Failed as a Rescuer: Lessons from a Sanctuary“, was a sad, but very insightful look into something that happens so often in rescue – we push it on down the line.
As Jessica wrote:
We all keep pushing down the chain. Individuals reach out to shelters, shelters plead with rescues to pull dogs, rescues can’t place all the dogs, so they board hard-to-place dogs in sanctuaries.
We’re all begging for someone else to give us the happy ending we so desperately want for the animals we love. If people deny us, we lash out that no one will help. If a shelter isn’t no-kill, we refuse to donate to them. We keep pushing and pushing until someone will take this painful, difficult situation off of our doorstep.
We all push until we find sanctuaries who say yes. (How I Failed as a Rescuer: Lessons from a Sanctuary by Jessica Dolce, Notes from a Dog Walker, July 21, 2012)
But the responsibility isn’t the person on down the line is it? No. The responsibility is ours, the rescuer’s, and we should be taking it more seriously.
I wonder… Are we asking the right questions when we decide to pass a dog off to someone else? When we choose to ship a dog off to a sanctuary to live out their lives, do we do our due diligence? Do we ask around for references? Do we go visit the facility ourselves? When we choose to save a dog that cannot be placed, are we really “saving” the dog? Or, are we just making ourselves feel better?
Recently, I said NO to someone who wanted help in finding a home for an unwanted dog. The dog had an extensive bite history (with several owners) and was scheduled to be euthanized in three days. The person wanting to “save” the dog could not take the dog herself, but wanted desperately to find someone else who would. I could not help but be angry. She wasn’t willing to take in the dog in herself, but she wanted someone else to take on that risk? Really? It very much felt like she was passing it on down the line, leaving the dog for someone else to deal with it, all the while patting herself on the back for saving a poor dog.
I won’t lie. I recommended the dog be euthanized. With so many dogs out there in need, and so many of them without a bite history, why would we save this one dog? Why save this dog who has bitten several former owners in the past?
Desperate to save the dog, the woman ended up taking the dog where? A sanctuary for difficult dogs. God only knows if it is a “good one” or it it willbe one that we will one day see in the news, like OAS. I can only hope it is a good one and the dog is receiving great care, and hopefully, some retraining. I can’t help but wonder if the “rescuers” have bothered to check in to see how the dog is doing since they “saved” her? I would bet the answer is no, which is precisely the problem. Out of sight, out of mind.
What happened at OAS should never be allowed to happen again. And yet, I know it will.
As rescuers, we need to get better at doing our due diligence. We need to visit the places we send our unadoptable dogs. We need to inspect, ask for references, ask questions (lots of them) and follow-up regularly. But most importantly, we need to stop passing dogs (who cannot be re-homed or who are unsafe in a normal home) down the line.
We need to be honest and ask ourselves if euthanization wouldn’t be a better solution in these types of situations rather than passing the dog off to a sanctuary where they could suffer unimaginable cruelties for years on end.
Because the truth is, that kind of solution is not rescuing, it’s passing the buck. It’s contributing to animal suffering, not saving them from it.
I’ve been a bit sporadic in my posts lately, but I wanted to at least give an update on little Miss Maggie.
Do you know that it has already been a year since Maggie was rescued? On July 16, 2013, she and her babies were rescued and taken to the Animal Humane Society (AHS), where she received medical care, food, water and kindness. In the days that followed, she learned that people could be kind and gentle. She learned it from her first foster mom, Sabrina, who taught her about leashed walks, living in a real home and that steak tastes quite good (the steak was in celebration of a judge awarding her custody to AHS).
With this new freedom came opportunities. A new place to live, time to heal and a chance to learn how to be a real dog. She came into Minnesota Sheltie Rescue and soon after that into my home. I have given her time and space. I let her learn from my dogs what a dog’s life can be like. So far, she has learned bones and ice cream are delicious, and everyone goes outside in the morning and again at night. She has also learned that cheese is good, but it is even more interesting and fun when it is hidden in dog puzzles or comes after touching my hand. She has learned how fun it is to roll in the freshly cut grass and that one must be quick if they want to get a treat before one of the other dogs. She is learning new things every day and in the process becoming more of the dog she was meant to be.
Here are just a few highlights of Maggie’s progress. Don’t miss Maggie’s two videos at the end of this post!
Maggie learns Watch me
Hand targeting with Maggie (She has only done this once outside. Too many noises outside.)
Let’s face it. Rescues often get a bad rap from people looking to adopt. People find their restrictions limiting, their paperwork daunting and their process somewhat convoluted and exhausting. I get it. Everyone wants to meet a dog and be able to adopt it right away. Waiting is hard.
I also get the frustration people often have with some rescues, who are so rigid in their adoption qualifications that nobody could possibly live up to their standards. In some cases, I believe this to be valid, but not in all. There are good reasons for some of the strict adoption qualifications rescues have in place. For instance, Shelties tend to be a much higher flight risk than many other breeds, so in most cases (not all) a fenced yard is a must for our rescue.
I recently participated in a discussion where people shared the restrictions some rescues had for qualifying adopters. As people shared their experiences, it suddenly occurred to me that almost everyone in the group was looking from the outside in. They had never had to make the difficult decision to place a dog with someone. It set my mind to thinking. Was there a way to let people play at being a rescue and share their own insight into how they would run things if they were adopting the dog out to someone? Hmmmm…. Maybe.
This is my attempt to let you, the adopter/potential, play at being the rescue. What follows is a description of the dog, it’s known history, and a series of choices you get to make as head of the rescue in selecting the dog’s new owner. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
Jenny is a stray that was rescued from a kill shelter. She is shy, nervous, and frightened of men. When she came into your rescue, she had mange and had to be treated before she could be adopted out. She also had to be spayed and vaccinated to ensure she would not get sick or get other dogs sick. She has been living in a foster home for the past two months and is now ready to find her forever home.
Keep Jenny in mind as you think about what you would do if you were a rescue.
As head of the rescue, you have a specific process that you like to follow when matching a dog with a potential adopter. These process includes the following (pick all that you would include in your process):
As the head of the rescue, you also have a certain set of criteria you use to weed out potential adopters who are not a good match for a dog in your rescue group. People you would automatically weed out of the adoption process include those who…
Three potential adopters have made it through your process and all three are interested in Jenny. Which one would you choose for her?
So what did you think? Was the process easy? Difficult? I’d love to hear your thoughts.