when is a rescue no longer a rescue?

Marketing is a powerful tool.

A good marketing plan can shape how we feel, how we act, how we move, how we eat, what we eat, where we live, what we think, and so on. Sit back and think for a moment, what are you currently doing in your life that has not been shaped by marketing on some level? hmmm

During the past decade, one of the most powerful marketing trends in the United States has been focused on adopting pets from Rescues and Shelters. Ethically, morally, socially, and neighborly, it has been marketed as not only the cool thing to do, but the responsible thing to do. This in and of itself is great, animals in need of forever homes garnering attention in every corner of America. A spot light on those animals that for whatever reason need a better, and more suitable home than the one they started with. And because this marketing trend surpasses the animal world, is backed by movie stars, politicians, and the uber wealthy, it is very successful! Yay for the animals!


Some dogs that have come from shelters and rescues have made the headlines over the years; Agility Champions, Therapy Dogs, Service Dogs, Canines for Conservation, and cherished family pets that turn out to have a lot of talent. These stories bring another layer to this marketing trend. Sometimes you can find that diamond in the rough, and how cool is that.

But not all are remarkable, or pretty, or talented. Some are simple, some with lack luster looks, some have seen evil, some have experienced dangerous situations, many have lived in dysfunction, some are timid, some are just simply not the right fit for the humans that chose them. And there are plenty more reasons why these dogs end up in transition with rescues and shelters. And believe it or not, this is great for marketing too. There are a plethora of people with very deep and kind hearts who are looking for a dog to cherish. They want to help the under dog. Provide a safe place, give them hope, experience happiness, and let them fly.

Just as every dog in transition has their own story, every person that wants a dog has their own reasons.

But here is my question, or statement, or opinion, or observation. I’m not sure what it is because depending on the day it seems to take on a new life form.

This powerful marketing trend to adopt is good and right on all levels, I support that. But this same marketing trend has kept these dogs carrying around their baggage from their past life for way too long. Marketing has shaped us to continue to use the terms ‘my rescue’, ‘he/she’s a rescue’, ‘it’s a rescue’, ‘pound puppy’, or ‘second hand mutt’. But why? Once you adopt your dog aren’t they now yours? Shouldn’t we be using the term ‘MY DOG’. Let them leave their past life behind and move on, a fresh start, re framing how the world works in a better way, hopefully.

There seems to be some moral or ethical Brownie Badge when you refer to your dog as ‘my rescue’. In that one word phrase you have let, whoever you are talking too, know that you have done a good thing out of the kindness of your heart. I have never seen the same emotional response in a conversation by just saying ‘this is my dog’. Ta Da, MY DOG!

Sometimes marketing plans that work so well on us humans, and shape our behavior, can back fire on our dogs. Many times, dogs that are adopted and called ‘a rescue’ are thought to be less intelligent by some, less trainable, less social, less of everything. ‘Rescue’ can be a powerful word picture for some people. Odd, anti social, over the top behaviors are sometimes tolerated, because, well you know, it’s a ‘Rescue’. What?

When a person commits to the words, ‘my dog’, they cannot blame or excuse their human behavior or their dogs behavior on the past. It is pretty defining, and requires accountability in my opinion, or rather my world. My dog, my responsibility, my companion, my joy, my life, my world. It is full commitment, committing to another living being, fully and totally without any verbal barrier or excuses, or dismissals because of their previous experiences.

Whether you refer to yourself as a guardian or an owner, do it fully, not half way. Rescue a dog, adopt a dog, but then call them yours. My Dog.

After all, I don’t believe they can be re rescued every single day for the rest of their lives in the same home with the same person. How freaking exhausting would that be!

Nancy, who is currently surrounded by four sleeping dogs, who are all My Dogs.

22 Comments Add yours

  1. mtwaggin says:

    You always give me food for thought. Guilty as charged! I try not to give that past history unless someone asks but am not always successful. I think we humans often being the judgmental types we are sometimes feel that when asked about our dogs that may not be behaving as “the norm” (I know there is no norm) feel the need to justify why they are what they are. Acceptance is a HUGE thing, but not often easy to do when surrounded by peer pressure. My new goal, all my dogs are who they are rescue or not (and I have both). They are mine with their past, present and future! On a marketing side though I will say my hackles raise when people start giving me the cold shoulder because the dog I have with me is NOT a rescue and I’m hearing of more and more people having that happen. Kinda funny in a weird way as many of the people with rescue or shelter dogs back in the day complained that the purebred folks were doing that exact thing to THEM!

    1. mtwaggin says:

      Oh and one thing I do hang on to…..I have yet to see a dog meet another dog and ask “are you a rescue”? They don’t care and neither should we!

      1. Nancy Tanner says:

        I think if we all just said My Dog – it wouldn’t matter the back ground. Whether you pay big bucks or they are free, not matter their back ground, they are your Dog. And I agree, dogs could care a less who is who in the dogs world and where they came from. Start fresh, leave the baggage behind.

        I just received a post on FB, “I just adopted a rescue…” Really, I have never heard of that breed. This is the stuff that makes me nuts. 😉

  2. crystalpegasus1 says:

    What an interesting article! I have just written one too, on some other changes we in the rescue movement need to make, lol, but this one is interesting. I find myself falling into this trap as well, but I think a lot of it is guilt and shame that propels me. For example MY DOG, Panzer is aggressive, and has been since we got him. I wanted an aggressive dog, because I think it’s important for me, an aspiring trainer, to work with aggressive dogs, lalala, okay, this is getting long. Sorry. Long story short, when we first started working with him, and we didn’t know quite where his threshold was, we would make mistakes, and we would find him reacting…violently. People would look at us like we had three heads. Positive reinforcement trainers would frown on us for incorrectly judging body language or insinuate that we were somehow abusing him. Traditional trainers would frown on us because we weren’t correcting his behavior. We were getting hit from all sides. I felt guilty, ashamed, basically just downright shitty. This was all within the first few months of rescuing him. But I found that one phrase really cleared it up for everyone and their whole demeanor about us and Panzer, changed, I would simply say, “He’s a rescue.” And everyone would immediately stop freaking out, calm down and say, “Oh, of course!” In some ways, I think that phrase could certainly be used as a crutch. In my case though, I was using it as a bridge to understanding. For me, guilt and shame can be debilitating. That phrase is like my armor, in some ways, it gave me a way to excuse his behavior to OTHER people while continuing to work on it. Panzer is doing much better, but he isn’t “fixed” by any means, and I still do call him “our rescue”, but your post really made me think about that phrase and the weight that it carries. My question for you though is this – what can we do to avoid the shame we feel with our unruly rescues? How can we change the perception?

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      I think everyone in the dog behavior/training world has been hit from all sides. While there are kind people, the lack of tolerance, judgement, and unkindness towards one another runs rampant. Not sure how that culture was built, but most certainly on a fine layer of dysfunction.

      Over the years, I am grateful and proud to call each and everyone of my dogs My Dogs, no matter their back ground, no matter their opinions in life, no matter of anything.

      They deserve this above anything else, because for me it is recognizing their existence on this planet and being a vital living being, adding something great in their own way. I don’t want peoples pity or sympathy with what I am working on with my dogs. They can like me and my dog/s for who we are or move on. I have learned to trust this judgement from years of taking hits like you have described.

      Let Panzer grow and change with you, it is truly a journey, and the outcome is never set in stone until that one fine day in old age when your dog takes his last breath, and you can see your relationship so clearly, at the core, and not for what others saw. That is what really matters.

  3. Great article. Never wanted to handicap my kids because I was a single mom; they were simply kids who had lots of people loving them, not ‘kids of a single mom’.
    Anyhow, got a giggle at ‘MY DOG’. Durango thinks that is his name now – that is what Tom calls him:)

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Lisa, seriously for as connected as we are and share such a similar life are you surprised we ‘like’ the same word phrase? 😉 Is Durango and your family moving into bigger new digs soon, we are so excited for you all, and truly hoping to visit some day.

  4. Good post, and I so much agree about the my dog. Luckily we don’t have many resues here, and I am sure they will be somebodys dog, if adopted, but also we have very little marketing of these cases.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Bente you would be so surprised here by how many dogs are introduced as ‘this is my rescue’. I just truly feel no living being needs to carry aroudn that crap forever, move on, be free, and have a great new life as someones dog!

      1. Lovely post but often think some people may introduce their rescues so as to provide a clue about shyness, fear aggression or other behavioral issues. I think it may also be a form of pride bragging (see what I accomplished). People can be complicated, weird and strange. Luckily dogs tend to live in the moment even when there’s been an unpleasant past.

  5. Nikki says:

    Your post and ideas behind it became more clear for me as I read through the comments and your responses. I can imagine that as a dog trainer you hear all kinds of introductions. My question is how might you prefer to get background information about a dog? The only time I usually bring up information that my dog came from a shelter (sometimes I shorten it to say – she is a shelter dog) is when giving background background information to a potential trainer, vet or other dog health care person. If you also support “Once an animal learns something, it cannot be unlearned. Sit on that one for awhile …” how can I communicate the background of my dog especially in the first couple of years – and also have the professional that I am working with understand that I didn’t train all of this behavior and there are some quirks (including potential growls and snapping) that we are still working on?

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      I think telling someone your working with where your dog came from is totally valid. But when you go around and your intro to your dog to the world is, “This is Joe my Rescue”, It’s hard not to say, “Really, Joe looks like a Golden to me”. Once the word Rescue is used for a breed description and part of the normal introduction, you know for a fact where that conversation is going, and sometimes a dismissal for not teaching their new dog new things, and/or dismissing behaviors that are wack. It is far far different to say “This is Joe my Golden he came from a shelter in blah blah blah town”.

      Once and animal learns something it cannot be unlearned is very real, for us too. When I took a course from Dr. Susan Friedman we had great conversations about this. This is where managing the environment is so important. If your dog is currently on their third or fourth home they might know a lot of things you are unaware of, both good and bad. I work with A LOT of dogs in transition and never once has their prior history from the shelter or rescue proven to be necessary in moving forward with a new family. Sometimes people lie when they relinquish their dog and don’t tell the whole story or don’t really know their dog too well to begin with that is why they are giving them up, sometimes a person in a rescue may not have read something correctly and mislabeled a dog, and sometimes dogs shut down when they are in that environment and are adopted out as ‘calm’ when in fact they are just in a holding pattern. And when with their new family who was looking for calm, they bloom, and sometimes too much! So on a clients form when it says, came from a shelter, I don’t need any more info, we start from scratch and move on to a better life. Management and structure of the environment are super important.

  6. Nikki says:

    I really applaud your words, thoughts, and those of the people above. I, too, have experienced all of this, and the rather snotty response when people know that my 2 current dogs are not rescues. Well, said, Nancy!

  7. Nikki says:

    I meant to also say that I think you should submit this to some of the dog magazines, perhaps “Bark”. I think it is something that gives food for thought for a lot of reasons and for a lot of people.

  8. nutsfortreasure says:

    I never say JT is rescued 🙂 I just tell her how much we LOVE HER

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      and so it should be… love is a great thing to say an do!

      1. nutsfortreasure says:

        🙂 to tell you the truth she rescued us :: with all he LOVE

  9. dorannrule says:

    This is a fabulous post! And I am as guilty as others in proclaiming that “my dog” was originally from unknown origins, rescued by my niece, and the re-rescued by me. Rozie has been part of my family now for 5 years and she is our dog. On the other hand, some of her habits and fears can only be attributable to other places and other families she has seen – dark places – fearful places. She is the sweetest, most expensive, and most complicated dog we have ever welcomed into our lives. And you are so right. Rozie is my dog now. She is safe here now and permanently embedded. I will stop calling her a rescue. 🙂

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Well here is love to you and Rozie!

  10. Susan Smiley says:

    All language comes with personal interpretation. When I say Hudson is our rescue, it’s not because I am looking for kuddos or recognition. It comes from a true sense of pride in our bright and wonderful dog and how truly far he has come. And how far we have come as a team. It is also in recognition of the two women who pulled him from a high kill shelter in LA and nursed him back to health and the dozens of angels who searched for him in the Utah desert when he bolted during transport and to my remarkable husband who has patiently and steadfastly worked to earn Hudson’s trust. It is also in recognition of RinTin, his four legged brother, who has worked tirelessly to teach, mentor and love the new member of our family. Were there mistakes? yes. Is it his history? yes. Our history? yes. Hudson is my dog. Hudson is our dog. And yes, he was rescued. He was rescued the day before he was to be euthanized at a very young age. Am I proud of taking in a dog that everyone else had given up on? Yes. Was it worth it? A most resounding, yes!! Hudson has taught me more about resilience, persistence and the joy of life than I had learned from any other 2 or 4 legged one in my many years on this planet.

    People can use all kinds of excuses for not developing relationships with their dogs. Just last week a lab jumped on me and the owner said…I am so sorry, he is a Lab and giggled. Perhaps some people say, he is our rescue, because it makes them feel better about themselves. So what. We all need to feel better about the choices we make. Especially the choices that positively impact another life. So I may not agree with all that has been said, but I am open to new ideas and if dropping the word rescue from my language enhances my relationship with Hudson…I might give it a try. But I don’t see his history or our history as baggage, so perhaps not. Time will tell. But I do know that rescuing this dog, our Hudson, has changed my life in all the most expanding, life affirming ways. I love this dog with all my heart, he is my dog, our dog, a most amazing dog and he was rescued.

  11. Natalie says:

    Beautifully put. I am in California. It is a HUGE badge of honor for the owner. (and as you said, never mind the dog…..) And here, I found there to be an additional, and very big “buy local” in addition to “rescue”. Being a new dog owner, first words out of everyone’s mouth is “where did you get him”. Sadly. Not, “Nice to meet you, Stitch. Welcome, Stitch!” And I will try to help Stitch with the humans, by saying, “Please meet my new family member dog, Stitch! Stitch, shake.”

    1. Wendy says:

      I say my greyhound is a rescue. I don’t want people blaming me for her ‘baggage’, generalised anxiety I have worked on for years with trainers and a vet behaviourist. People are so judgemental. It’s all “what did you do (or not do) to make her like that? You must need a better relationship/more online courses/more therapies/different meds… If she is a rescue, people accept her as she is. As I have had to do.

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