If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one is worth a thousand lives. In fact, it is worth 39,276 of them. I was accused of “cruelty porn” by a commenter on Facebook on a post it accompanied about Why PETA Kills, my book, which I was offering for free in light of my victory over them in a court case. She objected specifically because I’ve posted it before, writing that while she agrees with me on most of the things I post about, “I am sick to death of this photo: It’s cruelty porn.”
That description is both unfair and factually inaccurate for a number of reasons. First, “cruelty porn” implies that the image is gratuitous or worse, salacious. It is neither. Many people are still not aware that PETA kills healthy cats and kittens. That they round them up specifically to kill them. That they have a history of lying to people in order to acquire their animals to kill. Or that they have also stolen to kill healthy and loved animals from their homes. Many people are not aware that they advocate that all dogs with a blocky head, no matter how friendly, should be killed in pounds. Or that they have defended abusive “shelters.” Or also that they fight reform legislation that would save more lives. The photograph is evidence; proof. And every time I post it, I get many people expressing shock and bewilderment.
Second, this is a mother cat and kitten who were well cared for by a veterinarian. They were in no danger of being killed, until PETA got their hands on them after promising the veterinarian that they would have no trouble finding them homes. But after lying to acquire the animals, PETA killed them within minutes, perhaps even before leaving his parking lot, in the back of a van, a donor-funded slaughterhouse on wheels. They then dumped their lifeless bodies in a supermarket dumpster, along with dozens of other animals: equally healthy cats, dogs, and small puppies. That backstory is what makes the image so disturbing; the fact that these were cats and kittens with their whole lives in front of them; healthy, friendly, and before PETA got their hands on them, in no danger; a lot more so than the image itself.
Third, it is an image from the book I am was offering for free and therefore salient to the post. Fourth, the fact I have posted it before doesn’t mean the same people have seen it, as people follow and unfollow Facebook pages all the time. This is true even for those who have been on this page for some time because Facebook only shows posts to a fraction of the people who follow a page.
For all these reasons, the photograph is designed to educate, not titillate. Admittedly, it is also designed to motivate people. Writing that PETA has killed 39,276 animals (that we know of) may be a horrifying number, but seeing an individual victim — or in this case three — makes it very real. Social science research shows that people are moved to action when victims are individualized, more so than when presented with statistics of the number of victims.
It is why the image of a hungry child, with a distended belly, motivates us to give, unlike hearing about the number facing famine. Or why a photo of a dead child, washed up on shore, can shift public opinion about the fate of migrants, more so than discussions of what those migrants face and why they risk everything to come to the West. Or why a photo of a bleeding, crying child finally wakes people up to Syrian and Russian crimes against humanity in a city no one had ever heard of before or took notice of, despite the fact that Aleppo has been in the news for years. That’s not “porn.” Like here, it’s a plea for kindness, civility, decency, humaneness, and an end to violence it is within our power to end.
There are other photos of other animals PETA has killed in my book, animals found by North Carolina police in a dumpster, along with these cats and kittens. Photos of dead animals sent to me by PETA employees. Photos of animals PETA rounded up to surrender for killing at local pounds. But they are relatively small in number compared to the 39,276 victims PETA has reported killing to the Commonwealth of Virginia, the vast majority of who will forever remain anonymous: community animals who are caught in traps, animals who are surrendered to PETA after PETA promises to find those animals a home, or animals surreptitiously taken from their homes and immediately killed by PETA employees. These are the animals killed in a small shed on PETA’s Norfolk, VA headquarters, outside of public view and the media glare, of which PETA is normally so fond. Not so this mother cat and her kittens, who must therefore serve as proxies for tens of thousands of other animals whose stories, and even names, will never be known.
So as long as PETA continues to kill, and so long as new chapters continue to unfold in this grisly, god-forsaken story of cruelty and betrayal, I will continue to share, and honor, this mother cat and her kittens by using a photo of their lifeless bodies to reach the legions of animal-loving, PETA supporters who have no idea that the money they donate to protect the lives of animals are instead being used to end them.
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