How mutts at pounds became rescue dogs at shelters (review of Chuck Thompson’s The Status Revolution: The Improbable Story of How the Lowbrow Became the Highbrow)

How do you know if someone’s adopted a rescue dog?

They can’t wait to tell you.

And how do you know if someone’s bought a dog from a breeder?

They don’t want to tell you or they apologize.

Not so long ago, buying a pricey pup was a status marker for the have-lots.

The have-nots went to the pound and bought themselves cheap mutts.

But then a California shelter overrun with abandoned pets rebranded strays as rescue dogs and launched a global revolution. Rescue dogs became the new status symbol available to everyone.

The top reasons to adopt a dog according to the American Humane Society? You’ll save a life and bragging rights.

Owning a rescue dog became a badge of honour, says Chuck Thompson, author of The Status Revolution. “A badge that said I am a good person, I care about living creatures, I am virtuous. I am better than other pet owners. It conveyed status, but a new kind of status, one disconnected from wealth, talent, intelligence, success, religious or professional standing.”

That disconnect isn’t limited to just your neighborhood dog park. Thompson says a rebellion’s underway against pretty much all traditional measures and markers of status, prestige, luxury and privilege. “It’s taken hold at all levels of society. It’s swamping the status industry, from the academics who track and analyze it to the philosophers who explain it, the companies that manufacture it, the marketers that promote it, the retailers that sell it, the media that popularize it and the consumers who buy it.

“Like topped statues of Confederate generals and Founding Fathers, it’s possible that within a generation or two, traditional totems of status will have been rendered obsolete, and new ones erected in their places.”

Philanthropy’s traditional totems of status are also changing thanks to one of the world’s richest women.

Mackenzie Scott has pledged to give away her entire $60 billion fortune. She’s already donated more than $14 billion to around 1,600 non-profits. Many of those organizations had no idea Scott’s cheques were in the mail.

“The amount of Scott’s giveaway was shocking,”says Thompson. “What make it transformative, what ‘upended’ the philanthropy establishment, was the way in which donations were made. Many were sent to organizations that hadn’t even applied for grants, that didn’t even know they were on Scott’s radar.”

It’s an approach that lets non-profits stay focused on delivering programs and services and not spend time or money applying for grants.

What’s more, Scott doesn’t dictate how her donations should be spent, trusting that non-profits know best how to invest the money for maximum impact. There are no follow-up reporting requirements and Scott shuns recognition. You won’t find Scott’s name on buildings or see pictures of her holding giant cheques or cutting ribbons with giant scissors.

“Scott’s out-of-the-blue commitment to ‘trust-based philanthropy’ shocked just about everyone,” says Thompson. “Understood by everyone in the philanthropy trade, ‘full trust and no strings attached’ were code words that scared traditional foundations whose habit of sitting on millions and billions of assets, while annually parsing out the legal minimum five per cent of their endowments to pet projects with more strings than a marionette, was suddenly cast into an unwelcome spotlight,” says Thompson.

Following Scott’s lead, San Franciso-based Whitman Institute joined a growing number of ‘spend-down foundations’.

“This is another newish operating model that dictates a foundation should spend down or ‘spend out’ all of its capital reserves within a designated period of time, and then, once all the money is gone, simply cease to exist,” says Thompson. “The give-it-all-away rationale is that if a foundation’s true goal is to help alleviate a particular social ill, it should damn the torpedoes and throw everything it has available at the problem.”

Status is in chaos and Thompson does a masterful job of explaining why and previewing what’s next. “For the first time in history, social status is becoming available to the masses. Status, luxury, even prestige are now commodities within everyone’s grasp. Status is no longer for the gilded elect. It’s for everyone. The curtain is drawn. Everyone gets backstage. Everyone’s a VIP.”

Photo by Connor Home on Unsplash.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager at McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.