A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

The Glow Effect

Why everyone wants to adopt the dog who cheated the gas chamber

Daniel, the dog who beat the gas chamber

By Michael Mountain

The young beagle mix had been left in a drop box at the Florence, Alabama, pound. A few days later, along with other unwanted dogs, he’d been pushed into the gas chamber. And now, after emerging alive, he’s being hailed as a miracle.

“Maybe God just had a better plan for this one,” said city spokesman Phil Stevenson.

Now known as Daniel (after the Biblical character who survived being thrown into the lions’ den), the dog has been flown to a rescue group in New Jersey, where he’s being courted by eager would-be adopters – at least 100 just on the first day.

All of which raises the question: Why do so many people want him now, and no one wanted him before?

This is not a new phenomenon. One of the more famous examples was the mother cat Scarlett, who escaped from a fire in Brooklyn, NY, but was seen running back into the flames, over and over, emerging each time with another of her kittens. Scarlett was hailed as a hero, and 7,000 people from all over the country applied to adopt one of the family.

Mike, the director of the shelter told me with a wink that within a week he’d already placed “fifty of Scarlet’s kittens” in good homes! (All’s fair, not just in love and war, but also when it comes to saving lives!)

It was the same, earlier this year, with Patrick the pit bull, who’d been starved almost to death and dropped down a garbage chute in a plastic trash bag. Once he’d been rescued and the story had gone viral, Patrick was swamped with adoption offers.

Meanwhile, more than a million pit bulls will be put to death in shelters this year. (Any of those who survive the attempt to kill them will also be hailed as heroes and miracles, and will instantly have the pick of the adoption applications.)

In the wake of the 9/11 disaster in new York, Marcello Forte, the director of Animal Haven, told me that the shelter was deluged with applications from people around the country wanting to adopt “a 9/11 survivor.” Marcello pleaded with these folks to adopt one of the other dogs at the shelter “so we can give special care to the new arrivals.” But no one was interested in that. It had to be a real 9/11 dog.

After the 9/11 disaster, the shelter was deluged with applications from people around the country wanting to adopt “a 9/11 survivor.”

“Why don’t you just do what Mike did with Scarlett?” I suggested. “Who’s going to know the difference? After all, the dogs at the shelter were all in New York on 9/11, so it’s true.” But I guess Marcello was too honest to do that.

Linda Schiller, president of Eleventh Hour Rescue, the shelter that took in Daniel when he arrived in New Jersey, said the group had already received about 100 applications from people around the country. She added that half of those people said they weren’t interested in adopting another dog if Daniel wasn’t available.

I asked Zoe Science Editor, Dr. Lori Marino, who’s a professor of psychology at Emory University, what’s the psychology of all this.

“I call it the Glow Effect,” she explained. “It’s very common, and we all do it.”

In a nutshell, any of us feels a bit more special when we’ve gotten to meet someone we consider to be special. You can even get the glow effect at one remove: If I haven’t met anyone famous myself, I can still get a bit of glow from knowing someone who’s met Lady Gaga, Brad Pitt, or Elizabeth Taylor. (And now that we know that even the lowliest among us is only six degrees from Kevin Bacon, the glow is more accessible than ever.)

The glow can rub off on you in many ways. People felt they could be healed simply by having touched the robe of Jesus. And some of us will pay a small fortune for a celebrity autograph or for anything that’s being auctioned off that once belonged to Princess Di.

There’s an opposite effect, too. “Most people wouldn’t want to wear Adolf Hitler’s sweater, even if it had been laundered a hundred times,” Dr. Marino said. That’s a negative glow effect.

(Full disclosure: In case I’m coming across at all condescending, I should acknowledge that I never miss an opportunity to mention that Miss Popsicle, who’s sitting next to me as I write this, was one of the cats rescued in Beirut and brought to the United States during the 1996 war between Israel and the Hezbollah. There! Done it again!)

We all want to triumph over death. So what could be better than having the glow from someone like Daniel, who’s cheated death, right there in your own home?

As the latest in a remarkable line of death-defying pooches, this beagle has plenty of glow to rub onto the lucky person who adopts him.

After all, there’s no better connection than to someone who’s defied death. Knowing a celebrity may carry a bit of transient glow. But when it comes to a hero who’s cheated death, that’s off-the-charts glow. (Consider the ultimate superhero Hercules, who went down to Hades and was the only person ever to persuade the three-headed guard dog Cerberus to let him back up to Earth from the land of the dead.)

So, whoever has Daniel the beagle in their home will be feeling an extra special glow. Daniel, Scarlett, the dogs of 9/11, the dogs who came from Michael Vick’s kennels – these are all superheroes who survived death. And isn’t the conquest of death the ultimate heroic quest?

The good news is that none of us has to wait for the next Daniel, or the next Andrea (the cat, photo right, who, last month, survived a Utah gas chamber … twice!). The fact is any and every homeless pet you adopt has, by definition and without exception, just cheated death by going home with you. And the less likely she was to be adopted, the closer to death she was, and the greater the superhero she now is.

It turns out, then, that the superhero glow effect is available for the taking. Just head to your local shelter, adopt Fido or Fluffy, and it’s all yours.

That’s because every homeless pet we bring into our home brings with him or her the ultimate glow effect: the triumph of life over death.