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 }

Raven January 4, 2012 at 10:43 am

This strikes me as similar to the people who say, “Oh, you have (disease)? I knew someone who had that disease. They died a horrible, painful death.”

Awkward.

I think sometimes, when faced with something different/unusual/uncomfortable, people panic and just try to think of SOMETHING they know that’s related to the topic at hand.

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Library Diva January 4, 2012 at 10:44 am

I don’t think there necessarily is a “proper response.” I agree with you that these stories of casual animal cruelty are not cute or funny, and I’d actually disagree that these people are trying to find common ground with you. It sounds to me more like a subtle way to express how weird they find your interest in reptiles. I don’t blame you for losing your temper, and I think it’s horrifying that any school would encourage or allow a student to beat any creature to death. I think you have every right to express how awful you find these stories, and who cares how uncomfortable it makes animal abuse proponents.

As a side note, I don’t know if you guys are big joiners or not, but you might want to consider hitting up meetup.com or a similar site to see if there’s a group for reptile owners in your area. Just to get some relief from this attitude.

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Politrix January 4, 2012 at 10:45 am

Oh for heaven’s sake, I don’t own any pets myself and even I find those stories highly offensive! Are you kidding me? Repeatedly running over a living creature with a car? Pouring bleach in drinking water??? (For the record, I’ve always wanted a pet snake… just a small one, mind you… but my parents, and later my spouse, put the kibbosh on that, unfortunately.) Nevertheless, even if it was a type of animal I didn’t particularly care for, who in their right mind would relish inflicting pain on a living, feeling creature? I’m not sure I’d want to include such monsters among my “friends,” and would therefore have no compunction about saying, calmly and coldly, “What you are describing is animal abuse, and is punishable by law. I’d advise you to please stop bragging about your sick and mentally disturbed actions before I report you to the proper authorities.”
p.s. Studies have shown that people who enjoy abusing animals eventually graduate to doing similar horrible things to human beings.

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Ann January 4, 2012 at 10:46 am

I recommend a chilly smile, accompanied by eyes widened in disbelief, then a change of subject.

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vbb January 4, 2012 at 10:46 am

Well, when someone tells me a story about the time they saw a harmless garter snake and were so freaked out they had their son use a garden spade to chop it into eleventy-billion pieces, I typically respond along the lines of “Wow. So it’s ok with you to torture & kill harmless, innocent creatures on a whim? Or have I misunderstood your story? What did your kids think about the whole thing?”

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AS January 4, 2012 at 10:56 am

OP, I can totally empathize with how you feel. Many people cannot see beyond the “dangerousness” of many animals, which is sad (though probably a necessary instinct) because many of these animals will not always attack you unless you do something to them. But it is disturbing that they also think saying things about how they killed the animal would make unusual-pet owners happy.

Maybe the next time someone tells you something, you should just reply what you told us – that cat or dog owners will not take it nicely if the guests tell them how they killed a cat/dog, and the expect it to be funny. The same applies for you, because you love your animals just as much as a usual-pet owner would love their animals.

Admin, love your new category – petiquette! ?

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Laura January 4, 2012 at 11:02 am

Oh my goodness! First, let me tell you that I am no big fan of reptiles, and admit that it is mainly because of fear, and that I am aware my fear is most likely driven by ignorance. That being said, I was completely HORRIFIED to read about the way in which the poor alligator was treated. And this was allowed in an educational setting? How hard would it have been to make a few phone calls to find a new home for this animal? The behavior here was totally unacceptable.

The next time a story like this is told in your presence, I don’t think ther would be anything wrong with saying something along the lines of, “Just because (insert name of reptile here) do not have fur, or are not exactly cuddly, doesn’t mean they aren’t animals and deserving of respect and humane treatment.”

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Elizabeth January 4, 2012 at 11:19 am

I do not think that I would have any concerns for the feelings of a person making such comments about my pet. A cool, slow “that is so horrible – I’m shocked you think that is acceptable” and then let the chill fill the air. These are not people you want in your life.

I have a dog and I love my dog. He was abused in a previous life. He doesn’t want to meet new people or make new friends. He wants to be left alone to live his life with me and my husband. He isn’t outwardly friendly to others; more so, he ignores them and seems to just not to see anyone he doesn’t know or trust. He isn’t mean; he is just solitary outside of our family unit. He’s mine and I accept him and his limitations.

A couple years after his arrival my husband told me his sister said ‘why waste your time on a bad dog when there are plenty of good dogs out there?’ Why? Because he is a good dog, he deserved better than his early life gave him and perhaps he’s a good judge of character to ignore my SIL.

Please carefully consider whether any person that makes negative remarks about something you care for and have made part of your family belongs in your life.

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Piratelvr1121 January 4, 2012 at 11:19 am

Wow. Just…wow. I honestly am a little afraid of snakes, having been bitten by one when I was a teen. And I’ll admit it was probably my fault I got bitten, as someone had fished a black snake out of a quarry and was holding him (or her, I can’t tell the difference) so that people could pet it. I petted it once without incident, and filled with relief and thinking “Okay, snakes aren’t so bad!” I went up to pet it again, right where they’d told me to and this time the snake reached back and bit my finger. Probably because it was tired of being held and petted by everyone there that day.

I don’t hate snakes, and would never hurt one, but they do make me nervous so I keep a respectful distance these days and let them have their space to do their snaky things. I did once go to the house of someone who had a snake and while I didn’t mind looking at it, I politely declined when they offered to let me touch it. I do think there’s a beauty to them, I just don’t need to see that beauty too closely. :)

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acr January 4, 2012 at 11:21 am

“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.”

This! I think that some people will launch into the most horrible story they know, given any topic. I think the OP’s best recourse is to interrupt the story and loudly exclaim, “I don’t want to hear any animal cruelty stories!” If they try to keep going, “No! I don’t want to listen to that story!”

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KTB January 4, 2012 at 11:25 am

So sad! :( People have a similar story reflex when they find out I work with bats. I’ve heard the most horrible things- baseball bats, hair dryers, you name it, people have killed my favorite animal with it. It makes me sick. I guess they’re trying to find common ground, but it turns me way off. I usually share my gut emotion, which is an “Oh no! How sad for the bat, it was probably just stuck/leaving/sleeping/lost! I can’t believe people would hurt something so small & cute! Did you know that bats [insert factoid here]?” It has the benefit of 1) showing I’m upset, 2) assuming the speaker is upset/unaware, 3) gently educating, and 4) letting the speaker know such stories are NOT welcome around me. There’s no agression or frost in my response, so it avoids confrontation, too. Always a plus.

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Athena C January 4, 2012 at 11:33 am

You could try a horrified look and say something like, “Oh my! How horrifying! Surely that story is just an urban legend!” Gets the point across and gives them a graceful out. Now whether they take it or not is another story entirely.

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SJ January 4, 2012 at 11:36 am

I think you should say, “That’s horrible.” and leave it at that or change the subject.

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Serenity S. January 4, 2012 at 11:43 am

Personally, I think that anyone who kills an animal on purpose and thinks its funny has deep mental issues. How cruel! I don’t know if this is polite, but I would say that I don’t find stories of killing animals funny. Those people didn’t care much about your feelings. I think being blunt with them is fine.

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twik January 4, 2012 at 11:50 am

I agree with other posters – this goes beyond etiquette into morality (even legality). I don’t think etiquette requires one to be totally silent in such a case. I think it is not inappropriate to respond that such stories are very upsetting, and offensive. At least, allow deafening silence to be a comment of its own.

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Margo January 4, 2012 at 11:59 am

I agree with QueenofAllThings “What an horrific story” is an appropriate response. If they speak about thigs which other people did, as opposed to things they did themselves, I would add “So what happened? Did you report them to the RSPCA?”

If it was something that they did themselves, I think I would be re-thinking the friendship. There is a huge gulf between not finding a particular type of animal appealing, and taking pleasure in harming it. (I would be a little more open to trying to start a dialogue if they were relating a story where the animal was killed or harmed becasue someone hit out in panic, given that a lot of peopledo have a very strong fear response to reptiles. I don’t condone the cruelty, but I do see a difference between someone who is deliberately cruel, and someone who is genuinely terrified and as a result reacts in an inappropriately violent way)

With the couple driving over the snake, a response such as “do you do the same to kittens?” might make your point.

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Jennifer January 4, 2012 at 12:07 pm

By the way – In Florida, anyway, killing a gator like that is a class 2 felony.

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A January 4, 2012 at 12:11 pm

First of all…the school let the student do what?!!! And-bleach??!! Isn’t animal abuse in kids supposed to be a sign that they will be trouble later in life? And isn’t this promoting that situation? Good.gravy. I will admit that I’m deathly afraid of snakes (I was bit once and never mentally recovered.. :P ) but I couldn’t kill them. I’d just run away.

Now, on to the etiquette issue. I would give a shocked expression and probably walk away, change the subject or try to educate the offender. You won’t get through to everyone but hopefully some will realize the error in what they said. If you have concerns over anyone new meeting your pets it might help to give them a heads-up on what to expect before coming over.

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sv January 4, 2012 at 12:47 pm

I work in a veterinary emergency hospital and own exotic pets. I have seen and heard it all and I understand completely your delimma, OP. As you said, the people are trying to find a common bond with you and genuinely have no idea that you will find the stories upsetting or repugnant. As you are well aware, this comes from ignorance, not a desire to actually perform the acts they are telling you about. I generally say something along the lines of, ” I love X and would be horrified if someone told me they had done such a terrible thing. ” Calmly, looking them straight in the eye. I, too, do not push my animals on people and keep them confined and away when we have visitors, but I also am always willing to educate if there is interest. I find by simply stating my feelings in this manner it either A) changes the subject or B) opens the door for a little education. Of course, when I am dealing with a know it all boor I generally interrupt them ( rude, I know, but sometimes we have to choose the lesser evil) and say firmly, ” Please don’t tell me a story about X being cruelly killed. I don’t want to hear it. “

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Calli Arcale January 4, 2012 at 12:47 pm

I like Ann’s suggestion of a chilly smile, eyes widened in disbelief, and a change in subject. Followed possibly by reconsideration of friendship with such people. I know it would change my opinion of them forever, and I’d probably keep a little more distance from them even if I did keep them in my circle.

I’ve cared for reptiles before. They’re not for everyone, not only because they’re less cuddly, but also because they are actually rather difficult to properly care for. OP, you are to be commended for rising to the challenge! You are doing all the right things as far as respecting your guests (knowing that not everybody finds them attractive, and some people actually have phobias about them). Unfortunately, not all of your guests are returning the favor.

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LovleAnjel January 4, 2012 at 12:50 pm

I have kept/currently keep all sorts of scaly wonders, and some small rodents to boot. My reaction is generally a wide-eyed, “Wow, that’s so horrible! I can’t believe people do things like that!”

If someone insisted it was funny, I say “No, it’s not.” If they keep insisting, I walk away. And I never socialize with those people again.

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bansidhe January 4, 2012 at 12:54 pm

I have the same problem as the OP. My husband and I have a number of pets of the reptile and amphibian persuasion and in addition, I do wildlife rehabilitation for reptiles and amphibians. When people start in on stories like this I head them off at the pass whenever possible by interrupting and letting them know that if the story involves abuse or animal death, I don’t want to hear about it unless I can do something to stop it. If they manage to get the story out before I can stop them, the teller of the tale is in for quite the lecture – most likely followed by the cut direct – if he or she was the one responsible for the abuse or death or did nothing to prevent it.

Rude? Maybe. People who fall into the “basically decent but ignorant” category quickly learn not to tell awful stories. As for the people who fall into the “nasty, abusive, and ignorant” category, I don’t want them in my life anyway.

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Kitty Lizard January 4, 2012 at 1:42 pm

This posting is going to give me nightmares. I live in the Keys and we have iguanas. I love them. They look like mini-dinosaurs. You would not believe the ingenious ways people love to torture them. Drowning them. Shooting them. Poisoning them. Running over them. Sick. Sick. Sick.
They bother no one. We love seeing them on our dock.

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Chocobo January 4, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I don’t think it would be wise to sound so judgmental in one’s responses as suggested by several other commenters. The two examples in the OP’s story are particularly terrible, especially the alligator, but picking a fight and questioning others’ morality so openly is generally not sensible. If the conversation truly comes to a head, there are better ways to express one’s displeasure. Conveying one’s opinion on the matter is different from proselytizing, and nothing is less effective on changing another’s opinion than a sanctimonious attitude.

While the examples of the snake and the alligator are particularly egregious, I think it is still important for us to remember that not everyone feels the same way about animals. Some vegans believe that it is morally wrong to eat honey because it is a product of bees; in other areas of the world, people consume horses as food without a second thought, something I know would make many of my fellow Americans feel ill. In Spain, they continue the tradition of the bull fight, which is controversial even in Spain.

Here in the U.S., I remember visiting some of my family who were farmers, and they had a totally different view of animals than I did. They didn’t think twice of snapping a turkey’s neck, which would make me squeamish. Pet dogs were not allowed inside of the house, no matter the weather outside, whereas our dogs at home sleep in our bedroom and sit in our laps. A close family member truly believes in eradicating every wolf from the world, because he raises livestock. His motivations are different from mine, and I understand that although I fervently disagree and will do everything in my power to stop that from happening.

This doesn’t exonerate those who practice animal cruelty, especially illegally. Certainly if the offenses are disturbing enough we should be obligated to socially outcast them according to our own consciences, if not report them to the police. But for lesser issues, it is important to keep in mind that other people and cultures may view animals differently, and we should respect that, even if we disagree with it.

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David January 4, 2012 at 2:09 pm

I don’t find animal abuse stories funny at all. The best way to handle this is to say; “I do not find stories of animal abuse to be funny.”, change the subject and rethink inviting these people to your house again.

@Tiffany; it’s interesting how perceptions differ. When I read the story about the school and the alligator, I automatically assumed that it was a private school.

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Goodness January 4, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Another reptile-lover here, though my husband & I have a deal that if I don’t bring home any snakes he won’t bring home any spiders. The idea that people would _brag_ about cruelty to any animal, much less to someone who’s obviously fond of them, strikes me as perhaps the most deliberately ill-mannered thing I’ve seen on e-Hell. And I second LibraryDiva’s opinion that said braggarts were trying to tell you they found your love of reptiles weird, though I disagree that there was anything subtle about it. I’d have done more than just speak up — they would immediately become persona non grata to me.

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Miss Raven, wide-eyed January 4, 2012 at 2:33 pm

As someone with a deep and abiding affection for all animals slimy, spiny, smelly, fluffy, scaly, and fuzzy, I don’t think you really need to worry about hurting the feelings of these people. I’m sorry, but the people I spend time with don’t find casual stories of animal abuse entertaining. And they certainly weren’t involved in any.

This isn’t an etiquette blunder so much as it is a TOTAL miscalculation. These people see nothing wrong with their twisted tales of torture and for some reason assume that you won’t, either. Why they would think this considering your choice in housemates is completely beyond me. This isn’t kind, clueless Aunt Sally double-dipping and talking with her mouth full at your Sweet 16. These are people with whom you do not need to mince words. Because their behavior is 100% completely unacceptable.

If you want to keep the mood light, I would try asking innocent questions from the standpoint of how you really feel. “And you were okay with that? Goodness!” “And were the authorities alerted about the animal cruelty?” “Really? NO ONE tried to put a stop to it? Shocking!” “Wow. What did they do about all the traumatized children?”

If you don’t care about the mood and just want to get them to shut up, a firm, quick, “That’s repugnant,” “How horrifying,” or “What despicable cruelty,” should do the trick. While your acquaintance recovers, promptly change the subject. If they don’t get the message, perhaps they’re beyond help. Just stop associating with them.

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EJK January 4, 2012 at 2:40 pm

As far as I’m concerned, this is absolutely no reason to be polite when it comes to abuse of any kind.

“…and you found this acceptable?” is the best response I can think of, coupled with either leaving the situation myself, or asking them to leave if they answer affirmatively.

These sorts of behaviors cannot be tolerated.

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the other Mary January 4, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Any time I hear someone tell such horror stories of blatant cruelty I ask them quite plainly, “What is wrong with you?” and usually add, “are you mentally ill?” People in my circle know I am an animal lover and even squashing spiders is considered a no-no to me. Did it lie in wait and accost you? No? then why can’t they just get a tissue and put it outside? I once worked in an older building where crickets like to wander inside. Simply scooping them in a paper cup and escorting them back outside was my approach. Another woman enjoyed stomping them. I loudly asked her “what on earth is wrong with you?! Just scoop them up and put them outside” And she did or she would ask me to do it. Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade. Maybe putting people on blast would be the best answer.

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Cordelia January 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Disgusting. There aren’t a lot of polite responses. I don’t think I’d respond in any way other than “We don’t let animal abusers around our pets. Get out of my house and never come back.” The story about the alligator would have made me call the police. No animal deserves to suffer like that, and the people who run that school should be in jail. First for allowing a dangerous wild animal to be adopted into a school where it could have hurt children, then for killing it cruelly. There are refuges for exotic pets who can’t be cared for anymore in a home, and the poor alligator should have been given over to one of them.

I don’t think this is strictly prejudice against less cute and cuddly animals. I used to have pet rabbits, which are about as adorable as pets come. Mine were gentle and cuddly as well. Yet many people would crack jokes about turning them into stew. One “friend” even showed me pictures of rabbits he’d beheaded and skinned for food. Another talked about getting one for Easter and then releasing it into the wild after they got bored of it. (Domestic rabbits should NEVER be released in the wild. If you can’t commit 5-7 years to this rabbit’s life, don’t adopt one, and if you have one, give it to an animal shelter.) I said, “You condemned that rabbit to a short life and a terrible death by putting it into an environment it couldn’t handle? How horrible!”

I think this just happens with any animal people don’t usually use for companions. Animals aren’t objects, and should be treated as the intelligent and sensitive creatures they are.

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badkitty January 4, 2012 at 2:59 pm

I’m not a reptile owner (currently) and my stock response to such tales is a look of disgust and horror at the person telling it. I tend to give people like this a wide berth; not everyone who engages in animal cruelty turns out to be a serial killer, but all serial killers started that way and since I don’t enjoy poisoning or torturing defenseless animals I doubt I’m missing out on anything by avoiding these individuals. The few times I’ve been forced to make an exception and associate with someone who frightens or hurts animals for giggles, I’ve regretted it (theft, physical assault, etc.)

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Luna January 4, 2012 at 3:03 pm

This sounds to me like people are NOT trying to relate at all, but are falling back into the horrid social pattern of filling up conversational space with whatever pops into their head without editing or censoring the topic. This is actually one of my New Year’s resolutions – do not speak unless I have mindfully considered what I’m saying. I have found my problem is less that I blurt out rude things (though I’ver certainly had my moments) but that I can sometimes talk incessantly, blathering on with little to no thought as to whether my companion even cares.

What helped me realize my bad habit and start breaking it was my boyfriend gently pointing out every time I let my brain go off and my mouth run amok – and yes I did get butthurt at first but I got over it. My best advice is practice different ways of advocating for reptiles and explaining that animal cruelty is not funny – even if it the animal is one of the ‘ugly beauties’ if the world. You may offend some people, drive away some “friends”, but in the end you don’t need to associate with sociopaths (yes, to my mind animal cruelty is sociopathic).

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The Elf January 4, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Is there a proper response to animal cruelty? I mean, if you think the alligator is a pest and feel the need to get rid of it, there are more humane ways than poison and beating! I’ve had to kill a few animals in my time – mostly mice my pet python refused to eat and the store won’t take back. We kill them so humanely and swiftly, and I certainly wouldn’t tell such tales to a mouse owner unless they asked about how I fed mice to my snake.

I don’t understand why people feel the need to share these stories, but when we had reptiles we got the same sort of thing. People just don’t consider reptiles to be at the same level as mammals, and don’t treat them with the same respect. I can understand wanting to get rid of a snake that has made its way into your house, or even worry that the snake might be poisonous. But cruely dispatching it is not the answer! FWIW, snake haters and snake phobics out there, snakes eat vermin. A black snake in your yard is going to reduce the liklihood you’ll have mice in your house. Snakes have a pretty good self-preservation instinct and they generally don’t mess with humans. Leave it alone, please.

The response would vary on whether you expect future contact with them and it what capacity. If you don’t care about future contact, feel free to tell them that they are cruel and to call animal control next time. If you do care about future contact, I suggest a pause and a bean dip. If you must answer it, say chilllily something like “Our pets are not pests.”

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Rattus January 4, 2012 at 3:09 pm

I would tell the offending party exactly what I think, and it would be loud, it would be unprintable on this site, and they would immediately be banished from my life. I can no more see politely tolerating someone’s gleeful tale of animal abuse than I could a tale of spousal, child or elder abuse, and the teller certainly wouldn’t be “bean dipped”.

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Kitten January 4, 2012 at 3:15 pm

You know, believe it or not, I’m a cat lover and one time a dog lover told me a “funny” story about their father swerving their car in an attempt to hit a cat on the road. I was so horrified that I never talked to this coworker socially again because he really found it humorous after I was telling him about my cat of 21 years dying and leaving me devastated . It’s not just reptiles that get the hatred.

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Aeonic Butterfly January 4, 2012 at 3:29 pm

I think I would give them a lecture on how animal abuse is illegal, the full cause and effect, then quickly disassociate myself with any such person. My heart breaks thinking about anyone who would do this to a creature, and more so, because I’m also on the reptiles are cuddly boat.

There’s a time for etiquette, but it isn’t when you’re inflicting pain on other, thinking beings. To those people, I would never find myself with.

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Redblues January 4, 2012 at 3:30 pm

First of all, find new friends. These people don’t sound rude. They sound outright sadistic. Beating a living creature to death?!? Because the teacher is sick of taking care of it?!? Teacher needs to be fired. Kid needs therapy, just in case he’s not a sociopath (who can’t be helped anyway) but just a victim of abuse himself, or possibly a garden variety sadist. Who finds that funny? The best response to a story like that would be a very dry: ‘gee, I hope your kids never get tired of taking care of you one day.’ Anyway, ‘Pettiquette is a good category, but it sounds like E-hell also needs a ‘Mental Illness’ blog. That’s where this story belongs.

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livvy17 January 4, 2012 at 3:35 pm

As OP states, and Raven above says, I think most people are just sharing the only reptile story they have. Most people’s interactions with reptiles, especially snakes with all the attendant religious references, are probably of a similar nature (negative) and they’re just thinking ….hmm, we’re talking about snakes….what snake stories do I know? I’d probably recommend a simple, “Oh, it makes me so sad to hear stories like that. People can be so cruel.” followed by rapid change of subject.

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Barrietta January 4, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Some people are mind-bogglingly clueless, especially when it comes to what is and what is inappropriate conversation.

I’m no fan of reptiles myself, and although I have had reptile owners regale me with gleeful stories about how much their little whatever it is enjoys eating live mice, it would never occur to me to respond with a gory story of my own. Not that I have any.

The problem with people who enjoy telling stories about what they did to this or that critter is usually justified as “Well, it was ONLY a (snake, dog, bird, etc. etc. etc.)” That mindset isn’t too far from, ‘Well, it was only a Jew, an Asian, this kid with autism, an old guy…”

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Amanda January 4, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Oh, man. I feel for you. I used to have a pet rabbit, and it always amazed me that so many people not only didn’t think she was a “real” pet, but would tell me all about how much they love eating rabbit meat. And then be completely baffled when I got upset and try to tell me that I was the one being rude. It was awful.

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Allie January 4, 2012 at 4:37 pm

How horrible! What kind of people are these? I don’t even like hearing awful stories about insects (even though I loathe being around them). I guess in the moment you can react as I did to your story (i.e. clearly take the animal’s side with your sympathies and let the story teller know how upsetting you find it). You can also take the opportunity to educate them that there are animal control and animal welfare agencies who can assist with safe and humane reptile removal, in case you have an unwanted encounter with a reptile in the wild. Personally, I would not want to have anything to do with someone who would do the things you describe, so I would then cease or limit as much as possible future contact with them. Sounds like you are a very responsible pet owner, and I applaud your efforts and admire your love for nature’s scarier creations.

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Patiently Heading Downhill January 4, 2012 at 4:54 pm

When is it ever appropriate to tell gleeful stories of someone (especially a student) abusing or killing an animal?

I have had a similar problem with discussions about my dog, who happens to be part pit bull. One of my friends’ mothers (at her child’s engagement party, no less!) tried to convince me for half an hour that I should put him down before he kills someone. The first five minutes I tried to calmly explain to her that most pit bulls are actually very friendly and nice, the ones that attack people are almost always abused and made that way. She would have none of it and cited the one time her father was beating their family’s pit bull and the dog bit his hand and had to be put down as irrefutable proof that all dogs of this breed are cold blooded killers. I told her politely that I disagreed with her advice and that neither I nor my veterinarian felt that there was any reason to consider my dog a danger and put him down and tried to bean-dip. The lunatic kept trying to steer the conversation back to insisting I kill my dog, and efforts to avoid her only resulted in her joining in my other conversations by polling my friends for their opinions on the subject and berating them when they disagreed with her. Because it was the guest of honor’s mother and my poor friend hosting had no idea what to do with her, I decided it would probably just be best that I excused myself from the party.

An impolite suggestion would be to turn the tables right back on them. “Oh you have a cat? My grandmother used to tell me about all those kittens they had to drown growing up on the farm because there were just too many of them. Isn’t that funny?” But maybe they would get the hint if you responded to their “funny stories” as if all you heard was them telling you about a tragedy. When people happily volunteer that they heard a news story about a pit bull killing someone upon hearing of my dog’s breed, I usually respond with something like “What a tragic story. To think someone would abuse such a nice-tempered animal until it was driven to attack someone else and the dog and the innocent victim are the ones who pay for it.” They may not agree with my assessment of the situation, but at least they know where I stand on it and we can all move on to discussing something else.

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Lerah January 4, 2012 at 5:19 pm

People who relate stories of animal abuse as hilarious anecdotes have lost the right to be made at ease in your home. The response is “How horrible! My pets aren’t furry, but I love them just the same. I find your story stomach turning and offensive.”

A good friend of mine, J, rescued a corn snake that was being hurt by a bunch of kids with a hockey stick. Thantos (the snake) was his pet for years. If anyone had told J a story like the ones in your post, I can assure you J would not have minced words and neither should you.

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Tiffany January 4, 2012 at 5:48 pm

@David Hahahaha, sounds like something the burgeoning hunt club set would do? I suppose it does.

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MollySue January 4, 2012 at 6:23 pm

There is no need to coddle abusers or those who take ghoulish delight in abuse in a misguided attempt at “manners”.

Firmly put an end to the conversation stating that you find the stories disgusting and upsetting, and more to the point that behaviour is criminal. I’ve reported animal owners for less (leaving show ponies cooped up in horse boxes on the side of the road in the hot sunshine while the owners buggered off to the pub, for example). And if they still persist, you will have to say that the subject is closed. You’re not the weirdo for finding such things upsetting – in fact my fellow-countryman “Humanity Dick” Martin, with Wilberforce et al. founded the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in the early 19th century, decades before a similar organisation was set up for children. Personally I’d rather keep that company than those scumbags that we’re discussing.

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ellesee January 4, 2012 at 7:25 pm

The alligator story will haunt me forever. I would not bean dip or change the subject… I will gladly burn in EHell if I “ungently” set them straight about animal abuse. I will not tolerate this–they are family members!! That’s like “oh, I got tired of little Timmy, so I poisoned his water but decided to clobber him to death anyway!” and laugh about it. WTF?!
It’s beyond being rude or awkward, it’s just plain wrong and offensive. I would serve them a piece of my mind and show them the door.

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Snowy January 4, 2012 at 7:35 pm

I spent several years doing wildlife rehab, and people would often do this to me. It’d come up that I spent two days a week helping nurse orphaned baby animals or injured adults back to health so they could be re-released, and I’d be given a story about how they always try to run over animals (I have had so many people tell me about how they swerved off the road to hit animals–wildlife or domestic), cruel ways in which they’ve dispatched animals they found in their trashcans or sheds, requests for advice on how to poison the raccoons and skunks while leaving the squirrels and neighborhood cats alone, and stories about how many baby animals their pets like to maul. (And in the case of dogs, adult animals, too.)

I also get two repeated jokes, almost exclusively from guys: One, “Lemme know when the deer grow up and where you release them, I keep a rifle in my car!” (I smile, explain they’re released on private no-hunt land, and that I support deer hunting–which usually seems to surprise them–and change the subject.) And two, “I’ll take care of some animals for you, just give me a burlap sack and point me to the river!” or “…burlap sack and a rock!” (Wow.)

Women tend to be more neutral or (when it comes to baby animals) apologetic, and I’ve never had one tell me they tried to run over animals with their car, but they’ve laughed about their male companions doing it. Guys who do it seem to think it’s funny. Some people are simply telling stories, but some people (mostly guys again, I don’t know why there’s a gender divide there, but there is) are clearly trying to yank my chain, or think they’re “just teasing” and it’s “funny.”

Look, stuff happens. Animals get caught in traffic. Sometimes you have to use a last resort to get rid of a pest; sometimes you don’t know there are other resorts. Sometimes you have to defend your kids or pets. And I have no problem with responsible, humane hunting. And honestly, the stories about baby bunnies accidentally getting mowed over don’t bother me unless you’re taking pleasure in it. Like I said, stuff happens.

But as for the rest–the many novel ways you come up with to kill animals in trash cans, the delightful stories about how your dog likes to chew up rabbits, your front right tire’s kill count–think before you speak. You sound like a disturbed person when you cheerfully (or spitefully) share those stories, and bean dipping can only go so far.

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Catherine January 4, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Although animal abuse is flat-out wrong, and I am in no way trying to justify or excuse what these people said and did, I have to agree that they really might have been desperately grasping for some common ground.

I’m a zookeeper, and when people find out, some of the things they say to me are utterly baffling. The fact is, many people don’t like animals, or aren’t comfortable around them, or just don’t know much about them at all – and so, when they are faced with someone who DOES spend a lot of time around animals, they often grasp for the first animal-related anecdote they can remember, just to have something to say. For example, my simple statement of “I’m a zookeeper” has, in the past, resulted in the following out-of-left-field responses:
“Did you hear about that lady whose face got ripped off by a chimp?”
“I had parakeets when I was a kid and they died because I forgot to feed them.”
“Once I found a raccoon in my yard and I shot it because I thought it might have rabies.”
“Did you hear about that guy who was attacked by a tiger?”

Etc., etc. None of those statements are relevant or particularly respectful, and I would have preferred it if these people had said nothing at all. But it’s sort of like, if you told someone you were a teacher and their response was “I hated my fourth grade teacher.” Or if you were a police officer, and their response was “A cop pulled me over for speeding last week and I was really angry.” It’s just people feeling awkward and trying to make conversation, albeit in a very misguided and borderline offensive way. Some people just have to hear themselves talk.

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Lexie January 4, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Look at them wide eyed in horror (which shouldn’t be hard, considering the stories! How on earth can anyone think those acts are okay?!) and say very firmly, “I just cannot stand hearing about animals being tortured. It’s like a child being tortured.” If they continue, excuse yourself. They should get the message across. It worked for me (I have rabbits, many cats and a dog. It’s amazing how many people – extended family members, usually – who enjoy sharing rabbit recipes with me or calling me into the room to watch rabbit being cooked on tv.)

People forget that animals – especially animals in a domestic situation – are essentially children. They rely on us for food and water, shelter and interaction. But they are also innocent. Animals do not have the thought patterns and emotions humans do – they do not understand revenge or cruelty or jealousy. They understand threats, danger, safety, love and affection… People need to be reminded of that.

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Otter January 4, 2012 at 8:34 pm

A friend once told me she saw a boa constrictor crawling on the road. She was so afraid in her huge SUV that she ran over it and then backed up TWICE. I disgustedly told her that it was probably someone’s pet and was more afraid of her, and rightfully so. I was heartbroken over what she did. That was one of the reasons our friendship didn’t last. Her thought process became alien to me.

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