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

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