Packaging is Everything Sometimes, Even in Dog Rescue

There are some dogs you end up with who are challenges to place for marketing reasons. Here are two we puzzled over.


A picture of Chico, a black and white chihuahua.
Chico in his nature-provided tuxedo. (Photo courtesy of Hedgesville Hounds)

PROBLEMS: My first big problem with Chico: his name. I don’t like giving dogs names that are ostensibly from the breed’s country of origin. Rolf the German Shepherd Dog, Genghis Khan the Chow Chow, and Pierre the Poodle are all great big NOs for us. However, this dog came to us with the name Chico, which he knew well. We tried to see if he would respond to another name, but he never did.  Chico was adorable — about a year old, he was dapper black and white color, and he had a sunny, confident personality. He only had one problem. He loved to bite. LOVED it. We figured that was why he was given up to us, but it was one of those cases where we didn’t get a straight answer and we felt the dog was at great risk at his previous home (if I recall correctly). Anyway, Chico was a biter — not a fear biter, not an aggressive biter — he just loved happily chomping on someone’s hand or ankle.

Most rescues will not place biting dogs for liability reasons. However, this was a case of a dog who had never learned bite inhibition, rather than one who was using biting as a coping mechanism, so it could possibly be trained out of him by a patient adopter. There was no guarantee, of course. Chihuahuas are known biters. So we were looking for an adopter who didn’t mind having surprise acupuncture (Chi’s teeth are tiny, but sharp) performed on them at any given time.

HOW WE SOLVED IT: Chihuahuas have devoted followers, although we have to be very careful placing them (more on that in another column), and Chico was so cute and had such a great personality that we decided to just throw it out there and let the universe take care of it. Our Petfinder listing led with THIS picture:

A picture of a black and white chihuahua biting at a person's hand
Chico doing what he loved best. (Photos courtesy of Hedgesville Hounds)

Yep. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

THE RESULT: Chico got an application from an older couple with several Chihuahuas. They were experts in the breed, and their lives were devoted to their dogs. Chico pranced in their door and immediately jumped on their laps and bit each of them with great joy. They weren’t troubled in the least. They all lived happily ever after.


A brown dog named Mistletoe.
Mistletoe, soft-focus dog. (Photo courtesy of Hedgesville Hounds)

PROBLEMS: Mistletoe was the muttliest mutt who ever mutted. A hoarded dog, she was of indeterminate age (anywhere from 4-7), and we were unable to find a breed she resembled strongly enough to choose a main breed for Petfinder, which requires one. We used to change it as new theories were advanced by our volunteers: Chesapeake Bay Retriever (a nice choice because that was a regional breed); Cattle Dog (most people weren’t familiar with that one, so the novelty might be a selling point); and Australian Shepherd (we must have been drinking because that makes no sense) were among the many.

Even though I didn’t have time to change her name (I never use names that were tied to religious holidays), Mistletoe had the best personality ever, and a great backstory. She was left in the middle of the highway, terrified, and had been retrieved from a median strip on a busy road. It was an “out of the frying pan into the fire” story, since the person who rescued her was a hoarder. Eventually she ended up in our care, and she never showed a moment of stress or trauma from what she had experienced.

Mistletoe’s big problem, though, was that she could not take a good photo. She always looked rumpled or blurry, like she was being photographed under water. I remembered talking to her foster and saying, “Can you PLEASE get a better picture of her? She looks like she watched the videotape from The Ring.” We never got a better picture, and Mistletoe languished on Petfinder for months. I was so busy, that I never got to meet Mistletoe in person in order to see what the problem was. However, Mistletoe’s foster loved her and doted on her, even if she couldn’t photograph her, and we knew she was safe and happy where she was.

THE RESULT: Finally, we got a break: Petline 9, a local news feature on homeless pets, agreed to feature Mistletoe. Mistletoe performed like a star. Even though she was a good 60 pounds, she did her entire segment sprawled out on the anchor’s lap, with him petting her nonstop. That in itself was HUGE. Only the tiniest dogs were allowed to sit on the anchor’s lap, and here lounged Mistletoe like the Queen of Sheba, if the Queen of Sheba were orange and had a torso resembling an awkwardly-rolled bathsheet. And as I watched the segment, I realized the truth: those weren’t blurry photos, Mistletoe was a blurry dog. She just looked like she was in soft focus. Still, we anticipated that we’d get some interest in her. After the segment, we checked our messages. There was a message from Mistletoe’s foster saying she wanted to adopt her. She’d seen the segment and realized she couldn’t live without Mistletoe. We were delighted, although disappointed that we’d wasted a segment on a dog that had a home. Well, it turned out that someone saw the segment and visited our website, only to fall in love with and adopt another dog, so the segment placed a dog after all. Mistletoe lived a long happy life with her adopter, under her new, extremely apt, name: Sweetie Pie.

A brown dog named Mistletoe on a wooden deck at her adopted home.
Mistletoe in her home where she lived happily, and blurrily, ever after. (Photo courtesy of Hedgesville Hounds)


By Moretta

Moretta will take that applause. Her Twitter is

10 replies on “Packaging is Everything Sometimes, Even in Dog Rescue”

Aww, but I want to name my future German shepherd/mix with GSD Alfred. Mostly because it’s Batman, bitch, but partly because it’s a good Germanic name that doesn’t sound too obviously German.

On-topic, I LOVE THESE STORIES. I always want to see the “difficult” pets adopted, like the kittydude who tried to adopt me at the SPCA who has occasional bathroom accidents. I hope someone with all hardwood/tile/otherwise not carpeted, easy to clean floors and a lot of patience finds him. He’s a sweetheart.

Alfred sounds awesome. It’s really the names that are the most frequently used. It’s hard to articulate, but it’s the ones where you hear it and it just sounds wrong.

Also, I love that you are planning to get a mix. A little something else in the mix tends to make GSDs a lot healthier. Was that the reason behind your decision?

Awwww, I love seeing animals with little problems find homes. We used to have cats that would bite the shit out of everyone at CAT, and they almost universally went to brawny men with jobs that give you tough hands, like mechanics. There would be a huge guy, usually in coveralls, with this cat curled up in his arms biting him contentedly, while he smiled like he was holding a newborn.
The only exception I ever adopted out personally, went to my hair dresser, and got named Om-Nom-Zombie-Face, because he eats people. She’s had him for over 5 years, and it’s still accurate.

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