Jul 112012

Two stories about human society’s interaction with domestic pets have become viral news sensations of late. Both stories illustrate how fear and irrational belief can turn a few facts into propaganda with disastrous consequences.

Gray Maine Coon Cat in window

Digital art by BZTAT

One of these stories recently led on all major news outlets. The “Crazy Cat Lady Suicide” story reinforced the myth that women who love cats are nuts, and it unnecessarily promoted fear about having cats as pets. The story over sensationalized a few facts about Toxoplasma gondii infection, a serious but rare illness. Stories about recent research were thinly sourced and poorly examined, as this excellent Catster article by JaneA Kelley explains.

The impact is a clear, but false message: Cats kill you and make you crazy.

Never mind all that research validating that pets, including cats, have numerous benefits for enhancing human mental health.

Lab Pit Bull Mix dog art by BZTAT

Digital art by BZTAT

The other story is more tragic. It is the story of Lennox, the dog who was taken from his family simply because he looked like a breed of dog banned in his city of Belfast, Ireland.

Lennox never harmed or even threatened to harm anyone. He was loving family pet. His breed was never determined. Yet his appearance suggested that he was a pit bull terrier mix, a banned breed. He was removed from his family needlessly by authorities driven by irrational fears.

After a lengthy legal battle and worldwide campaign to save him, Lennox was euthanized this morning. His family and supporters around the globe are beset by needless grief.

Vicious dogs and pet-to-human transmission of diseases are serious concerns. They require rational consideration and sensible responses by our human society, not the crazed sensationalism that these two stories represent.

Irrational fears fueled by propaganda make us a fearful and fearsome society. We are to be feared more than the innocent animals to whom we ascribe blame for the dangers to humanity.

Breed specific legislation (BSL) such as that in Belfast is an ineffective over-reaction to a serious problem. Sensationalizing the story of toxoplasmosis is irresponsible journalism that takes away from responsibly educating the public about a rare but serious disease.

Our response to legitimate concerns are tragically taking us further away from effectively managing the problems we created by domesticating animals in the first place.

When will we ever learn?

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt



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  5 Responses to “Fear makes us a fearful society: Cat Lady Suicide and Lennox the Dog”

  1. Well said! We grieve for Lennox…and we think JaneA hit the spot exactly with her rebuttal. We were severely disappointed in NPR’s coverage and sensationalizing of this issue, too.

    • Thx! The cat story amazed, but did not really surprise me. The Lennox story, though, just totally confounds me. The dog pictured above is my niece’s dog Halpert who looks a lot like Lennox. Halpert is one of the most docile and well behaved dogs I have ever seen. He is well trained and managed by his owners. We’re he in Belfast, he would suffer the same fate as Lennox. How can ANYONE say that makes sense?

  2. As a registered nurse let me first say before you can get Toxooplasmosis gondii your cat must be infected with it and if your cat is indoors, they most likely do not have it. You are more at risk from handling raw meat and gardening in infected soil in your yard. Practicing good hygiene is all that is needed, wear gloves and always wash your hands-problem solved!

  3. Lennox having been put-to-death for how he looked is just so sad and perplexing! Well-known trainer and television personality, Victoria Stillwell, offered to bring Lennox to the United States and adopt him as her own dog. She gave a viable solution and a concrete way for the officials to bow out gracefully, but still they refused…. Those who are sad and angry use that energy to change the BSL laws in your town, state, and nation.

  4. Good points, Veronica. As the Catster article that I referenced reports, most of the hysteria created by the Cat lady Suicide story is so irrational and not at all in consideration of the facts. Even the story written by Gawker reports that there is no new ground in the research and that the cat connection is minimal compared to other risks.

    With the Lennox story, I cannot agree with you more. There is an overlooked issue in this whole mess, however. In our anguish about the outcome, it is easy to overlook the message in the official reasoning for the outcome. The council statement read, “Over the past two years, Council officials have been subjected to a sustained campaign of abuse including threats of violence and death threats.” The overzealous actions of some animal rights activists that were so inappropriate and not reflective of the majority seem to have prompted some of the inflexibility on the part of the officials. It is a lesson to learn. When advocating for animals, we cannot be irrational and inflexible ourselves, as we can easily compel the opposite outcome to what we want.

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