Animal haters — we probably all know one. Those of us who work in the newsroom at the Sparks Tribune have come to expect the nasty emails, letters and phone calls every time a warm, fuzzy story about pets runs in the newspaper.
It’s a bizarre phenomenon to me because this is the first newspaper I have ever worked at that has its own subset of pet-loathing readers. I’ve been in this business for close to 15 years, and the mantra I’ve heard up until now is, “Pictures of pets and children sell newspapers.”
This is not so in Sparks. Our motto should be, “Write about a pet, get ready to have your butt chewed by a hostile reader.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all our readers hate animals, but there is a specific group of people (you know who you are) that likes to send hateful letters in envelopes with no return addresses or anonymous emails telling us how much we suck for writing anything about pets. Look, I don’t mind if you want to complain, but at least have the courage to tell me who you are.
Recently, one reader who had the salt to write an email with a salutation in response to a pet adoption story made some thought-provoking points. He also said some pretty uncalled for things about a director of one of our local pet rescue agencies, but some of his comments prompted me to do some research … and to search my own mind.
The reader sent an email with a subject line of “Pets do NOT give unconditional love,” in reference to a quote we printed from the aforementioned director of a pet rescue agency.
“What an absurd quote to print,” the reader said in his email. “(The director’s) delusion about pets giving unconditional love. Three pit bulls mauled a woman to death in N.M. last week. Where was the looove? Dogs bite millions of people a year, and they poop all over our parks, sidewalks, gardens and carpets. Where’s the loooove? Animals are mental midgets; they can’t fathom the abstract concept of love. Love is a uniquely human trait/belief.”
I thanked the man for his opinion and went on with my day.
Later, he sent me a second message: “But I’m right. Pets do NOT give unconditional love. This belief is self-flattering nonsense based on ignorance of animal behavior.
Animals don’t have the mental capacity for love. Don’t be fooled by domesticated pack instincts of dogs.”
This time, I responded: “I didn’t give an opinion either way, sir. That’s not what I do.”
We exchanged several more emails over the course of the week in which I continued to tell him the opinions reflected in stories are not my own. I’m a journalist and therefore do not express my opinion in news pieces.
But I can express my opinion in this column, and I disagree with this reader. Even as I write this, my two Chihuahuas, Paco and Bailey, are at my side. They’re two of the sweetest creatures I have ever seen, with unique personalities, expressions and mannerisms. Over the course of the three years I have shared my home with these 3.5-pound pups, I’ve come to realize they have intellectual thoughts, which are manifested in certain behaviors. For example, I often make fairly complex statements to Paco and he responds by looking at me thoughtfully and then doing what I asked him to do (seriously).
My dogs also recognize and react to emotions and communicate with each other, and though they probably don’t know what the word “love” means, they know what it is. They also understand hate and can differentiate between “good” people and “bad” people.
I’m not an animal expert, but I have been around them for close to 30 years now. I grew up on a ranch with horses, dogs, cats, sheep, chickens, cows and goats. I’ve been training horses with my dad since I was a young girl, so I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to decipher what goes through the mind of an animal at any given moment as well as how to communicate with them.
While I do think people often assign too many human emotions to animals, it is pretty pompous of us to think we are the only living, breathing creatures with the ability for abstract thought.
And, just like people, some animals are more intelligent than others. Some are peaceful, while others are violent. And like people who hurt other people, animals who hurt people (especially vicious dogs) normally behave that way because something happened to them to make them mean.
To anyone who doesn’t like animals, just remember the animals probably don’t like you either. This doesn’t mean all pets should be euthanized (as one reader suggested to me in an email), it simply means you shouldn’t go out and adopt a cat. Also, just because you can’t communicate with animals doesn’t mean they don’t have functioning brains … or feelings. How would you feel if you went to a foreign country and the locals conducted experiments on you, or even euthanized you, simply because you speak a different language?
Jessica Carner is a reporter at the Sparks Tribune. Send your complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org.