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Hi folks! So, some of you will have noticed that I’ve discontinued my Wednesday segment called Shelter Stories. Maybe some of you are wondering why. Well, there is a why. And here it is:

The rescue movement is growing and as with all movements, it must change. Movements that don’t change tend to fizzle out. I don’t think rescue is going anywhere, but it is certainly moving, in what is, I hope, a better direction.

Anyone who is involved in rescue will have seen the pictures as they scroll through mini feeds on Facebook. Dog after dog, scarred, malnourished, scraggly, ratty, mangy, flea bitten, with sad eyes, behind bars and chained and pushed against white walls or cheap curtains, all accompanied by messages written in bold and surrounded by asterisks “URGENT – DIES TOMORROW”; “ISN’T ANYONE GOING TO SAVE HER?” “*DEAD FEED*”; “HOW CAN PEOPLE BE SO CRUEL? *NEEDS OUT NOW*”; “HE NEEDS MORE *PLEDGES* AND *SHARES*”. Here’s one, directly copied from my feed that incorporates almost all of the above, when I logged onto Facebook to check and make sure that I wasn’t over exaggerating, this was the first thing I saw:

TURN your BACK on THIS scared to DEATH, defeated,
CRYING, little ANGEL. NO Dog should SIT like THIS

The listings, on my feed at least, go on and on and on. And more often than not, those dogs are the ones who are getting the most attention from the rescue community, at least that’s what it seems. The dog with the quoted post above had 1,597 shares and counting and over 280 comments.

But if you post a picture of a dog that looks, well, less than miserable, the feed instantly dies on social media. Why is that? For awhile, I thought it was because people figured, “Well, that shelter has the money to have a good photographer, and the dog is outside, so it can’t be that bad” or maybe that people assumed, “A foster home can be forever, right? There’s no urgency.” Maybe everyone in the rescue community has a bad case of wounded puppy syndrome. Maybe it’s because I didn’t shout out that this dog needs a home. Maybe it’s because we’re so disconnected from the public that we can only see the negative and not the positive (whereas the general public, the average pet lover who walks into a shelter, wants to see happy faces, wiggling tails and cute tricks, they want bright colors and outdoor pictures to be displayed and flicked through on Petfinder, they’re depressed by the miserable, the beaten, the abandoned, as we all should be, but so many of us are jaded and desensitized now).

So I fell into the trap, I’m not unique in that. I wrote in all caps and highlighted my posts with asterisks. I littered the entries with words like “cruel”, “unfair”, “urgent”, “dire”, “desperate”, “angel”, on and on until I felt the four years of university study of creative writing drip right out of my fingers. I went to school to learn how to bleed onto the page, to draw emotion from the tiniest and most insignificant of moments. And this was what I had come to? Melodramatic desperate pleadings on Facebook? Blogs littered with tears and scars and horrors? Is that me?

My first Shelter Story, which was entitled Bait Dog, turned out all right. The reason it turned out that way though, was because I was writing about Panzer. One of the first lessons to be learned in writing – write what you know. After that, well, my posts were simply…cheap shots.

Then I stumbled across a couple of articles which made me realize why I was feeling so forlorn about my Shelter Stories series.

In the Dog Star Daily, I read an article entitled “Who Killed These Dogs?” (which you can read in full by clicking on the title. Subsequent to reading that article, I read another wonderful blog by The Unexamined Dog entitled “Will the Jerry Maguires of Animal Welfare Please Stand Up?” These two pieces, in conjunction with one another, made me realize that the rescue movement is slowly shifting, and it’s time for me to join the progression instead of sitting on the bandwagon.

The two biggest problems I have with the rescue community as a whole are the human dramas and hyperbole. I won’t get into the drama, you need to be there to understand it, but hyperbole abounds. I hate hyperbole. As a writer, I feel it’s a shotty way to conduct business. As a dog handler who fancies herself a pretty decent trainer, I feel it’s dangerous. I can’t stand it when I hear of dogs being labeled as “needing socialization” when in all actuality, they’re aggressive. As a dog owner who lives with, loves and trains a genuinely aggressive dog, I feel guilty that Panzer is the way he is, but it shouldn’t be my guilt to bear. I didn’t make him that way. He just is, and he’s learning to make better choices, slowly, with guidance and patience. His training is my burden, not his behavior. I can only imagine what it would be like to be told by a shelter or rescue that your newly adopted dog “Needs to socialize” and then taking that advice, running off the nearest dog park and ending up with a one way trip to the vet because your dog has mauled another dog. I’m fortunate in that ASR was very up front with me, and Panzer’s foster family told us absolutely everything we needed to know. We knew what we were getting into, and it’s still difficult. What about the people who don’t? We need the public to trust us, and any good relationship has its foundation on honesty, even when the truth is sometimes ugly.

My stories were making the hyperbole problem worse, not better. We, in the rescue community, should not be using guilt as a weapon against the unsuspecting public. It does a disservice to dogs who deserve (and need) more than someone to feel badly for them. 

Instead of using guilt, it’s time for us to start using the dogs themselves. We know how much they have to offer, we know that better than anyone, and we should all be proud that we are able to see past scars, and behavioral quirks (which sometimes amount to more than just quirks) and attention seeking behaviors and medical issues and old age and into the heart of the dog. It’s time we start focusing on bringing what is sleeping in these dogs to the forefront. It’s time to show the public what we see. As this blog by the Animal Farm Foundation says about the “Pitbull Problem” it’s time to start valuing the dogs.

The first place to start is here, with me, changing my ways. Will I still post dogs in urgent need on Facebook? Yes, and I will use whatever picture is sent my way. But I will go out of my way to make the shelter dogs photograph look like the superstars that they are, and if I’m offered a choice between posting pictures of a dog before it was pulled from a shelter or after, I’ll choose after, even if before weighs on my heart. And when their threads go dead because they don’t look worthy of rescue by the rescue community’s standards, I will post them again and again, until the message gets across.

So, in honor of my new found perspective, I bring you Wendy, available through All Shepherd Rescue and looking for forever!

Wendy montage