One of the benefits of working in animal welfare is that it makes me really popular in social gatherings. Whether it’s a posh dinner party at an LA hotspot, or a casual networking event, I have no trouble making new friends and engaging in small talk. I wish I could say it’s because I’m so charming and handsome – but no. It’s because as soon as people hear what I do for a living, those who were previously timid and socially awkward seem to magically come out of their shells to become bright, engaging conversationalists. Why? Because people love animals, and love talking about the adorable things they do.
Earlier this week, my friend Sara invited me to attend a charity fundraiser with her after work. When she picked me up, she seemed less than enthused about our evening plans, so I asked what was wrong.
“The only reason I’m going to this thing is because my boss wants me to network and build more relationships with community organizations.” She said, frowning, “But I suck at small talk. That’s why you’re here. You are so much better in these situations.”
“I’m not any better than you at small talk,” I said honestly, “I just have a sure-fire ice-breaker. If you want to spark a conversation, just ask them about their pets.”
Sara was intrigued by this concept, so we decided to try a social experiment. When we arrived at the fundraiser, the cocktail hour was in full effect with young professionals mingling and sipping craft cocktails. Determined to test my theory, Sara bravely walked up to a group of three women who were chatting. She introduced herself and somehow worked in a mention about her dog, Mimi. The conversation quickly took off, and by the time she was finished she had three new acquaintances and business cards to stay in touch.
“This is amazing!” she whispered when she found me again. “Why didn’t you tell me about this trick sooner? I think I just found my new pick up line at bars!”
Drunk with power over her new found social confidence, Sara stepped up her game and chatted up a few more small groups over the course of the rest of the evening. By the end, little Miss Social Butterfly had come away with some promising new professional contacts, and actually had a pretty great time in the process – all because she appealed to a common interest in adoring pets.
That’s it folks! That’s my secret to being a social ninja at parties. Be a good listener, and relate to people through their love of our furry friends. While it doesn’t work 100% of the time (particularly in situations where you’re dealing with people who aren’t necessarily animal lovers), it does work at least 90% of the time.
Be prepared to be a great listener though, because while this ice breaker is great at finding common ground to engage in fun banter with strangers, there are many animal “super fans” who when given the opening will go on…and on…and on…and on about their furry BFFs. These are the people whose cats have their own Instagram accounts, and throw lavish birthday parties for their shepherd mix. They plan dog friendly vacations. Their Holiday card photo is of Fido sitting on Santa’s lap. Their love is real, and it’s deep – so when you use this ice breaker on a “super fan,” just make sure you’re in a comfortable seat with a drink in hand, because you’re going to be there a while!
People’s need to relate to other animal lovers is one of the reasons our biggest fundraiser of the year, the Wiggle Waggle Walk, has become so popular. On Sunday, September 30th, we celebrated our 20th year – and it was our best turn out yet. More and more people come out with their dogs every year to spend a beautiful morning walking and socializing with fellow animal lovers.
It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year, and definitely the most fun for our staff and volunteers. Thousands of “super fans” came out with their dogs to hear great music, taste a variety of foods from LA’s best food trucks, shop for kitschy pet merch, and walk for an important cause. Every penny we raise from this event goes back into caring for the more than 12,000 animals that come through our doors every year.
So for all you animal lovers who came out this weekend to support us, thank you! To learn about ways you can help, visit us online at pasadenahumane.org.
Photo: Pasadena Humane Society