Rachael Rodgers didn’t set out to accumulate 80,000 Instagram followers.
She only started her account at a co-worker’s insistence. Rodgers had been posting photos of her adventures while mountain biking around Canmore, and her colleague thought they would do well on Instagram.
“I thought I could bring local trail data to local bikers,” Rodgers says. “I was doing that for a while until I started seeing a lot more traffic on some of my favourite trails.”
She realized she could use social media as a tool — for more than crowding her favourite rides — when a picture of her dog went viral with tens of millions of followers.
“I started getting a lot of followers that were more dog people and saw the opportunity to showcase some dogs who needed it — my dogs don’t,” Rodgers says.
She volunteered at a local shelter as a dog walker where she convinced them to let her take the dogs on longer adventures outside of their normal walking routes. That was in 2016 and, since then, her account has blossomed to where she features several adoptable dogs from Canmore and Calgary-area shelters in beautiful portraits and playful videos.
“Since it was shown to be a success, a lot of shelters approach me now which is a lot less work for me,” Rodgers says. “There was definitely some convincing (of) some shelters in the beginning, going through everything slowly and thoughtfully and empathizing with their concerns. I’ve done a lot of learning and I think I had a lot I could bring for information, for how it could work.”
That brought her to releasing an online social media guide PDF for shelters and now an upcoming book, Adventures with Adoptable Dogs: An Instagram Guide for Animal Advocates. The book will be published in April by Rocky Mountain Books and features both advice for shelters and shelter volunteers, as well as stories and gorgeous photos of some of the dogs Rodgers has met along the way.
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This is Spudd. He’s a year old. Our trusty buddy (and chauffeur to the occasional homeless dog) Kelly picked Spudd up from the shelter and brought him to Canmore and traded for Anna (who has a warmer reaction to Kelly than to me). Word at the shelter is that Spudd is a “puller”; he wore a harness (from the shelter) made to minimize pulling. But sometimes full pulling is more fun than minimal pulling (if one plans on standing on skis while someone else pulls them, for instance). So I changed his harness and packed my skis. When I presented Spudd with my car (hatch open), he pretended convincingly that he didn’t know what to do. After some dilly-dallying and words of encouragement, he jumped in. I drove us to Lake Louise while he breakfasted on kibble in the back. It’s not easy to find a suitable place (groomed ski trail) where one is permitted to wear skis while simultaneously being tethered to a dog around these parts. The beautiful, frozen Lake Louise groomed XC ski trail met us with a non-ambiguously worded sign: “no dogs please”. Not very welcoming to my buddy (who happens to be a dog), but we found an alternative: a bumpy, icy route across the lake packed by many booted feet over the winter. I figured this was going to be about the most embarrassing place to test our ski relationship. (It wasn’t the first plan, but it’s where we ended up.) We started slowly, letting Spudd get used to my bizarre outfit and skis, and to me chasing towards him at the same speed as he ran away from me (and my bizarre outfit and skis). Spudd was a very good sport with all of this nonsense. After an awkward few-minute spectacle alternating between tying me up and tying himself up, we were off. I only crashed thrice and that was because we were forced to ski in an uncivilized manner on a walking route made of rerouting mounds and bumps. Each time I fell, Spudd ran to me immediately, looking remorseful. Each time I assured him it wasn’t his fault and then he licked my face (not necessarily in that order). Do you know someone who would love an empathetic puller like Spudd? Let them know he’s currently waiting at @aarcs in Calgary. #adoptable
A post shared by Rachael Rodgers (@trailsandbears) on Feb 1, 2020 at 7:07am PST
Rodgers was neither trained in social media or photography — she graduated from university with a double major in biology and psychology — and, surprisingly to her, it came naturally.
“It’s a really weird thing to discover I’m good at because I grew up in the woods, outdoors and with nothing like this at all, nothing in the realm of social media,” she says.
One important thing she’s focused on as she’s built her Instagram following and gotten dozens of dogs adopted: don’t talk about a pup’s breed, instead talk about the dog’s character. Breeds invoke stereotypes — positive or negative — that may not apply to the adoptable dog.
“My old dog happens to be a purebred border collie,” Rodgers says. “My partner got him from a farm, they were going to get rid of him because he needed surgery. He is not like any other stereotypical border collie. If somebody wanted a border collie and they got him, I don’t know if they’d be disappointed. He’s amazing, but he’s not a stereotypical border collie. I think you need to meet a dog — if you’re going to adopt a dog or get a dog in your family, the best way is to volunteer or foster and then you can find out if that dog is a great fit. Short of that, that’s what I try to bring to my posts, expedite the process for people so they don’t have to spend a week with a dog and realize it’s not the right one for their family.”
Though her Instagram account, trailsandbears, has been a success, she still works “about 10 jobs” including selling her own hybrid photograph-digital art of Canmore landscapes. The book, and her account, is more about helping shelters use social media to get the word out about adoptable dogs.
“It’s a free resource for shelters and it’s so untapped, so far,” Rodgers says. “But we’re going in the right direction.”