Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why Are Some People So Mean When Animals Die?

Oh man, I'm pretty bummed.

You know me, I'm usually a pretty happy-go-lucky person and try to keep this blog in the same light. But this past week, I've felt pretty sad.  Even a little angry.  So that's your warning, lovely readers.  This entry may be a little sassy.  Forgive me.

I guess if Sir McCartney can be sassy about some things, I can too.

I really do try to be an open-minded person, especially with the field I'm in. I mean, I have my opinions on related topics.  Obviously, I am a marine mammal trainer and therefore support zoos and aquariums who bend over backwards for the animals in their care and provide the best quality education and outreach to their park guests.  But I understand the other perspectives on this topic.  I have dear friends who share an opposite opinion from me on these matters.  Somehow, despite our passionate differences, we are all able to not only get along, but make the best positive impact we can to actually help animals.

I try to stay away from extreme sides of the crudely named "pro" and "anti" zoo/aquarium agendas.  I think extremes on either sides do not result in positive change.  I think they result in isolation and propaganda, and in general just make everyone mad.  That kind of anger stalls progress.

When I get mad, I seriously can't do anything constructive.  Maybe if I'm a little irritated, or stressed, I can channel that into something good.  But when I'm spitting mad, I am worthless. 

For example, I lose things ALL THE TIME.  At this point, I have quantum physicists scratching their heads over the amount of matter I make completely disappear, disproving the first law of thermodynamics*.  However, occasionally I'm able to locate missing items.  
The other day, I couldn't find my car keys.  I was running late for work as a result, and I got really, really, really mad.  Like, I was running around the house swearing loudly, so loudly it scared my parrots into stunned silence.  The madder I got, the less I could focus on what I was looking at.  You could've had Chris Hemsworth buck naked in front of me, and I wouldn't have seen him**, I was SO MAD AT MYSELF FOR LOSING MY KEYS AND NOW I WAS GOING TO BE LATE FOR WORK AND MY LIFE IS OVER.

Quit goofing around and find my keys, Chris!

Anger completely clouded my ability to see my keys perched on a countertop, in broad daylight, right in front of me.  My husband was able to pierce the ire veil I was sporting.  I felt like a heel, but it amazed me at how little I could accomplish when I was really mad.  And that was at something stupid.

So when we get really upset at "the other side" of the zoo argument, we really....aren't doing ourselves any favors.  Therefore, why would we go out of our way to upset each other?  

This is the question I asked myself this week, when I saw the reactions to Georgia Aquarium's sad news about their young beluga calf passing away.  

This blog is getting sad, so here's a quick pick-me-up photo.

I've read some horrible, horrible responses to the deaths of animals at zoos and aquariums...especially marine mammals and elephants.  Strike that: dolphins, belugas, the occasional sea lion, and elephants.  Marine mammals is too broad of a term, since some of them seem to not "count" to many extremeists.  Not sure who decided that seals don't have souls the same way dolphins do, but I guess there is some kind of Wellness Hierarchy of Importance that animals fall under for us to care about.  If a facility loses an impala, no one appears to direct their "free the animals agenda" towards that event.  Why?  Certainly it's not because the impala's life is worth less than a killer whale's or elephant's.  At least, not to us real animal lovers.

I digress.  When an animal dies, and that facility decides to make an announcement about it on Facebook, it is incredible to see the comments following it.  I'll admit that in some cases, there is overwhelming support and genuine condolences.  But in other cases, there are a significant number of deeply cruel replies.  And that's what I'm really upset about.

To those of you who feel that it is a necessary part of your agenda to help animals by writing heartless, scathing comments in response to an animal death, can you please just take the time to read what I'm writing directly to you?

That's right.  You.

Do you genuinely feel that saying something like, "Captivity kills", or "At least she is swimming free in heaven and not suffering in a tank" is constructive?  Do you feel that the "greater good" of getting your point across somehow trumps the fact that you're being an insensitive, mean person?

Protesting or making slanderous comments at a funeral, memorial service, or memorial site (whether physical or cyberspace or whatever) is one of the lowest, crappiest decisions a human being can make.  Seriously.  You are using one of the worst times in those peoples' lives to....state your opinion?  Really?  By logical extension, I suppose you are okay with an organization like Westboro Baptist Church going to funerals and harassing people trying to mourn the loss of a loved one?  If you're not okay with that, then why are you doing the EXACT SAME THING to people in the animal care industry?

May we blink?

Is there kind of an impulse to like, punish us when we lose an animal?  Is there some voice in your head that says, "Oh good, see, now they're so sad that this animal died, they'll be SO willing to hear the super mean things I have to say"?  Or is it just a genuine need to twist the knife, so that you can wipe your hands clean and say, "Well, at least I punished them for their misdeeds."  What a childish, immature way of thinking.

Just so you know, when an animal passes away, it is a loss that is deeply, deeply felt.  In the recent case of the little beluga calf, would it hurt you or your cause if you acknowledged (like a decent human being) the following?

1) That there were a large number of people who spent days and days on end away from their families at the aquarium in freezing water, worrying every second about the well-being of that calf?  

2) That they got to know this calf as an individual as each day and hour passed?  That they got to see the bond between calf and mother?

3) That the animal caretakers went through a tumultuous emotional rollercoaster as the prognosis of this calf was assessed?  The anxiety, the hope, the sadness, the acceptance....all of the things you have probably gone through with a losing loved one (human or otherwise)?

You can disagree with the aquarium field all you want.  But these people spent countless hours and put their entire heart into caring for this little calf.  Keep your mean thoughts to yourself or go donate some goods to an animal rescue, shelter, or conservation cause.

When you see that an animal has died at a zoo or aquarium, even if you think zoos and aquariums are evil, you fail to acknowledge and respect the LIFE of that animal when you troll Facebook and talk about how happy you are that they are dead.  Or want to rub the animal caretakers' faces in it.  Or that it is somehow okay for you to proclaim "Well no kidding he/she died, because you enslaved them".   

The minute you make those comments, you not only establish yourself as an insensitive person, but you have bastardized the animal's individuality.  They lived a life.  They made meaningful connections, regardless of your own personal opinion of the quality of those relationships.  Your opinion doesn't change the fact that that animal probably looked forward to spending time with a favorite trainer or keeper, or spending time with a conspecific.  They learned, they loved, they impacted other animals, trainers/keepers/vets/volunteers, and guests.  They were important to someone.  It doesn't MATTER that you think they should be "wild and free".  Fine.  Think that! That's your prerogative.  But THOSE ANIMALS' LIVES MATTER.  When they die, they do not deserve to have a bunch of people sit at their computers and sophomorically pass harsh judgment and punishment in the form of cruel words.

If you love animals, you respect not just what they are but WHO they are.

Again, what is the end game here?  Is it to change our minds?  "Wake us up" or something?  Guess what you're really doing: making people really, really sad.  And really, really mad.  Far less likely to really hear what you have to say, if you have anything intelligent to add (which, look, I'm sure most of you do, even if you do show lack of character in flaming memorial posts).   

Hint: This is not what you want to accomplish when sharing your opinion with someone who does not agree with you.

When one of the dolphins I knew passed away at a very old age, the facility she lived at posted a lovely memorial to her on Facebook.  She was an incredible gal; very intelligent, a great leader (yes, I mean that); every dolphin wanted to be in her inner circle and she never ruled with an iron fist, and she was just a laid-back, charming personality.  She was also very recognizable to guests, so literally everyone who met her remembered her and adored her.  She just had a magnetic personality, and when she died she broke a lot of hearts (dolphins and humans).  

So what did people say about this?  Lots of nice things.  And then lots of awful things.  "You should've set her free", "She died a slave" blah blah blah.  I wanted to scream at the computer, "You guys didn't even know her!"  and "Give your armchair activistm/bullying a break; is nothing sacred?!"

What a great gal!

If you really want to get your point across, stop with the cyber bullying.  Start looking at the animals as individuals; start looking at the people working alongside of those animals as individuals.  We are all opinionated, we all come from the same place: we love animals.  If that's the only place where we agree, then so be it.  There is no reason for me to go out of my way to really tear into you and try to make you seething angry or sad, just as there is no reason for you to do the same to me.  Animal deaths are not proof of your opinion.  They are a tragic loss.  There are people and animals hurting during that time.  Find another way to reach out.  

Find another way to help the animals you love.  Channel whatever vindication you feel when you learn about an animal death to do something good for animals in need:


Step 2: Do something positive, like:

1) Donate your time at a local animal shelter
2) Donate money to a conservation cause of your choice
3) Journal your feelings privately (you can be as mean as you want to)....then go hug your dog
4) [insert your cool idea on a way to truly make an animal's life better here]

To the people who are reeling from loss, recent or distant, my heart goes out to you.  Especially those of you whose situation inspired this blog.  You did a wonderful thing for that little animal.  She was surrounded by her mom and a lot of humans who loved her and wanted the best for her.  A tragic end yes, one filled with devoted adoration and dedication.  I don't care how scientific you are or aren't, no one can argue that animals (humans included) do not know when they are safe and loved.  You provided that to her.  We provide that to our animals, old and young, every day in the best and worst of times.  The world would be a much better place if every person lived their lives like that, wouldn't it?


* Energy cannot be created nor destroyed.  Except if you have been touched by me, then you get a pass on all known scientific principles.

** Le sigh


  1. Your respect and love for those who spend their lives caring for ALL animals is clear Cat! Thank you for speaking for all of us once again. You are right on, your anger is justified and by putting that into words, may help educate those who are - somehow - unaware of the hurt and damage they cause. To the family at Georgia Aquarium: you surrounded that baby with love and the best care the world has to offer. I am proud to be a part of the same community as these heroes. Peace, thoughts and prayers are coming your way!

  2. Lovely blog Cat. Thanks you for, again, speaking for all of us

  3. You put all my feelings into words. Thank you for being so logical about such an infuriating subject. I also wish people wouldn't be so vindictive online and do something that actually has a positive impact for the animals.

  4. Thank you so much for this and I hope people who do comment see these. I was mourning the loss of my fav animal when comments appeared like I hope the keeper gets charged with animal welfare law and gets fired. Upsetting when I did my best and stayed for hours on end to care for her. Thank you

  5. This post is EXACTLY how I felt seeing those negative comments. My heart goes out to the Georgia keepers. Luckily, most of those armchair activists don't visit zoos, so if we stay away from social media we mostly get support from our coworkers, volunteers, and community.

  6. This is a lovely piece, Cat --- powerful, loving, generous (and very well written). I know several animal caretakers (one is my daughter) who are still mourning the recent loss of a wonderful elephant. They now have read this and taken heart and found comfort. Bless you.

  7. Really, really awesome. Summed up what most of us keepers have been trying to get out. Thank you!

  8. Animals go to hell when they die because they don't accept Jesus

  9. Thank you for your words!! I used to work at the Ga Aquarium before switching to the zoo side of the animal field. I have loved Maris for years. I was completely heart broken for the loss of the calf, and astounded at all the mean spirited comments. You put everything I felt into the words that I couldn't say at the time.