Lonesome wasn’t the kind of guy that makes it in most shelters. He arrived soon after the death of his human and was so terrified that he’d have explosive diarrhea if anyone tried to touch him. The shelter vet fostered him for awhile after his eye surgery and the foster coordinator took him home after that. Both sang his praises and shared how wonderful he is when there’s a warm bed and a quiet place to nap. He was a lovable guy who was awesome at home but simply couldn’t deal with being in captivity; his best chance was to be adopted out of foster care.
The challenge for Lonesome was to spare him the trauma of shelter life and charm someone so hard that media would be enough to excuse his first impression.
He continued his tour of the foster circuit at my place. In under a week, Lolo had spoken loudly enough to make this post to the FCAS volunteer/foster group possible.
This was posted to the shelter’s Facebook page. While volunteering that Saturday, I asked a visitor if anyone had caught her eye. “Well, we actually came for Lolo, but he’s not here” she confessed. Her elderly mother had lost her cat several months ago, and Lonesome’s story had reached her through social media. His plight touched her in just the right way. “Don’t you come back without Lolo”, her mother had said. We discussed her mother’s desire for a lovable lap cat and Lolo’s potential for being resilient enough to fill that role in his sixth home over a very short period of time (original home, shelter, three fosters, and the adopter). We agreed that it would be a great match if he could let himself feel secure. A meet & greet was arranged for the following Tuesday in the foster coordinator’s office, where he would be around people he already knew and was likely to present himself better.
She, her friend, and her brother came to meet Lonesome, who was dressed up in a ridiculous tie for his big date. He wasn’t feeling particularly brave, but didn’t poop everywhere either… so that was a good sign. They all agreed that this was the cat for mom. Adoption paperwork was filled out and pickup was scheduled for Thursday. I texted her a photo of Lolo in his tie, and another of a felted doppelganger I had made with his shed fur to help keep her mom excited until his arrival.
The foster coordinator and I sent a care package with him that included a handwritten note to his new mom, his favorite bed, cat grass, treats, and toys. As outspoken as we were about our joy, everyone who played a part in his story quietly savored the happy ending.
He did manage to stay resilient, though it took a few months to come out of his shell. Having been prepared for that possibility, the new family was patient with his reluctance. They check in from time to time, sending pictures of the ever-fatter and happier Lolo (now Charlie) in his human’s lap.
Lonesome’s story shows us the power of vulnerability in copy.
- Let yourself relate, and others will too. Put that blessing/curse of empathy to work by touching on the things that help people identify with animals and each other. Anthropomorphizing is tough to avoid completely and can get a little corny sometimes; thankfully, it isn’t necessary to use when communicating something as universal as loss.
- Be patient and emotionally gentle when working with or marketing an animal that has experienced loss. Adjusting your lens makes the difference between “meh” and “wow” in your copy. Animals grieve in an unstructured way, but grieve nonetheless. As their voice, it’s important to be able to see them through the mourning and stress-induced behaviors.
- Avoid being morbid. That fine line between realistic and fatalistic is one of those things that can get frustrating when trying to write about loss. Focus too much on the death and you’re morbid. Rationalize it and you’re callous. You get the idea. Providing the audience with an optimistic spin like “I’m inspired by his resilient spirit and willingness to continue giving people chances” does wonders for leaving the reader with a positive impression of a downer topic.
- Hold on to your audience, but not too tightly. Death is one of those delicate subjects that can easily make people shut down (or keep scrolling). Even if you approach it with respect and dignity in completely relevant context, there will always be people who just can’t deal for their own reasons. Remember that they’re coming from a place you have nothing to do with, making everyone happy is impossible, and you’ll go crazy if you try.