The power of being positive

There have been many discussions via different social media platforms recently about how to look at and describe the background of a rescue dog.  People get defensive about what they think did or did not happen to their beloved pooches before the dogs became part of their family. But ultimately, why does it matter?

As a generally compassionate race, humans feel the need to linger on past experiences, whether it is with people or with animals. I was guilty of this as well with previous fosters, delving into their sob stories – confirmed or assumed- as soon as I introduced them to someone new. Thinking back now, I’m not sure why I felt the need to do that. Did I think telling a story of abuse would make someone like my dog more? Did I think it would make them more likely to adopt?  Was it for my own satisfaction, showing “how far my dog had come”?

One day my eyes were opened to a new approach of advertising my animals. A more positive, happy approach: tell people what you do know about your dog. So basically, tell them anything you have seen and experienced first hand. This will probably include how loving they are, how much they love to play, how friendly and outgoing they are, etc. These traits are not only super positive, but more importantly they are accurate facts confirmed solely on your experiences with them – not assumptions, not hearsay, not hypothesizing.

Take CK Bax for example. I have absolutely no idea what happened to Baxter before he came into the shelter as a stray. He came to us in bad shape with scars and hunger and fear. Sure, based on his actions and appearance one can make speculations about what he experienced, but the hard truth is that no one knows. No one.

Even if we did know what happened or felt comfortable sharing what we think happened, telling people the gory details of Baxter’s assumed past is most likely to turn them off to him. It can unintentionally spark “I don’t want a dog like that, with that kind of historythoughts. Baxter’s hardships are all behind him. Now, Baxter is a happy, outgoing, and totally adorable dog, and that is what I love about him. That is what is going to sell him to his forever home.

Deep down we know we don’t want people adopting our animals out of pity. We want people to choose adoptable animals because they see them fitting in perfectly with their family, because they couldn’t imagine their lives without this great dog, or because the dog simply captured their heart.

So maybe take different approach and stay positive when describing your rescue or adopted pooch. Focus on the good, the here and the now – take a message from your dog and don’t get stuck in the past.  Share the things about your pup that make you burst with happiness, and maybe save the sob stories for another day.  In the end, you’ll see that the way people perceive your dogs will start to make a positive change.

For more information on adopting Comeback Kid Baxter, click here or email

21 thoughts on “The power of being positive

  1. What an AWESOME post. So often I look at those adoption posts that show the dog at their absolute worst and tell a long story of woe and brokenness and end it with “Now he’s better and you should adopt him!” I can’t imagine how that is effective. Thanks for pointing out that there is a better way!

  2. I totally agree! Even when you do KNOW what happened to a dog, it’s not important. What is important is that the new owner knows the personality and traits of the dog at hand, and have strategies to deal with them.

    I had a dog come through rescue who, pretty much, lived in a crate in it’s own excrement for 2 years. No where in her adoption profile did I write that – what it did say was that she was a very nervous dog needing extensive socialisation and confidence building. She attracted a new home without there needing to be a sob story – indeed, if I posted her tragic story, I’d probably attract the ‘wrong type’ of people, governed by heart instead of head.

  3. Hi! Found you through Love and a Six Foot Leash.

    I’m not involved in the rescue community (other than having rescued animals) but I agree that pictures of sad, depressed animals on Facebook with stories of how they’re “going to die tonight if you don’t save them” just makes me scroll on by. My heart can’t take it.

    But I think a pet’s story (if it’s known) can have a powerful impact, can teach lessons, and make us reflect on ourselves. How many times have we heard about people lining up around the block to adopt a dog whose story they heard on the news, while other dogs without those types of stories sit and wait? As humans, we LIKE stories from the time we’re very little. It’s hard-wired in us and we can’t resist a good tale. But I think you’re right that it’s how we spin it, positive or negative, that makes all the difference.

    I, for one, like to occasionally reflect on my dog Mayzie’s story (which I know is factual). I AM proud of how far she’s come and she inspires me every day with her resilience. But do I dwell on her past? No…because SHE doesn’t. One of the many, many lessons I have learned from her: your past is a part of you but it doesn’t define you.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post! (And sorry for the long response…ha!)


    • Sorry…sorry…one more thing. As an adopter, I DO think knowing Mayzie’s story helped us a LOT when we first brought her home. We understood better WHY she was afraid of everything in the house (she’d never lived in one before). Knowing the why isn’t always necessary, of course, but it definitely helped us see things from her point-of-view and I think that made us better equipped to help her.

      Okay…I’m done. :)

  4. I love this post for the discussion it raises but I have to say I disagree somewhat. I for one love to hear stories that start out sad and are in some ways the story of redemption or otherwise a happy ending. That’s just the way I feel, I guess. I don’t know: I think people are instinctively drawn into tales. We love stories. I’ve adopted several elderly dogs after they’d lived in pounds for years and years, and for some reason I think I’m more emotionally connected to them, than to the guy I rescued at 6 months old. I think it is because of the power of stories. It’s like a movie: a sad story, a happily-ever-after. I’m a sucker for those!

    But you are right: no one needs to launch into the sad story right off the bat, after meeting another dog owner. But I’d like to think that rescuing older dogs and telling their stories has caused people who know them to consider the “old geezer” option, and to see that it’s all right.

    Great points raised by this blog post, by the way — I love it!

    • Suzy – I totally agree with you! For many of us, the best way to deal with all the yucky stuff we see in rescue is to hear the success stories. Not to mention it’s a great way to emotionally connect with an animal. But I personally believe there is a time and a place for that story, and a certain way to tell it (just what I think). My post about Bax’s beginning was my most viewed post, and I’m so happy to have shared it with others. But I try to make an effort to not bring it up all the time or when I’m describing Baxter as a dog.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! I appreciate the discussion : -)

  5. Very good points! Your blog makes an excellent point for not pigeonholing animals. I agree that the sad stories have a time and place but they are not the story about the animals. Far more compelling to me are the steps people take to help the animal on his journey. I am also strongly opposed to trying to guilt people in adopting. As someone told me once, we want people to adopt an animal because they love that animal.

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  7. 2 Punk Dogs

    I agree with the power of being positive, rather than getting stuck in the past. As my husband likes to say, we can’t change it now so why worry about it? Whatever happened to the dogs is over, we just need to work on helping them to be happy today. We tend not to tell the dogs’ back stories unless we’re talking with people who notice how shy one or both is acting, or if we know they’re going through similar issues with their dogs. It helps to know that other people have been there and moved through it.

    It annoys the hell out of us when hundreds of people apply to adopt the dog or cat that was on the news with the big sad story. Where were they yesterday? I think that type of out-sized reaction to the sob stories is what encourages shelters & rescues to continue telling them. We have to change the station whenever the ASPCA ad comes on with Sarah McLaughlin, it’s too damn sad! I wonder how many other people change the channel too.

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