When People Say Stupid Things About Animals

by admin on January 4, 2012

Introducing a new category to EHell – Petiquette!  Stories of bad pets (actually their owners), how to interact with animals and their owners, teaching good people manners to pets.

 

This is a combination story and request for advice. This issue has come up often enough that my husband and I dread it, and we’re really unsure of what reaction etiquette dictates.

So. We have a large number of pets. Among these pets are quite a few reptiles, including a water dragon, a bearded dragon, a tegu, a corn snake, and several skinks. We know that our pets are unusual, and not to everyone’s taste. We don’t try to force people to handle or deal with them, we don’t bring them anywhere uninvited, and when we have guests the reptiles stay in their enclosures unless said guests ask to see them. We do try to gently correct some misconceptions that people have about them, but otherwise we try to be respectful of the fact that not everyone feels the same way about reptiles that we do.

The problem that we’re having is that sometimes, when people find out we have reptiles, they fall back on the only frame of reference they have, which involves horrible stories about reptile death and abuse. One of our friends insisted on telling us about the time she and her husband found a (most likely harmless) snake in their driveway, and her husband killed it by repeatedly running it over with their car. One of my mother’s acquaintances delights in telling us about an alligator used as a classroom pet at a school where he worked. When the school tired of caring for it, they first tried to kill it by dumping bleach in its water, then allowed one of the students to beat it to death.

The people who tell us these stories expect us to say that they did the right thing, or worse yet, find these horror stories funny. They’re always surprised when we find them deeply upsetting instead. Our pets may not be cute or cuddly, but we love them dearly. Telling us these stories is akin to telling a devoted cat owner about the time you accidentally stomped a kitten to death. And then being surprised when that person doesn’t find the story funny. We understand that these people are trying to find common ground with us, but we still don’t know what the proper response should be. The last time this happened I actually lost my temper and ended up leaving the room.

So I ask you, oh etiquette maven, what is the proper response to these occasions?  1229-11

{ 137 comments… read them below or add one }

Cherry January 4, 2012 at 5:47 am

My response to being told such a story would be to ask:
“And then of course you called the police and reported them for animal cruelty?”
I absolutely LOATHE the idea that only the “cute” animals deserve to be well treated. I have a personal fondness for some of the more “unusual” creatures (such as most reptiles) and I’d be horrified if I was told a story like this!
Quite frankly, if one of my friends told me a story of the time they killed an animal in such a horrible way, and expected me to find it funny, I would consider it valid reason to sever our friendship permanently. Disgusting.

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Green123 January 4, 2012 at 5:54 am

“Our pets may not be cute or cuddly, but we love them dearly. Telling us these stories is akin to telling a devoted cat owner about the time you accidentally stomped a kitten to death.”

I think this is an excellent response. As a cat owner, anyone finding tales about cruelty to cats funny would not be welcome in my home or my social circle.

As owners of such unusual and interesting animals, you have an excellent opportunity and a responsibility to help bust some myths that reptiles are slimy or dangerous or whatever else people think of them, but ultimately, if people disrespect your views and are rude about animals which are members of your family, it’s perfectly OK to decide not to spend time with them.

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Wim January 4, 2012 at 6:06 am

Why not just explain it to your visitors the way you explained it to us above?

“I’m sorry, but I find that kind of story deeply upsetting. Our pets may not be cute or cuddly, but we love them dearly. Telling us these stories is akin to telling a devoted cat owner about the time you accidentally stomped a kitten to death.”

You can change the details in your example from kitten to puppy, parrot, or whatever animal you know your visitor would be fond of, and I’m sure he or she will get the message that way.

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Bocleo January 4, 2012 at 6:16 am

It’s fine to stop people regaling these horrible stories. Just ask them to stop.

I really wish there had been a warning on this entry though – those descriptions of animal abuse were quite upsetting.

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grumpy_otter January 4, 2012 at 6:25 am

I’m with the OP–I love the creepy-crawlies and find them surprisingly affectionate and cuddly. Well, sort of–I know when my snake would “cuddle” it was really just “you’re warm!”

I think this is akin to women immediately launching into their horror stories of labor when they find out someone is pregnant. With reptiles, finding common ground is probably not that easy, so they go for the stories that stand out.

I share your horror at the abuse some people think is just fine–I’d report that school to the authorities.

Keep doing what you’re doing–try to educate people about how useful and interesting these creatures can be, and maybe you’ll have a small impact on their perception.

Perhaps some sort of reply along the lines of “Because we have reptiles as pets, that story is really upsetting to me. Would you like some more bean dip?”

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jen a. January 4, 2012 at 6:57 am

I wouldn’t know what to say either. It would probably be something along the lines of “What the heck is wrong with you?” Who thinks stories of animal abuse are funny? I don’t have any reptiles as pets either, but I would never think this is appropriate. The story of the alligator is going to haunt me today.

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melissa January 4, 2012 at 7:05 am

One time when Steve Irwin was in the Australian outback when he, his wife and crew were invited in to tea, a generous gesture in a place where houses are few and far between. The couple proceeded to tell him about how they and their kids loved to run over emus (large native, flightless birds generally considered harmless unless provoked) in their cars, describing how they tried to turn around just as they were hit. As an Australian and an animal lover, this makes me see red, but it is similar to your dilemma, and shows people really have no clue. In that situation, apparently the silence was deafening, and Steve thanked the couple, but excused themselves quickly.

If close friends force their tales of murder and torture on you, discuss your objections as you feel comfortable. For aquantices, simply politely cut in when you realise where the story is going, or excuse yourself – they’ll get the hint. About the alligator – I would have called the rspca, or peta, whatever animal helpline is in your country – sickening.

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Michelle January 4, 2012 at 7:12 am

I’m a longtime reader, first time commenter.

First, to comment on your story, and the stories of others you relate. What horrible stories! As for myself, I’m a huge dog-lover and not much into reptiles. But I would never never never hurt a reptile, nor do I even speak poorly of them. I guess I’m just not used to them. And as for the school getting rid of the alligator because they “got tired of caring for it”, what kind of a message does that send to students, or to anyone? “If you get tired of something (or someone – not far to make that leap!), just get rid of them. Beat ‘em to death if you have to.” That is so horrible, it defies description.

I used to not understand fully peoples’ affection for animals, though, until I got a dog of my own. Since getting her, I have learned how a person can love an animal, and I am far more sensitive in my thoughts (I always was in my words, also, but never really felt it sincerely, deeply, until I got my own dog).

As far as the etiquette response to these horrible, laughingly-told stories goes…I would just look at them, stunned, and say in a small sad voice, “That’s terrible. That poor alligator. He wasn’t even doing anything wrong…he was just being an alligator…”

I really like your site, Jeanne!

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QueenofAllThings January 4, 2012 at 7:16 am

“What a horrific story.” I think that says it all, without being judgemental or angry.

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Jojo January 4, 2012 at 7:27 am

Woah, you’re having second thoughts about ditching people who mindlessly abuse animals from your life? It’s a fair sign that someone has a serious personality disorder when they take pleasure in torturing a creature to death.
While I have a bit of a phobia of snakes, there’s no way that I’d kill one unless I considered my life to be in danger – and even then, I wouldn’t go around bragging about it or turning it into an anecdote.
Personally, I would express my deepest concerns to the friend of the mother about the child involved in the alligator death and inquire about his current state of mental health – they wouldn’t have encouraged him to do that to another child or a dog or a hamster, after all. The only way to react is to nod politely and bean dip, or reply with genuinely concerned questions about why the perpetrators felt so threatened by a harmless animal.

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Sarah Jane January 4, 2012 at 7:35 am

Oh my goodness! That story about the school is going to give me nightmares. What an unspeakable thing to do to a class pet, and to encourage it at the hands of a student. What kind of educational institution would deem this as okay? If that had happened at my school of employment, I’d have reported it to my superiors immediately. I’m surprised someone didn’t call the local news.

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Rob aka Mediancat January 4, 2012 at 8:08 am

My response would be on the order of “I don’t find that kind of thing humorous at all,” a frosty change of the subject, and a vow to avoid socializing with these people in the future if at all possible. While I’m not afraid of snakes or lizards, I can understand that some people would be, but there’s a difference between expressing your nervousness or terror of these creatures and expressing your delight when one of them is injured or killed.

Their behavior is appalling.

Rob

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MellowedOne January 4, 2012 at 8:19 am

I would think an expression of shock at such an action, following by an expression of sympathy for the creature involved, would suffice to convey your feelings and stifle future remarks of similar nature.

“OMG!! How horrible! Poor thing, I can’t believe someone would be so cruel to an animal” – –
Maybe something like that?

In a somewhat similar experience, I was at the pet store buying a BIG bag of food for my dog, and the cashier asked what breed I owned. I told him Great Dane and he inquired his weight. Of course almost every time I tell someone this they have to tell of a dog they know owned by their friend’s sister’s cousin’s uncle who is taller/bigger/etc. etc. So anyway, the cashier proceeds to tell of someone’s Rottweiler who weighed X pounds, far more than my dog, who is at 150lbs. So I said, “Poor thing! He must be horribly overweight!” You get the horror stories; I get endless tall tales presented as fact, a kind of ‘one-upmanship’.

I must admit, tho, I did not say anything to the man who “knew” a Great Dane that could look him in the eyes while both were standing up. :O

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L.J. January 4, 2012 at 8:36 am

I’d have kicked the alligator person out of my home and told them they were lucky not to get a boot in the butt to help them on their way down the stairs. The snakekillers too, though in a slightly more civil way because at least they weren’t teaching children to torture animals. I guess if you had to be polite to these monsters, you could have simply stood up, announced that you hoped they’d had a pleasant visit, and brought them their coats.

Your pets sound cool. I’d never heard of tegus and skinks before.

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SHOEGAL January 4, 2012 at 8:39 am

I do NOT keep reptiles as pets and although I don’t find them appealing I would not find stories of maliciously killing any of them to be pleasant or funny either. My sister in law told a similiar story of running over a snake in her driveway repeatedly and I was appalled. My husband and I go out of our way to save anything from harm – we’ve got out of our car and moved an aggressive snake out of the street so it wouldn’t get run over – we’ve done it for turtles – rodents. I don’t even want to kill spiders!!! I think politely telling anyone that you would prefer not to hear stories of their deaths would keep most people quiet.

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Kovitlac January 4, 2012 at 8:40 am

That’s just disgusting. I get that not everyone enjoys the company of wild snakes, but that hardly makes it appropriate to talk in great detail about how you killed one. And the story about the alligator was truly disturbing, as would any situation be where children are actively being taught to abuse animals.

I don’t know what all you really can do, besides excluding those specific individuals from any other get-togethers at your home, or just react with genuine disgust. People don’t like it when someone does not react to their tale the way the thought they would, and while it might make that immediate conversation awkward, they’re probably not likely to tell you anymore of their stories.

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AMC January 4, 2012 at 8:45 am

I can understand why these stories would upset you. I find them upsetting too. Animal abuse is still abuse whether it happens to a furry kitten or to an alligator. Part of me wants very badly to say this to these people who insist on telling you their reptile horror stories, but I doubt it would change their minds; more than likely it would just put them on the defensive. I think your best bet is to bean dip them (change the subject as soon as it looks like they may veer toward a reptile-related horror story). If that fails, I think it’s fine for you to gently say to them that these types of tales make you uncomfortable. If they still persist, do exactly as you have done before and get up and leave the conversation.

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Susan January 4, 2012 at 8:54 am

Please include a warning that the “petiquette” blog has disturbing content. I would not have read it had I known it included torture of animals. Some people can read about this and move on; I can’t. It haunts me. Please do others a favor and warn people. Frankly, I’d much rather read a “naughty” word in a post than to read about a poor animal’s agonizing death.

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Coralreef January 4, 2012 at 8:58 am

I find reptiles to be fascinating animals. I wouldn’t know how to take care of them, but they have a unique beauty of their own. My own pets are dogs and birds (and people find me strange to have birds) and I’ve been the owner of a few rodents in the past.

As how I would react, I would probably either leave after sending freezing cold glare or point out that I do not enjoy stories of animal abuse (because this is what they are) and that because reptiles have a bad reputation, it does not mean that they deserve to bear the brunt of some sadistic excuse of human humour or ignorance-fueled fear. I would probably end up in eHell, but I’m pretty sure I would have quite a bit of company.

As with any other animals, unless you are in danger, leave them alone, they’ll probably be happy to just get away from you.

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NOPH January 4, 2012 at 9:00 am

I am on the fast track to being “the crazy ol cat lady”. (well, I hope, I only have two fur babies currently.) I’ve met people don’t like cats and will speak of hurting them. I also am the type that cries during those ASPCA commericals with the sad music.
I think a look of shock and horror followed with “oh how terrible for a living creature to suffer like that at the hands of our own species! I’m so sorry, but I absolutely can not stand to hear the conclusion of your story, can we please change the subject to something more pleasant?” would be polite and get your point across. If the person insists on continuing with a story of abuse, leave or ask them to leave, even if it is a dear friend. If one reads your post and substitutes “grandma” for snake/aligator/reptile, there would be outrage at how people think nothing of killing a creature crossing their driveway. I think politely and firmly asking directly not to tell you such things and maybe having a few better “new subjects” to discuss (weather, local sports, anything but abuse!) might work, but on some people you are going to have to back up your words by leaving/having them leave. That is ok, you do not want to advocate animal or grandma abuse or give the impression you find abuse acceptable. If it is a very close friend you need to have a private conversation explaining to them that to you when they talk about hurting a reptile, it makes you feel the same as if they were casually talking about beating a child, grandmother, dog, etc. I don’t like snakes much, although my man loves finding them down by our lake (well, not all of them, we’ve got some dangerous ones in North Mississippi). I don’t even like to hear about a lion catching an antelope – I’m glad the lion can eat and won’t starve, but I get upset the other creature had to die. I had to learn to explain nicely to some of my rural family I don’t want to hear the details of how that chicken came to be on the dinner table and that isn’t even abuse. I found a simple “I’m so sorry Aunt C, I just do not have the fortitude to hear this story out, but dinner does smell wonderful. How was the corn crop this year? Have you seen any of the ads talking about all the different uses corn has? I didn’t know it could go in your car or sweeten your tea!” has worked, although some of my tougher cousins do enjoy teasing me about not being a meat eater. A few have crossed the line with teasing and comments and I simply do not speak to or acknowledge them any longer unless they apologize and back off. You must have what they refer to around here as a “polite spine” to make these kind of situations better, not worse for you or the other party. Set your goal/boundry and politely keep it. =) good luck!

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Cady January 4, 2012 at 9:18 am

I would say something like, “It’s unfortunate that people think animal cruelty is OK when the animals don’t have feathers or fur,” and change the subject. What these people are talking about IS animal cruelty/abuse, and if they haven’t figured that out, it’s time someone told them. Plus, they are being incredibly insensitive, and I don’t think there would be anything rude in pointing out the wrongness of beating an animal to death just because it’s no longer convenient to own, and then changing the subject.

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WildIrishRose January 4, 2012 at 9:19 am

“Oh, I know lots of people aren’t crazy about reptiles, and it’s fear that makes them cruel to these animals. I myself have had a lifelong fear of poodles [kittens, rabbits, babies, you decide] and I never miss an opportunity to rid the world of one!”

You say this in a cheery voice with just an edge of insanity, of course, indicating that you never would actually consider stomping a baby to death, but conveying your opinion of these idiots.

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Michele January 4, 2012 at 9:25 am

“Animal cruelty is never funny.” That is all you need to say. If they keep at it, stoop to their level of rudeness and point out that people with severe psychiatric disorders often gain pleasure from torturing animals. That ought to quiet them down for a while. :-)

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Lilac January 4, 2012 at 9:32 am

What kind of a school lets a child beat an animal to death? And what sort of child is willing to do something like that? Can you say sociopath?

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EditorBree January 4, 2012 at 9:33 am

Honestly, these people sound somewhat sadistic, and there’s no really polite answer to sadism. Torturing an animal to death, even one that’s not “cute and cuddly” is never ok. What kind of a school allows a child to beat something to death when they’re tired of caring for it? I’m not personally a fan of reptiles, and I have a deathly fear of snakes, but I would certainly never run one over repeatedly with my car. The fact that these people think this is funny is disturbing. In situations like these, I tend to respond with a stunned silence, but if you’re trying to be polite and avoid any awkwardness, you might just have to go ahead and “beandip”

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Xtina January 4, 2012 at 9:37 am

I would probably say pretty close (but edited) to what is on my mind, which would be something along the lines of, “what an awful thing to happen to animal–human beings can be so callous sometimes and I can’t believe anyone would find that an acceptable way to solve a problem”. Then carry on the discussion from there while politely emphasizing that there are people to call or certain things one can do in situations where they are scared of a reptile–or saying that misinformation has sullied this reptile’s reputation to such horrible ends. I suspect those things come from fear but use it as a chance to educate them.

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Stepmomster January 4, 2012 at 9:38 am

I believe that there is a time for complete honesty, and this is one of them.

I have no idea why people think that calm, rational honesty is rude. There is nothing wrong with calmly looking at your offensive guest after such a horror story and saying “I know you love that story, but it really makes me sad to hear about intentional animal abuse. I hope you don’t mind if we change the subject”

Then, in a upbeat tone of voice, change the subject. I know it is really hard to embarrass someone like that, but consider it an example of positive peer pressure. I have had several people in my lifetime firmly disagree with me during a conversation because I was unintentionally rude. Their honesty prevented me from continuing to be socially unacceptable and helped me to think before I spoke. The most effective corrections came from the people who politely disagreed and then changed the subject in a pleasant manner by asking me about something in my life, like my work or children. It made me feel like even though they were offended, they still wanted my friendship and it took the sting out of the situation.

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Chocobo January 4, 2012 at 9:40 am

I think the correct response in situations such as these is to play dumb, so to speak. What I mean is that the OP and her husband should listen to the story, and at the point it becomes clear it is about animal abuse, say: “Oh my gosh! That’s horrific! I’m so sorry.” Be sure to express sympathy for the speaker as though the story represents as much emotional trauma for them as it does for oneself. Even if the speaker meant the story to be funny or interesting, the listeners should purposefully “misunderstand” the meaning as a tale of woe. It is important that this be said in all seriousness and without an iota of sarcasm. Most people will be shamed into going along with that sentiment as though they had meant it all along, realizing that they had “nearly” made a faux-pas. This allows the speaker to save face, and the OP to politely, and innocently, express their point of view.

The “accidental misunderstanding” tactic works remarkably well in many situations, because one is assuming the best about the offender (that they are mortified by animal violence), rather than the worst (they love animal violence) and gives them a chance to discreetly change their view.

Regardless, I applaud the OP for her understanding that other people have different opinions about reptiles, or animals in general. I too believe that while the storytellers are clearly going about it completely wrong, they are most likely trying to find common ground and have good intentions. To assume good intentions until proven otherwise is the foundation of true manners, and is a clear indication of the OP’s maturity. Bravo.

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ferretrick January 4, 2012 at 9:42 am

Bean dip time, ideally. However, I also think if someone is obtuse enough to think that telling stories of animal abuse is entertaining, deserve a little reproof. I think it’s perfectly fine to say something along the lines of, “stories about the abuse of animals greatly upset me. Please refrain from telling them around me in the future. Thank you for understanding.”

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Erin January 4, 2012 at 9:45 am

I don’t have any advice about what to say, and I have no great love of reptiles, but stories of abusing and/or killing animals are repugnant. Especially told with glee. That’s just terrible.

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Angela January 4, 2012 at 9:45 am

I am all too familiar with the “snake must die” reflex of people around me, but even the most hardened snake haters I know wouldn’t kill anything the way the alligator was killed, much less enjoy telling a story about it.
As for a response, I got nothin’. I’ll be interested to hear what others say.

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Gracie C. January 4, 2012 at 9:50 am

Um…wow – I think the solution might be new friends. Anyone who thinks stories of animal cruelty are “bonding” conversations aren’t people I’d want to hang out with. But I think no response and changing the subject is your best approach.

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Jessyy January 4, 2012 at 9:52 am

I’m not a fan of reptiles, much prefering the fluffy animals, and I gasped at those stories. They’re appalling, and it seems much more odd that people seem to say the stories to make you find them funny.

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Goldie January 4, 2012 at 9:57 am

The alligator story is horrible! What kind of message did this give to the children — that, when you’re tired of taking care of someone, it’s okay to make it drink bleach and beat it to death??? Please tell me someone was fired as a result of this. Of course, why the school decided it was a good idea to keep an alligator as pet is a whole other question. The whole story blows my mind.

In OP’s place, I think I’d just politely yet firmly ask the story-tellers to stop, as I do not like this kind of stories. If they continue, then I guess leaving the room is acceptable, as they don’t leave me any other way out.

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Jilly January 4, 2012 at 10:01 am

How is it EVER ok to be cruel to a leaving being? I agree – they may not be cuddly, but they can be adorable, and they can be loving and loved.
I have pet ratties, and people have misconceptions about those adorable rodents. Though, they are cuddly, so it’s a touch easier to contend with people’s beliefs.
I am also interested to hear what people have to say – because my face would tell the perpetrator exactly how I feel: horrified, complete with jaw drop.

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Jilly January 4, 2012 at 10:01 am

*meant to say “living being”

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Princess Buttercup January 4, 2012 at 10:04 am

My response would be the truth. They wanted to be frank and flat out tell you a horrible story, be frank and flat out tell them how it makes you feel.
My response: Wow! That is horrible and constitutes animal abuse. I greatly worry about anyone who was so blithe or even gleeful about abuse towards another creature. You know it is often said that the mentally unstable start with small animals and work their way up to humans…

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JeanFromBNA January 4, 2012 at 10:05 am

My DH’s family is from way out in the country and their automatic response is to kill a snake without stopping to think about it. I don’t bother usually bother confronting them because they wouldn’t listen anyway.

Poor alligator. They treated him worse than an inanimate object. That’s the problem; some people think that certain animals don’t have any agency.

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Jennifer January 4, 2012 at 10:07 am

Who are these people? I’ve had reptiles and no one has ever told me stories about killing lizards.

I think maybe a “Wow, that’s awful” for the school story. But if you have any friends who gleefully kill animals, I’d reconsider those friendships.

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Momus January 4, 2012 at 10:12 am

Oh goodness, this happens to me all the time! I keep rats and guinea pigs, and I’ve had several people joke about killing rats or eating guinea pigs. One of my friends once showed me pictures of roasted guinea pigs and dead rats because he thought it was so funny. Since we have guests over pretty frequently, I keep my small pets in a separate room, so guests don’t have to look at them or handle them if they don’t want to. While most people are pretty interested in my animals, I’ve had several people tell me how gross rats are, how they carry disease, etc.

When people tell me horrible stories about killing animals or criticize me for keeping certain animals, I usually just say, “You don’t have to like my pets, but please understand that I like them and I don’t want to hear about you killing a rat/about how dirty rats are/etc.” It’s been a pretty effective response so far.

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Helen January 4, 2012 at 10:13 am

Wow. Just, wow.

I am no fan of reptiles — I’m actually rather horrified of them, but I share your sentiments regarding the abuse of them. These are living, breathing creatures with heartbeats. Their abuse is no laughing matter. Further, as you have already informed them that you consider these animals are near and dear to your heart, if they had any sense whatsoever they would refrain from telling you these stories at all cost.

I think the proper response in this situation would be a stunned “Wow, that’s a truly awful thing to do to an animal. I can tell you’re still horrified by that level of abuse, otherwise you would not have told me about it.” If they persist in saying it’s amusing or it’s funny, then I would respond with “Oh? I just cannot appreciate the humor in abusing animals.”

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Kimbubbley January 4, 2012 at 10:17 am

Ohhh…this is horribly sad. If I were you, I would, depending upon the person or the venue, either ask them to imagine that it was a kitten or a puppy (or other “conventional” pet) in their story and ask them if they still think that the story is suitably entertaining or, if I were really irritated, I would likely go through the trouble of actually retelling their story, complete with dramatic highs and lows, and do the substituting myself and see how they like it then, explaining at the end that their story was EXACTLY the same from your perspective. Clearly, they know that you are a reptile lover and still haven’t been able to do the math and recognize that stories of people torturing your beloved pets’ brethren is NOT entertaining.

Reptiles are not conventional and most people absolutely think that they are a tad gross and odd. I was one of them until my son begged and pleaded for a bearded dragon. I had to feed it CRICKETS and WORMS. Blech!!! I got to the point where I found her entertaining and she would scramble up my arm and nestle in my neck anytime I opened the cage, which I thought was kind of cute. And then I noticed that every time I went to her cage, she would bow her head and do this funny waving thing that made me think that she was about to molt (GROSS!). I did some research and found out that this was a submissive dragon behavior when in the presence of an ‘alpha dominant’ and that she was doing it to me because I was the one who fed her and picked her up and changed her cage…a little reptilian THANK YOU!! I took extra special care of that little (not so much anymore) lizard and told everyone that my favorite person in the house was the dragon…if everyone treated me with that much deference for taking care of them, my house would be a much nicer place to be! LoL! :)

All that to say that people just don’t understand that even reptiles have personalities and can be affectionate and entertaining. I agreed to get one, thinking that they were awful, and happily learned how wrong I was.

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Margaret January 4, 2012 at 10:18 am

I don’t even like reptiles, and I think I would respond with, “That’s horrible!” And in the case of the school pet, “What do they think they are teaching those children?!”

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LeeLee88 January 4, 2012 at 10:19 am

Having been in a position like this before, my most polite responses have been to either 1) stare at the offending party in horror and disgust while asking them why on Earth they think that would ever be a funny thing to say to me, or 2) tell them I think it’s best they leave, if they continue with comments like, “Aw, come on! That’s funny!” and such the like.

Luckily, I’ve only had to use that a few times, although there have been pretty extreme instances where I’ve had to explain in great detail my actual thoughts on that person’s sense of humor and/or upbringing because what came out of their mouths was so utterly awful it defies sane logic. I do not relish knowing there are such cruel people in the world, but I’ll be damned before I let them spend another second around the animals under my care, telling their horrid stories and cackling over it.

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Shalamar January 4, 2012 at 10:24 am

Oh boy, that is tricky. The problem is, there are always people who delight in telling you stories that they know make you uncomfortable, then they act hurt or insulted when you refuse to act like it’s a big joke. Case in point: my daughter is a vegan, and whereas her friends all respect her choice, there’s usually one d-bag in the crowd who’ll hold a burger in front of her nose and laugh when she flinches.

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Tiffany January 4, 2012 at 10:30 am

I would suggest moving from whatever area you live in, because it sounds like it’s about to explode in a rash of serial killers. That’s so utterly horrifying to me I can’t even wrap my head around it.

I have no idea what Jeane would say, but what I would do after one of these stories is calmly say exactly what you just said at the end of your story. “Our pets may not be the traditional cute and cuddly variety, but they are our pets, and we love them dearly, and stories like that are not funny to either of us.”

Now, other things that fall under the category of Things-I’d-Want-to-Say-but-Probably-Wouldn’t:

If the storyteller is a dog owner: “I KNOW! And wasn’t it hilarious when Michael Vick abused and tortured all those dogs, and forced the females to breed?”

If the storyteller is a cat owner: “I KNOW! And wasn’t it hilarious when that kid from Ontario skinned a cat alive for an art project and filmed it?”

And there are of course worse examples to cite if the storytellers are parents (or indeed teachers, as your story indicates. Good to know some public schools are actively training children to become little Jeffrey Dahmers, I always felt that was missing from the curriculum), but I would seriously draw the line at a line like that about kids. And probably wouldn’t say the cat or dog lines either for that matter.

But good luck to you. And I can empathize, to some extent. I have a number of pet rats, and have gotten quite tired of people hysterically screeching, “BUBONIC PLAGUE!” when I mention them.

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Namárië January 4, 2012 at 10:31 am

What truly horrific things to say to a pet owner. When I had rabbits, folks used to say similarly horrific things (which I won’t recount since thinking about such animal abuse makes me sick to my stomach) and I got the same reaction of disbelief when I showed my disgust. Honestly, I think the best reaction is an outraged “how could you say something so terrible!?” and never, ever, invite them to your home again. :(

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Just Laura January 4, 2012 at 10:36 am

As a person who loves ALL animals and feel none should be subjected to needless abuse (pouring bleach in an alligator’s tank is certainly needless), I know that I would say, “And you found this acceptable?”
I don’t know if that is terribly polite of me, but it was impolite of them to regale me with such a gruesome story.
Some may say, “Well, I don’t think it’s so bad to stomp on a little grass snake’s head because I’m afraid of snakes.”
Personally, I’m terrified of dogs, but I don’t curb-stomp every dog that makes its way into my yard.

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gramma dishes January 4, 2012 at 10:38 am

While I confess that I don’t share your taste in pets, I don’t think stories of outright animal cruelty are EVER funny. Ever. I don’t care what the animal may be.

Stories of school children having a pet alligator in the first place would drive me insane, but then to hear that they tried to kill it by putting bleach in its water and then actually encouraged a child to beat it to death would prompt a quick call to the SPCA. I would hope to see school authorities who knew about this situation to immediately lose their jobs and that the child who was designated to beat the animal would be required to attend therapy.

I’m not sure the “rules” of etiquette are really appropriate here.

I think I would have to say “You find that funny?” and look at them as though they are sick in the head. In my opinion, anyone who would do something like that intentionally IS sick in the head.

That would also be the end of that friendship.

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Lola January 4, 2012 at 10:40 am

I don’t think what you describe is an etiquette issue as much as it’s a morality and decency issue. Animal abuse is not funny and it is not the right thing to do. You are within your right to bean dip to your heart’s content while knowing that your animals are safe and cared for at your home. However, if you’re so shaken up that you’re losing temper and leaving the room, I wonder if there is some underlying trauma that is causing you to overreact to what is essentially harmless stupidity.

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