Recently, I’ve had some conversations regarding the current marketing theme for many non-profits that provide Service Dogs – the cuteness of the dogs and pups. Our culture, particularly the socialmediasphere (yep, all one word), is obsessed with cute animals; my Facebook feed is blasted with memes of sad puppies, videos of babies and dogs singing together (it’s had more than 8 million views on YouTube), and canines wearing glasses.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these things. They’re heartwarming and hilarious. However, they don’t represent the role of a Service Dog in the life of a person with a disability or tell a potential donor why they should support Service Dog training and placement instead of the Humane Society, for example. And for the record, the bigger non-profits have already beat us to that strategy – AHS actually references the trend of making silly cat videos on their home page. For the record, I’m all for the support of animal rescues.
On top of the non-profit fundraising challenges, the cutesy thing definitely doesn’t do anything to help the general public or the Department of Justice, for that matter, understand why we need our dogs. It actually kind of communicates a “na-na na-na boo-boo” sentiment – “I get to have my cute puppy with me everywhere I go, but you don’t. And then I’m going to go on TV and talk about how you should know better.” Doesn’t boost our credibility, does it?
My point here isn’t to criticize anyone’s marketing strategy, though; it’s to ask the question, “Why?” When I give educational talks about my partnership with Bright, I sometimes even catch myself filling up the time with jokes and remarks about how cute and cuddly she is. Why would I do that when there are so many important, compelling talking points?
I think it’s because talking about weakness and disability is hard. And I’m sorry to say I didn’t come to that conclusion all by myself. Over dinner last week, a friend and Puppy Raiser speculated that we rely on our dogs’ cuteness to avoid talking about the important but difficult topic of disability. Cute puppies are much easier to advertise.
In an attempt to swing my own pendulum the other way, I posted a story that exposed my own deficits and shed light on Bright’s value on the Help On Four Legs Facebook page on Friday. Not surprisingly, it was received more enthusiastically than anything I’ve ever posted there or here on the blog. If you missed it, you can read it here. (Shameless plug: while you’re there, Like the page so you don’t miss out next time.)
Now, let me be clear: I’m not going to stop posting pictures of Bright’s adorable mug on Instagram or Facebook, and Cute Fix isn’t going anywhere. It’s important for us to enjoy all the benefits of our dogs, and to share the joy we get from them with others.
I am, however, going to start digging deeper when I’m asked how my Service Dog helps me, why I need one, or why someone should donate their time or money to CCI. I’m going to practice talking honestly about the things that would be impossible for me without Bright, no matter how unpleasant it is to think about my own limitations.
Service Dog partners and volunteers, I know some of you are already more evolved than I am, and you’ve beaten me to it. The rest of you, want to practice with me? I get tired of having to explain and justify my needs, as I’m sure you all do, but it’s the only way we’ll turn the skeptics into believers and the believers into supporters.
I’m looking for stories to share on the Facebook page, similar in nature to the one I posted. If you have one, could you email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or private message it to Help On Four Legs on Facebook?
You don’t have to spend a lot of time writing – I’m going to rework all text to suit the style. Please also include a photo of your dog or you and your dog together. If you know someone with a story who’s not a reader of HOFL, please pass this on.