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.
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.
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