We rescuers have this tendency to use certain jargon to convey how badly an animal needs adopted or rescued. I’ve fallen into the trap myself, which you can read about here. The most popular of these words is probably “URGENT” which is commonly followed by a date. That date is usually the date the dog will be put to sleep, the PTS date, the euth date, the death date, the date of destruction when the dog will be “murdered”, “killed”, “destroyed”. URGENT is normally followed by words like “beg”, “plead”, “implore”, “angel”, “share” and those catchy slogans we all love to hate, my least favorite being, “Don’t shop, adopt.” (Sorry rescue pals, I just
despise could do without that one.)
All in all, pretty depressing stuff, no doubt.
Now let me tell you why I detest seeing the word “URGENT” in a post about a dog needing help.
First of all, urgent conveys a sense of desperation. While I do believe desperation is something we in animal welfare do feel very seriously a lot of the time, I do not think it’s a good marketing strategy. Desperation to me is, quite frankly, pathetic. I was once called desperate by a boy who I loved, hopelessly (see, this story is already pathetic). He did not find it attractive in the least and years later when I found the situation reversed, I realized, who could blame him? There’s a reason all the dating gurus and self-help books tell you to act confidently even if you’re aren’t. Desperation isn’t pretty. People, as a general rule, do not want desperate. Sure, you may get some one-time bleeding hearts out there who do take the bait and go for the desperate, but as the pleas go down the Facebook sharing rabbit hole they get increasingly more tragic and pathetic and may actually do a disservice to the dog.
The other thing about desperation is that people see your desperate plea and don’t necessarily think, “Wow, the kennel has taken on a lot of strays recently, so they’re running out of space,” or, “A lot of dogs get surrendered near the holidays, so more dogs need homes.” What they may think, however is, “Gee, wonder what’s wrong with that dog that the shelter isn’t telling me?”
Another main reason I can’t stand the word urgent is because the people who the word is most likely to appeal to (the rescue/shelter community) are so desensitized by it that they can barely even see it anymore. I know, I’m one of those people. Every day I scroll down my mini feed and at least 75% of the dogs being shared and cross posted have some version of the word, “URGENT” in their bios. I literally can’t even see the word anymore. I just scroll right on by it. It’s not very effective when the targeted audience glazes over it with zombie eyes.
I had a writing professor in college once who told us that if we used more than one exclamation point in ten pages she would automatically fail us. She said the best writers hardly ever use exclamation points, because they save them for when they really, really need them and when you see them, that one little line with a dot can make your heart pound. That’s what the word, “URGENT” should be. It should be an exclamation point, saved but for the most precious and precarious of circumstances. I realize that the situation seems critical with every dog and every life, especially when we get so close to these souls and it is so truly urgent a lot of the time, but at this point, the word is dead, the emphasis utterly lost.
And last, but certainly not least, URGENT is automatically associated with “death” which is actually not always true. There are dogs who are in no-kill and low-kill shelters who are urgent. There are dogs in foster who are urgent. They’re not urgent because they’re going to get put down, they’re urgent because they’re stressed in a kennel or they’ve been there too long or their foster family is moving but slapping the word “urgent” on them may associate a no-kill shelter or rescue with killing, which comes with a whole different set of problems.
And the same thing applies to cats. So before you use the word “urgent” or one of its many melodramatic equivalents just stop and think for a second. Build the dog or cat up, convince the adopter of why he or she wants this awesome animal. Change minds through a photo or a great bio if you can, get to know more about the animal than its death date. Maybe if we all did that a little bit more, we could restore the value of the word “urgent”.
Author’s note: If you are interested in any of the totally awesome animals featured in this post, they are all currently available for adoption at the Chester County SPCA, in West Chester, PA or the Pennsylvania SPCA in Philadelphia, PA.