This post is going to be even less Wordless than usual, but it speaks to the power of a single photo.
Since I started volunteering at an animal shelter, I’ve deliberately not plastered “sad dog” photos all over Facebook. I take dogs on walks and try to get photos of them with my phone that show how fun it would be to bring them home. I don’t like to see sad pictures in my feed and didn’t think anyone else would either. I also felt like people would get tired of seeing these pictures and either tune them out, unfriend or block me.
Last week, I walked two dogs who had been returned to the shelter after living in homes for months. I passed Linda, the German shepherd above, looking so lonesome. Partial as I am to shepherds, I went into her kennel to say hello. She wouldn’t even let me pet her. I sat in the corner hoping she would come over to me. She didn’t, but I snapped a few pictures with my phone.
Later, I posted the picture of one of the returned dogs and almost didn’t post the one of Linda, because it violates my self-imposed rule: Happy dogs only!
But she just broke my heart. She had been surrendered by her owner, who got her as a puppy from a friend, because he was moving and couldn’t take her. She’s only 10 months old.
Of course I don’t know the whole story, and life is unpredictable … but people should not get dogs when they don’t know where they’re going to be in 10 months. The explanation sounds so casual, too. “Got her from a friend.” Who knows? Maybe his friend is the world’s most reputable breeder, but it’s unconscionable for a purebred German shepherd puppy to wind up in a shelter. Any purebred puppy really. If we’re making these dogs on purpose, let’s ensure they have homes to live in.
Plus, she’d already had at least one bad experience, so she is afraid of other dogs, the surrendering party reported. Poorly socialized and now isolated in a kennel.
I posted the picture because I knew someone would want a young shepherd like her.
I was right. The photo came as close as anything I’ve ever posted to “going viral.” I shared with a local German shepherd rescue, the Humane Society reposted it, and a writer for Examiner.com wrote about it. Hundreds of people shared and commented and wanted to adopt Linda. People in Montana and New York asked if she could be transported. (No, but did it occur to you to contact your local animal shelter? They have dogs.)
The shelter got so much interest they had to stop taking applications. They selected a wonderful home for Linda.
What’s the message here? I’ve been posting pictures for a year and this is the first time this has happened. Do people just like German shepherds better than other breeds? Is it because she’s young? Or because the photo tugged on people’s heartstrings?
I think it’s a combination. Being a purebred puppy helped Linda’s case, and the sadness of the photo spoke to people. I was reminded of hearing Joanne McGonagle of The Tiniest Tiger speak at last year’s BarkWorld:
Putting a Face on Your Message: This session discusses the power of one face and how a single image will make your message stick with your readers. You will gain an understanding of psychic numbing and how to avoid turning off your readers when discussing everything from animal adoption to pressing animal welfare issues. You will learn why focusing on positive results and giving a message of hope is important if you want to touch the heart of your reader and motivate them to take action.
I got that: Psychic Numbing. If I’d posted sad photos of every dog at the shelter, you might have missed Linda. If I’d posted links to every German shepherd rescue in the country, people would think, Oh, there’s too many. We can’t save them all.
The last part of the blurb is what had me confused. I held back from posting sad pictures because I didn’t want to turn off my audience. But maybe when there’s just one sad dog, people can hold onto hope. If we can find a home for that one sad dog, the problem is not insurmountable.
The next day, Linda had a flood of visitors, and although I wasn’t there, here she is after being plied with hot dogs.
And here’s Abby, a small chocolate lab mix who was brought back to the shelter after several months. Through no fault of her own, she was placed in the wrong home for her. She’s a little reactive to other dogs on leash, but absolutely wonderful to walk, knows what to do with a tennis ball, gives nice kisses, and has a behaviorist’s seal of approval. She deserves another chance.
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