dog rescue

Dog Rescue And Best Selling Stories – How Awesome Can Average Be?

If you had the option of sharing the two photos in the header image separately, which one would you choose? 99% of the people, including me, would choose the one on the left, Petra. Now how is that a problem in dog rescue and what is this article about? Well, here’s the thing: about a month ago, Petra’s rescue story was shared by an Australian media page, and as usual, I read all 576 comments below. Among all the “God bless you” and the “I can’t believe it’s the same dog” there was one comment that has been on my mind since then, and for which I did not have a quick answer – in a way I still don’t. So here is what a woman commented: “Weird how people will move mountains to bring a dog like this back to health but then the average stray dog gets put to sleep after a week or two in the pound unnoticed. Spread the love people. Average can be awesome too.”

dog rescue
Shareable: Billy‘s rescue story has been shared more than any other. I know there’s something extremely “clickable” about this photo – it is this exact photo actually that made me choose to foster him.

Average can be awesome too. Average can be awesome too. Average can be awesome too. I keep repeating it since then like a mantra, trying to figure out what can I possibly do to help the average dog. First of all, Save a Greek Stray, the shelter I volunteer at that rescued Petra, is a no-kill one, and so are most shelters in Greece. All rescued dogs, no matter how average, cute or awe- inspiring they are, receive the same treatment and remain in the shelter’s care until they are adopted. So euthanasia is not an issue, at least for us.

dog rescue
Non shareable: Frixos, rescued by Save a Greek Stray. He keeps waiting in the shelter, until a home is found. He was never emaciated enough to go viral neither is gorgeous enough to catch the eye.

But average is. It is a huge issue. Greece is a country of millions of strays, so most rescues are mix breed dogs. Whether a puppy or an adult, the average mix breeds we rescue every day barely get few “shares” and “likes” and no matter how heartbreaking their past is, it all comes down to appearance. You may not have realized it, but in rescue, all books are judged by their cover.

dpg rescue
Shareable: The other side of shareable and adoptable: the cuteness overload rescue. Billy was rescued by SCARS, was shared about 200 times and got adopted before his entire adoption album could be fully updated

In order for a rescue dog to exceed the average number of “people reached” in a Facebook post, it needs to either be extremely cute and purebred or the exact opposite, aka visibly moribund, like Petra. But the story does not end here. Dogs on the brink of death, like Billy, Petra and a lot more are bound to go viral. Their stories keep being shared over and over again, even years after they have been rescued, but do they get adopted? Well, eventually they do. They are never the average person’s first choice, but after having reached hundreds of thousands of people through social media, eventually they find their forever home.

dog rescue
Non shareable: Melina is one of rescue dogs of SPAZ. She does have a sad story, she did have to overcome her huge fear and lack of trust and today she is an adorable and adoptable dog. Melina is still waiting. She is of average size, average color and average age.

Does an average looking dog, with no awe-inspiring before after transformation ever get this far? No, never. Unless it can do something shareable enough, despite its boring looks, like rock climbing or skateboarding. The average dog might even have a horrible story to tell, but if it’s not obvious that it’s been through hell, the story is simply not shareable enough – its photo, not matter how professional, simply never catches the eye. And what does not catch the eye does not make the index hit the share button either.

dog rescue
Shareable: Combo, rescued by Save a Greek Stray. His photo album has been shared 1362 times and his rescue video counts 281.000 views.

Does the average dog get adopted? Well…if it’s lucky enough. The competition is disappointing. Our black and brown, mix breed, adult, medium sized rescue babies have to compete against a ridiculously large number of other black and brown, mix breed, adult and medium sized rescued dogs that keep waiting in shelter kennels for someone to come forward and pick an average looking dog. They might have the kindest soul, be amazing companions and perfect future pets that will love you like you’ve never been loved before, but still, their looks betray them.

dog rescue
Non shareable: Pasteli, rescued by Save a Greek Stray. Just another black, mix breed dog among thousands of black, mix breeds that simply never make your index hit the share button

So what can we rescuers do in order to help the average dog be noticed? I have no idea. I already told you that I don’t have an answer for it. What I’ve been trying to do with my foster dogs is basic training – it helped my beloved Sahara get adopted for example. Her video barely hit a thousand views, but at least it was what made her, an average looking, black, mix breed, adult dog find a home. Another thing is observing the average dog, observing it every day, looking for something it does or likes, a habit or a funny routine, something that will be shareable enough to break the spell of only a few hundred “people reached” in a Facebook post. Either way, the average dog has to try hard – a lot harder than a dog like Petra. I’m not saying that Petra did not deserve to go viral – she most definitely did! But yet, it seems unfair.

dog rescue
Shareable: SPAZ‘s latest rescue, a mangy puppy found on the mountain. I know you think he deserves the attention – so do I. But he’s just one of the hundreds of abandoned puppies suffering and dying alone in the streets of Greece. the problem is that most of them are not sick enough, not white enough, not impressive enough

What can you do to help? I’m not sure. If you’re looking for a dog to adopt, just visit a shelter and ask the volunteers which are the dogs that everyone overlooks. Choose one and take it for a walk. Feel its fur tickling your leg while he or she walks beside you. Look into its eyes and observe how that makes you feel. Ask the shelter workers to tell you the dog’s story – it definitely has one. It might be a story that never went viral, but for that particular dog alone, this barely shareable story is his whole life. Then forget about it. Dogs, as trainers say, have no past. They only have a present and a future. You are looking for a friend – that’s the reason you visited the shelter in the first place anyway. You’re looking for someone to share lazy afternoons on the couch and walks on the beach, someone to greet you every time you come home with a wagging tail and to wake you up in the morning with a wet nose and a smelly breath. The average dog you just took for a walk will do all that. And that is awesome. Adopt him.

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13 thoughts on “Dog Rescue And Best Selling Stories – How Awesome Can Average Be?”

  1. It’s late and I was about to call it a day, but here I am writing these lines as I try to keep my eyes open. This went to my heart, Valia. And yes, I do understand the desperate scream it painfully emits. Anyone, whose heart breaks for the strays day-in and day-out during a stay in Greece (and other countries, unfortunately, too), anyone who cares enough to not look the other way, even when unable to really help (but, often, ultimately will!), empathizes with your words and thoughts. I am no expert, and have no straight answer. All I can say is that the “Petras” of the world, that draw the most attention, do so because they are the ones who depict the torture, misery, agony, wretchedness, and suffering (I could go on) in an intensified version, visible to the eye of the onlooker. What he or she sees is the concentrated result of utter neglect depicted in a single animal that represents the collective desolate state and fate of all strays in a world run by unloving people.
    It is not that they love the Petras more. It is merely that the Petras of the world are the supersonic booming cry for HELP, that these people fail to otherwise notice. It awakens them from their slumber urging them to do something…

    As to what basis many use to decide which animal to choose from a shelter, it is, funny enough, not all that different from the mystical nudge we get upon meeting strangers. You look at a dozen people, and one of them clicks with you for no obvious reason. That person may well be, seemingly, ordinary.But something about that person, before you can bat an eye, something you cannot put your finger on, will make you like them and single them out.
    I heard a woman tell how she went to her local shelter with her daughter looking for a cat. They knew exactly what they wanted. Or so they thought… What they ended up getting were two (!) cats that were absolutely nothing like what they’d had in mind. Something about them, she said, caused them to notice them and end up taking them both home with them. The two cats turned out to be the perfect choice.
    If only more people would care enough to want to take in a pet – and treat it with love and responsibility. That is what’s missing in our society: More people willing to responsibly commit… Then, even the ones that don’t stand out, the ones who linger unwanted for years, then they, too, would get their chance. Because each one, regardless of looks, would click with the right prospective owner. But before this happens, let’s hope that more people will learn to simply and genuinely love animals and feel for them and, only then, want to adopt them..
    Meanwhile, thank God for all the wonderful people, who volunteer and do care and are committed. By the hundreds, they give of their time and love and even financial support helping the strays of the world. The shelters are over-filled and the streets are sadly too. But something is happening, and – despite everything else – you, and all those involved as you are, are bringing an awareness to the plight of these wonderful sentient beings we share this world with. It is an issue today. You are bringing the problem into the open, you write about it, you post pictures, you let irresponsible politicians become known..! You blow the whistle – while at the same time you sing lullabys to dogs and cats that never had a soft corner to rest, never knew what it meant to be gently stroked.
    That is a lot. And that is such an important beginning.

    1. Oh my.. thank you. Thank you so much for this. Something is happening in deed, and sometimes I think I’m just too impatient and can’t enjoy the tiny changes. Thanks. 🙂

  2. If there was one word that would help people too see what you have explained to us as the reality and fate of the beautiful average amazing dogs that are over looked and neglected yet saved …. It would be what ? The ability too look beyond what most want which is perfection…. we as human beings have become more than pathetic. It’s more than sad … It’s devestating.
    I wish I had a magic wand that would open the eyes and hearts of a civilization that has become so callused that only perfection is key to being loved .
    I keep playing our lottery and yet still no success….
    If I could ……..
    Thank you for your dedication and love. ❤️

    1. Oh..thank you! (I honestly wonder whether anyone who has ever won the lottery did actually build a dog shelter or a sanctuary..)

  3. We adopted a dog that was overlooked in a nearby shelter for months. Fotunately, two volunteers at that shelter called our shelter and told us “This is a really good dog, and no one is looking at it.” I brought him in as a foster, and when his adoption fell through, I said he is staying. We had heard of joy with him. He was a rock star in obedience class, and quirky enough to be entertaining. He was not demanding of our attention, but expressed pure joy at the park or beach. He loved to carry rocks home from the park ( :

  4. USA – Virginia Beach, VA – I rescued and adopted an overlooked typical black mixed dog almost 10 months ago. He was the first dog I ever adopted. He was a long time resident of the shelter and before that was a stray on the streets for an undetermined amount of time. I fell in love with him just by seeing his picture on-line. There was no huge heroic story to him, nothing that would catch someone’s eye, but as I looked at adoptable dogs for two months, I always went back to Harry’s picture. This black dog, average, mixed breed, with no story. Something about his eyes, as I stared at his picture, I just kept getting drawn to him and I have never met him in person. So finally, I decided it was time. I went to the shelter on a Saturday and told them I was here to see Harry. Everyone at the shelter was so excited! But, Harry was out at an event with one other shelter dog. The event was nothing big, it was more a way to just allow Harry and his shelter friend get out and away from the shelter for the day. So I got the address to where the event was, drove there, and there he was. Lying in the grass, soaking up the sun and just “being” a normal black dog. I knew right then, he was for me. When I rubbed his belly, he looked at me with his deep dark beautiful eyes and wagged his tail. That sealed the deal. I immediately went back to the shelter, filled out the paperwork and adopted him. The workers at the shelter kept asking me “are you sure your coming back tomorrow morning to pick him up”? It was like, they could not believe it. I said “Yes! Why would I not come back”? I did not understand at the time, but now I do. Harry was one of those average dogs, black, terrible kennel presence, definitely would not win the handsome dog of the year award. He was underweight and had hair loss due to the stress of shelter life. But when I took him home, within one month, he had gained 10 pounds. His hair began to grow, his “famous mow-hawk” that went down the spine of his back was beginning to disappear. His color started to change. He was black, but also had a smoky gray color too. But only after leaving the stress of shelter life behind, and settling in with a loving family, did all this positive progress start. He was so handsome, in his own way. He was almost three when I adopted him, so he will be four in October 2017. He has grown, matured, and become a loving family member and (although he was suppose to be my dog) found his best friend, my husband. He is the most amazing dog. When I send photos to the shelter of him, they cannot believe it. They can’t believe it is the Harry they knew. Now, going on my third adoption, I’m a regular at the shelter. They don’t call me by my name, they call my “Harry’s Mom”. I just smile and my heart fills with love, over and over again.

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