Never Doubt the Power of a Well Told Story

There are a lot of worthwhile causes out there. When it comes to saving animals, there is no shortage of groups standing up for what they think is right. It is a commendable thing to witness. I firmly believe we are on a positive track. There is a lot of work to be done, yes, but there has been so much solid change enacted by people like you and I that I refuse to be pessimistic. There will come a time when puppy mills are a hideous part of North America’s history. Maybe even in our lifetimes. We just need to keep putting on the pressure and keep telling our stories.

I’ve seen the proof of this for myself. My natural cynicism was challenged and defeated. All it took was the campaign of a single cat: the late Tuxedo Stan.

Tuxedo Stan

Stan’s story was age-old. He was one of four kittens born to an abandoned mother in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was rescued while in the later stage of her pregnancy and gave birth three weeks later. It is a situation all too common in my former city where they estimate the population of cats may be close to 100,000. In a region of just over 300,000 humans, this is a wee bit off the charts. Stan and his brothers were lucky. If his mother hadn’t been found, her kittens likely would not have survived.

Still, aside from the tragic aspects, there was nothing to set him apart from the countless other kittens who find their way to rescue organizations in cities across the continent. He was just one little cat who managed to find a decent home. Something that happens all the time, even if not as often as it should. So why was he so famous? Why did he garner the attention of Ellen DeGeneres or the New York Times? Was it just because he was so stinkin’ pretty?


Not quite. You see, Stan’s human family was special. They knew his good looks could only go so far. However, they also knew that with a few well-written slogans, they could turn him into a cover model for change.

Tuxedo-StanI admit, I thought the concept of putting a cat on the mayoral ballot was ludicrous. I first encountered Stan and his crew while attending a fundraising auction for a popular cat rescue organization in town. They showed up at the pub with their wild t-shirts and their naive beliefs and I rolled my eyes. Wing-nuts, I muttered to my PH. Do they really think their silly campaign is going to make a difference? Everyone is just going to think they are crazy cat people. Regardless, as the evening progressed, I watched something pretty stunning happen. As someone who has worked for a few charities and who has attended a lot of auctions, I have never before seen so much money dropped so willingly for a cause. I am talking gift certificates going for more than twice their value! Dorky little donated crafts ensnaring more cash than I spent on weekly groceries! It was astounding. And almost all of it came from Stan’s corner of the room. They walked the walk and then some.

Over the next few months, the enthusiasm and publicity only grew. Stan’s people were clever. They knew just how to play the crowd. Utilizing social media, they told simple stories of Stan’s campaign trail that were humourous and touching. They knew when to be serious and when to tug the heart-strings. Like any politician, Stan even had his share of scandal when an erroneous story leaked about his supposed love children. Hugh Chisholm, Stan’s human, who also happens to be a veterinarian, played it just right.

Alas, it was not to be. Stan never actually made it to the ballot, despite his best efforts. But Stanthat doesn’t mean their hard work failed. Quite the opposite. Even if the feline never had a chance at winning the race, he did achieve his goal of raising awareness of the plight of cats. He also did something even better.

Because of the celebrity of one distinguished cat, something unprecedented happened. In May 2013, the Halifax regional council voted to give $40,000 to the Nova Scotia SPCA in support of a discounted spay and neuter program. Yes, you read that right. $40,000 to help curb HRM’s massive cat overpopulation problem all because of a beautiful cat and his passionate humans.

I am now a believer. The story of Tuxedo Stan, and his brother Earl Grey, will remain in my mind forever. Sadly, Stan passed away last year. In my mind, he left a legacy that will continue on long past his too-short lifetime. He proved to me that it doesn’t matter how difficult the issue or how stubborn the audience. I will never doubt the power of a good story ever again.

As bloggers you have the ability to write your own tales and change lives the way Stan’s followers did. Sure, a $40,000 goal may seem a bit lofty at first but if they could do it, I don’t think it is silly to say we all have the ability. We just need the passion; we just need to believe it is possible enough to try.

It’s not easy. So much of this feels futile. I know everyone reading this already cares, already knows how crucial these issues are. We keep talking and it seems like we never reach the people who most need to hear. It is insane to think of how many people still don’t know where pet store puppies are sourced, or who don’t even consider the problems of featuring whales in a parade float. This isn’t because they are bad people. They have just never been presented with a different view in a compelling way. Stan was able to reach these people. He was able to capture the attention of non-cat-loving Haligonians. Not because he was unique, but because his story was told in a positive and interesting way. Most people, when given the chance, will change their actions. Unfortunately, the battle-scarred combatants on the front lines of animal welfare often just don’t have the energy any more.

This is where you come in. As a writer, as someone who knows how to use social media to market your blog, you can tell these stories. You have the ability to encourage people to question and to make new choices. Your creative and inspiring words can motivate others to take action. As I’ve always said, when it comes to the Internet you never know who is paying attention. Stories have a sneaky way of reaching people who weren’t even seeking the information. It might start small. Stan’s people worked for long hours behind the scenes before they landed on such a winning idea. Years later, looking at all they have achieved and realizing how many lives one pretty cat saved, I can’t help but come away with this one thought: never doubt the power of a well told story.

BlogtheChangeCheck out the other important articles written for today’s Blog the Change event, or look up the vital animal-related causes on websites like and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Using these resources and a myriad of others, see if you can find a story worth telling. What’s the worst that can happen? This is my challenge to you. 

11 thoughts on “Never Doubt the Power of a Well Told Story

  1. I remember some of Stan’s campaign making the new out here and I thought it was a genius idea!
    I think people are growing numb to the sad Sarah McLachlan-type fundraising efforts. Even the good news ones of sad-case-now-adopted follow a familiar format, and while uplifting, can still be uncompelling.
    That’s where the ingenuity of Stan’s campaign shines, I think. It was a little different. It was funny and light and obscure, which draws in attention, but also serious and direct and logical when it came to the issues, thus becoming actually provoking and convincing.


  2. Bravo.

    The thing about an emotional appeal to charity is that it only works when you make it to someone who is *already* sympathetic. Think A Christmas Carol–Scrooge sees the same problems before and after his “conversion,” but it’s only afterwards that they mean anything to him. So, you can either 1) try to make an appeal so big and so irresistible that it creates sympathy (which is tricky, as those ASPCA commercials prove, because you risk over-doing it for people who do already “believe”) or 2) get at people some other way. Humor, quirkiness, etc.


  3. This is definitely when it helps to be great at marketing. We’re all trying to do our part – but sometimes you need that extra little *something* to capture the attention of the greater public at large. I’m afraid I’m not great at the ol’ marketing stuff… but hopefully as we all keep plugging away word gets out to more and more people. In the mean time, hopefully it’s like that old shampoo commercial: If you reach 2 people, and they reach 2 people, and so on, and so on…


  4. I love everything about this post. Tuxedo Stan really was a brilliant campaign and all it was was really a different take on the problem. I think every one is a little worn out on the whole “we have to save them, aren’t they sad, LOVE THEM!” marketing and it’s so refreshing to see some great, creative campaigns.


Comments are closed.