≡ Menu

The Dissected Cat And Moral Relativism

Your recent Halloween submissions brought to my mind an incident that took place nearly twenty years ago but I still second guess myself on it.

When I was in college, I lived in a duplex. Our side had three women that shared the space and the other side had three men. One of my neighbors was in a premed comparative anatomy class with me where we were dissecting a cat, a shark, and a necturus (a mud-skipper type of amphibian). Our neighborhood was very trick or treat friendly and we always decorated our door and turned on the lights for the kids. Well, this particular year several groups of kids and parents started complaining about my neighbor’s door. He had taken the cat we were dissecting and hung it on the door!!!! It was horrible. He thought it was a grand idea. It was totally inappropriate on so many levels.

I removed it from his door and called the police. I didn’t even think twice about it. However I became shunned in our pre-med class and told that I over reacted. I was told I should have handled it in a quieter manner; that removing it from the door was enough. I disagreed then and still disagree, but I have always been rankled by the shunning that occurred. I thought it was completely disrespectful to the cat that lost it’s life so we could learn about anatomy and serve humanity, disrespectful to the kids, and disrespectful to the university and it’s property. It was just plain wrong and should not have been tolerated.

Should I have handled it differently? 1014-14

Did you call the police because the dissected cat was university property that your neighbor had “taken”?  It seems to me that the best person to contact the police would be the owner of the property who, once informed of the whereabouts of the taken property, can choose in what manner they wish to reacquire it.   Removing an actual carcass, regardless of how well preserved it is, from a doorway of a shared domicile, seems fine with me.

As for the shunning you received, I find it more fascinating that what defines bad taste to the point that severe peer pressure is applied has changed culturally in 20 years.   Hasn’t anyone ever wondered why gory, horrifying Halloween displays, both commercial and residential, have no scenes of animal torture or death?  Why not display rotted, gory horses, skinned buffalo carcasses or dogs hung by their legs with their fur burned off or hide flayed?  Why not skeletons of cats, cattle, baby lambs?  Or a pit bull fighting ring with some poor Chihuahua being the hapless bait dog?  There are haunted houses with over the top human butcher scenes but I doubt any have ever attempted to depict an actual abattoir.  I suspect the reason is that there is a greater perceived threat of being on the receiving end of severe community ire as well as animal rights activists if fake animals become part of the scene.

In the previous post on public Halloween decor, readers who defended the gory, horrific Halloween displays justified their positions that 1) it was all in good fun; 2)  tell your kids it’s fake; 3) you can’t shelter kids forever;  4) those of us who find it offensive are overreacting; 5) it’s a public space; and, 6) they can do what they want.   In a few cases,there was an almost arrogant superiority in having raised children to view these scenes as “fun”, as if being desensitized to human depravity at a tender young age was a good thing.    Why wouldn’t all these justifications also apply to animal oriented horror displays, or, for that matter, displays such as one reader mentioned in which the neighbor had hung dead black bodies from a tree with a confederate flag waving re-enacting a lynching scene?   It’s all in good “fun” after all, you can’t shelter the kids forever, it’s a public space and the home owner can do what it is they want…..unless you happen to put up a graveyard in your front yard that contains a certain tombstone.

Several homeowners in Oklahoma and Arizona placed fake tombstones in their front yards with the name “Obama/B.H. Obama” and a death date on them and the community outrage has gone viral with online comments and news media taking notice.   For the record, I believe putting the names of living people on a tombstone used for Halloween displays is in very poor taste.  But apparently what qualifies as “bad taste” changes according to how politically incorrect the decorations happen to be.

It appears that moral relativism, the concept that right or wrong are not absolutes but can be determined by each individual, factors heavily in how some people reading this blog and commenting decide whether a particular action is in bad taste or not.    Morals and manners can be altered from one situation, person, or circumstance to the next depending on each person’s beliefs.  And therein lies the problem.    If one action can be dismissed or justified as simply good, clean fun, but other actions of similar bad taste receive scorn and shunning, etiquette merely becomes a guilt manipulative tool to bludgeon others into either tolerating your own bad taste or agreeing with you that other people are behaving distastefully (while you are not).   I don’t like moral relativism on Etiquette Hell.   With the freedom to engage in a specific action comes the responsibility to not abuse that freedom.   What people do inside the privacy of their home or backyard is one thing entirely.   May they have the freedom to express themselves to the fullest. But when it goes “public” and thereby removes the freedom of choice one’s neighbor has to not view this, the responsibility to honor thy neighbor out of kindness takes precedence over personal preferences.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • clairedelune October 20, 2014, 11:18 am

    I agree that the dissected cat display was gross/disrespectful/creepy/distasteful, but I can’t figure out the point of wasting police time and resources on this. Unless the OP was concerned that the dead cat represented some kind of public health threat? But most animals used for dissection are preserved in some way, so I can’t imagine that was a real concern. The police have their hands full enough on Halloween night; they don’t have time to go around investigating crimes against good taste.

  • LovleAnjel October 20, 2014, 11:20 am

    OP: it might have been better to simply call the police and report suspected animal abuse without touching the cat remains yourself – there are always rumors about cat-sacrificing cults around Halloween so they would have taken it seriously. You neighbors would have gotten a nice talking-to that would dissuade them from pulling similar pranks with donated human remains, should they get into med school.

    Stores sell fake animal corpses, skeletons and “zombie” pets around Halloween. We have a “zombie cat” I put on the front windowsill every year (I have to figure out a way to make its eyes glow). It’s just not as scary as human displays, that’s why they aren’t as common.

    • Huh October 20, 2014, 11:48 am

      I was going to say, LovleAnjel, that at the same Halloween chain store that I saw all of the gory displays shown in the previous post, I also saw several different zombie animals, like cats, birds, deer, I think a dog, rats, etc.

    • Syn October 20, 2014, 2:28 pm

      …they knew the cat was from med class. Calling it in and pretending it might have been someone else’s cat would’ve been a really childish and petty thing to do.

  • Lizajane October 20, 2014, 11:22 am

    I, also would have taken the cat down. And probably buried it if I’d had a shovel. I don’t think I would have called the police; I probably wouldn’t have thought of it. I also wonder if her motivation wad stolen property or something else.

  • lakey October 20, 2014, 11:33 am

    Several years ago there was a thriller type movie where the bad guy killed a dog that was in the house of one of his victims. In a magazine article about the making of the movie it was stated that they didn’t show the killing of the dog because people would have had such a negative reaction to it. I believe that part of this is due to the fact that we perceive pets as innocent in the same way that we view babies as innocent. And it isn’t that we see adults as deserving what they get, but we do perceive them as being more complicated.

    • kingsrings October 20, 2014, 1:34 pm

      Completely agree. Kill all the people you want to in a film, but don’t you dare kill the pets! I know I admittedly feel that way, too. I absolutely can’t stand to see pets dying in films. It’s because, like you said, they’re completely innocent and defenseless. Same with the elderly and children.

      • Faith October 20, 2014, 5:02 pm

        On a similar note, when we had all those problems with food from China sickening people (and babies), things went into a serious uproar when pet food was causing problems.

    • Kovi October 21, 2014, 2:06 pm

      Agreed. Also, abuse of animals and pets is far, far more common than killing a human being. I’m not saying that murder is something we should joke about all willy-nilly, but I completely understand when someone reacts more to an animal death in a movie than, say, a human death. I’m that way, myself.

      That’s also why I see this horrible, awful ‘prank’ as being far more distasteful than gory Halloween displays featuring human bodies. Last I checked, none of those human remains being referred to are even remotely real.

  • Phoebe161 October 20, 2014, 11:35 am

    Well said, Admin, well said.

    • Michelle October 20, 2014, 2:58 pm

      Totally agree.

  • yesbut October 20, 2014, 11:47 am

    Wait…you removed something from your neighbor’s property without first obtaining permission? You know what they call that in the legal world…theft. I get it, you didn’t think the decorations were appropriate. But you should have dealt with it like an adult and spoken to the neighbor.

    • Kate October 20, 2014, 1:30 pm

      Umm . . . that decoration was a dead cat that the neighbor stole from the university they both attend.

    • Reaver October 20, 2014, 4:06 pm

      “Yes police? I’d like to report a theft!..What was stolen? A dissected cat corpse I had hung to my door!..No no, it’s not MY cat, I just stole it from the University!”

      I can see a problem here.

      • yesbut October 21, 2014, 10:10 am

        She said it was disrespectful of university property which is subjective. She never said he “stole” it.

    • Kovi October 21, 2014, 2:09 pm

      Considering they stole that dead cat from the lab, and that there are laws surrounding how to dispose of animal bodies, the OP is pretty in the clear, here. If I knew where it had come from, and that the dead animal wasn’t really posing any health hazard, I would have removed it, too. I might not have personally called the cops (unless I didn’t know where the animal had come from, or felt it constituted a health hazard), but I would have contacted someone, for sure.

  • Dee October 20, 2014, 11:52 am

    Is it possible the OP considered that someone else would call the police if she didn’t? Because if I saw a real, dismembered animal hanging on someone’s door I would take it seriously, wondering if the homeowner is maybe a young person practising animal sacrifices before moving on to … people … and even if I was told it was a pre-med student’s door I would still be concerned. Halloween, gruesome or not, should be all fake and pretend. The fright is supposed to be in fun, not real, and so should the props. Is it also possible that pre-med student is a bit too preoccupied with bodies and suffering and that’s why he thought this was a great idea? Scary, indeed.

    • Cleo October 20, 2014, 4:45 pm

      I would immediately call the police if I saw that and report a case of animal abuse.

      Fake cat? Hilarious, I’ve seen knitted dissected frogs on etsy and they look really cool.
      Real cat? Disgusting and a possible health hazard.

  • CW October 20, 2014, 11:57 am

    I think I’d have a bigger issue with the sanitary factors than the dissected cat itself. I’ve been in dissection classes and cadaver labs and the smell of preservatives is pretty awful and tends to “stick” to clothing, hair, carpet, etc.

    • Wild Irish Rose October 20, 2014, 2:35 pm


  • Cat October 20, 2014, 11:58 am

    It is my considered opinion that a good portion of our population needs a good slap across the face. Society seems to have turned sociopathic: “I am important and only what I want matters; you are not to be considered. I will do whatever I wish and how dare you suggest that what I do or say is: disrespectful, unkind, inconsiderate, cruel, hateful, selfish, and/or deserving of public condemnation.”

    • Lera99 October 20, 2014, 3:53 pm

      While I don’t think violence would fix it, I do agree with the attitude you’ve stated.
      Special snowflake syndrome seems rampant.

      We seem to have lost the idea of community. The idea that as a community, you have a duty to give back and help others. People became teachers, nurses, doctors, researchers, engineers, etc… to give back to their community. As a community you have a duty to help take care of your neighbors when they hit hard times.

      But that got lost somewhere. Now the messages are all me, me, me, me, me, I, I, I…

      I have a very attractive friend who is 32. She constantly complains that she can’t find a man, but she has a list.
      She insists that anyone she dates must:
      – Be taller than her (preferably 6’1 or taller, but she’ll make exceptions if they are attractive enough)
      – Have dark hair and blue eyes
      – Be younger than her (her mother aged really well and she doesn’t want to get stuck with someone looking like a geezer while she’s still attractive)
      – Make at least $25K a year more than her
      – Drives a nicer car than her
      – Be an Atlanta Braves Fan
      – Own his own house
      – Love dogs but not have any of his own because her dog doesn’t get along well with other dogs.
      – Must never have been married
      – Must not have any kid
      – Must not still be friends with any of his ex’s.
      – Must be Southern Baptist or some type of Protestant willing become Southern Baptist.

      And she feels that list is completely justified. She is attractive, has a college degree, and a nice paying job. So she deserves to have the exact Prince Charming she wants without any compromises.

      Instead of seeing a relationship as two people growing together and being eachother’s refuge, she simply sees it as what he can give her and do for her because she deserves nothing but the very best.

      And it is that sort of self-obsessed thinking that seems to be breaking down our communities.

      I have another friend who makes fairly poor decisions when it comes to money. Because of this she is constantly being evicted from places, having to put her stuff in storage, couch surf for a while, get a new place, get behind on bills, get evicted, etc… So about every 6 months she puts out an SOS on facebook looking for a place to crash and looking for help moving her stuff from one place to another.

      I’ve helped her move at least 8-12 times in the last 6-7 years.

      She has never once helped any of our other friends move. She is the first person to ask for help. And the last person to ever offer help in return.

      Now she’s not malicious, but she’s broken in a way where she really doesn’t see why that would upset people. She’s never FORCED anyone to help her move, so why should her friends care if she is always too tired or too busy or just doesn’t feel like helping them move?

      It is a complete lack of responsibility and duty. I’m glad that we encourage people to follow their dreams. That we tell kids to dream big! Be a dancer, artist, musician, poet, etc… Find what you love and do that. But we’ve forgotten to tell them that they also need to give back to their communities. That part of healthy friendships and relationships is making sacrifices to make the other person happy and making compromises.

      • Cat October 20, 2014, 6:50 pm

        The violence I intend is not meant to end the problem; it sure would make me feel better though.

      • EchoGirl October 21, 2014, 12:35 am

        I’m with most of this except the part where you imply being an artist is linked to being selfish and being in one of the professions in your first list. Art is important to a community too (and I use “art” in the general sense of the word to mean a creative product), and there’s nothing that inherently makes teachers, nurses, doctors, researchers, engineers, etc. more generous or better for their communities. I think we can encourage children to pursue their dreams *and* give back to their communities.

        • EchoGirl October 21, 2014, 12:35 am

          Left out part of a sentence, that should read “…one of the professions on your first list is linked to being unselfish and giving back.”

        • Library Diva October 21, 2014, 10:40 am

          I think those were merely meant to be examples of individual dreams that people are encouraged to pursue, not any implication that artists are selfish. I agree that we can encourage children to pursue their dreams and give back to the community, too, but for some reason, it often seems as if we’re not. “Become a doctor/musician/engineer/author at all costs, make your career goal your primary focus and give to your community only if you have time, energy and inclination to do so” seems to be the message received, even if it’s not the message given.

        • Snarkastic October 21, 2014, 4:33 pm

          Thank you – from an artist who has lived in the same apartment for four years has never asked her friends to help her move.

        • Lerah99 October 21, 2014, 7:58 pm

          I apologize. That is not at all what I meant.

          Here is what I said “I’m glad that we encourage people to follow their dreams. That we tell kids to dream big! Be a dancer, artist, musician, poet, etc… Find what you love and do that. But we’ve forgotten to tell them that they also need to give back to their communities.”

          That was not intended to imply that dancers, artists, muscians, and poets do NOT give back to their communities. It was attached to my first sentence of “I’m glad we encourage people to follow their dreams.” Because one of the good things about our “me-centric” era is we do encourage kids to persue whatever they are great at rather than just insisting they follow the money.

          What I was trying to point out was that in all of our “Do what makes you happy”, “Follow where ever your dreams may lead”, “You are a unique and special snowflake – share your talents with the world” talk – we forget to talk about the importance of giving back. That as a member of society you have a duty to try and make this place better for the people who come after you.

    • JO October 20, 2014, 5:00 pm

      Bam. Nailed it.

  • GG October 20, 2014, 12:00 pm

    I agree that this “decoration” was in poor taste but I don’t think calling the police was the correct response. From the tone of the story I’m getting the feeling that the OP didn’t call the police because of any issue with stolen property but rather because she didn’t like the decoration and didn’t want to confront the neighbors herself. The police are there to be called in an emergency not to talk to your neighbors for you.

    • Kovi October 21, 2014, 2:13 pm

      There is such thing as a non-emergency number, which I’m kind of hoping was called. Either way, though, I don’t have any issue with the OP calling the cops.

  • Ashley October 20, 2014, 12:20 pm

    My mom dissected a cat as part of one of her classes in college and they were allowed to take the cat home to study, so I don’t know how the “ownership” of the cat worked, so it makes it hard to say how the school would have reacted in terms of considering it “theft”.

    I can also see how someone might call the police in a moment of panic. Imagine you come home and find a dead cat nailed to a door, that’s sort of an “Oh my god!” type of thing that would lead to calling the police. Not a 911 type thing, but non emergency certainly. I’m not the type of person to call the police for every little thing but in my mind, dead animals stuck to a door is a reason to get police involved so it ensures I NEVER have to come home to that again and make sure that whoever did it isn’t secretly doing weird stuff to animals behind closed doors.

  • Annie October 20, 2014, 12:48 pm

    I think the reason that a scene of animal butchery would cause great ire is that animal butchery is both legal and common, but no one wants to see it or think about it.

    With the human stuff, people have the fall-back of remembering that it’s not real and not legal. It doesn’t arouse guilt.

    Either one is disgusting and unacceptable to me. Besides, gargoyles are obviously much cooler decorations.

  • lkb October 20, 2014, 12:49 pm

    I think I would have handled it differently, probably taken it down and notified the university department — if nothing else, wouldn’t this have affected the OP’s studies (seeing as she was apparently dissecting the cat with the neighbor for a class. That’s her homework that’s being displayed on the doo. What if it were damaged by a trick-or-treater and his/her parent)? Also, of course, speak to the neighbor about it.

    I can understand the outcry: Formaldehyde stinks and an actual dissected cat is not a fun display, no matter the season.

    (By the same token, I am not a fan of the traveling exhibit showing plasticized human bodies, posed in many ways, that has gone to many museums (it was featured in one of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies). Yes, the exhibit may very educational, but I for one cannot handle the fact that those exhibits are somebody’s parent/sibling/aunt/uncle/grandparent/godparent/friend. It’s seems very disrespectful to me.)

    • CW October 20, 2014, 2:33 pm

      People donate their bodies for study. It’s just a body. You have to separate how you feel about a living person from how you feel about their “pieces” as objects. Usually, the family is very aware of the person’s wishes when they pass. If people did not donate their organs/bodies for study, the medical field would probably be far less advanced or we would still have a grave robbing problem.

      • Kovi October 21, 2014, 2:16 pm

        I really enjoyed the “Bodies” display when I saw it in Las Vegas. I felt the people behind the bodies were treated with proper respect and dignity, even if it’s not something I would ever chose.

    • Amanda H. October 20, 2014, 2:47 pm

      I think the main difference with the plasticized human bodies exhibit is that the people involved gave consent (or had a legal spokesperson give consent).

      • admin October 20, 2014, 3:30 pm

        I think you need to do your homework. The Bodies exhibit is undoubtedly using prisoners of conscience, particularly the practitioners of Falun Gong.

        Dr. Gunther von Hagens’ claim that he has never used unclaimed bodies or prisoners for his Body Worlds exhibit or to supply medical universities with plastinated bodies does not stack up to the evidence. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5637687

        Visitors to these exhibits are financially enabling the trafficking of human bodies and it’s disgusting that “entertainment” once again comes at the expense of a human life.

        • lkb October 20, 2014, 5:28 pm

          I haven’t looked into it at all, but I simply cannot believe that someone would give their consent to have Mom, Dad, Aunt Martha, Uncle Ed plasticized, with their skin and hair removed to be put on display in an exhibit.

          • admin October 20, 2014, 6:11 pm

            Van Hagens claims to have a 10,000 person waiting list for plastination after death. The problem is his association with the Chinese at the beginning of his career in the late 1980’s doing plastination and the questionable sources of many of the bodies. Plus, protestors across the world have not had access to any documentation on specific bodies, despite claims that it does exist, therefore raising doubts as to whether the bodies on display actually are documented donations done by people of free will.

          • Lady Anne October 21, 2014, 1:52 pm

            You cannot donate somebody else’s body; you can refuse to claim it, and the medical examiner can do whatever is necessary. You can, however, agree to donate somebody’s organs. (My friend’s husband died of a heart attack, and when she called the insurance company, she discovered he’d stopped paying the premiums years ago. She didn’t even have the money to bury him, which is how I know that odd bit of info.)

            However, you can donate your own body, and in Maryland at least, the form must be witnessed by a family member and a second person who has no interest in the case. That way, once you die your children cannot come back and say *they* changed *your* mind. My husband has a fairly rare genetic condition, and we have both donated our bodies, specifying “for medical research only”. The coroner comes, zips you up, and between six to eighteen months, returns the ashes to the family. It’s free, and you’ve done some good, and considering what funerals cost, well worth looking into!

        • Library Diva October 21, 2014, 10:44 am

          I agree, this exhibit is shady. His labs are in countries where regulations are known to be loose, too. I once got a job as docent at one of these exhibits but backed out once I found out more about it.

          I can see the value in the concept and I think it may change the way people view the human body, but the exhibit just grossed me out. Some of the bodies really go for the shock factor. Others disagree: this exhibit has visited my city twice and been so popular that the museum must sell timed tickets and often will sell out of them on holiday weekends.

        • Amanda H. October 21, 2014, 2:14 pm

          I’m basing this off of the information given out with the exhibit I attended several years ago, which stated that consent was given.

  • Annie October 20, 2014, 12:54 pm

    One more thing: I think the OP was right to call the police. The other student broke several laws (stealing, improper disposal of a corpse, public nuisance), and potentially endangered the health of his neighbors. Police involvement therefore was appropriate. It is up to the police to decide if they have other, more important things to attend to.

    • RooRoo October 20, 2014, 10:30 pm

      Annie, the phrase “improper disposal of a corpse” refers to human beings. Dead animals’ remains are called carcasses.

      I’m just being precise about language. Using the cat’s carcass as a Halloween decoration was in extreme bad taste! (I’d probably have lost my lunch if I saw that.)

      • Kovi October 21, 2014, 2:20 pm

        Even if that particular phrase is only meant to apply to human beings, there are illegal ways to dispose of animal corpses, as well. PETA got into massive trouble with this when they were found to be disposing euthanized cats in the garbage. When I worked at a vet clinic, the bodies of pets either had to be sent home with the owner to be buried, or cremated at the shelter.

        It’s one thing if you hit a racoon and leave it on the side of the road. It’s another thing if you were to leave a dead dog (even if it died of completely natural causes) out on, say, your front porch. At the very least, the cops would need to investigate possible abuse or neglect.

  • Vrinda October 20, 2014, 12:55 pm

    When I went to Kmart last week, I saw fake dog and cat skeletons in the Halloween decorations section, so it’s not to say that depictions of dead, fake animals for Halloween is not done.

    • Lady Anne October 20, 2014, 2:16 pm

      I think there is a great deal of difference between obviously fake animal skeletons and obviously real dead animals. Seeing that dead cat hanging from a door would have had every child in the neighborhood in therapy for years.

  • Lenore October 20, 2014, 1:07 pm

    I have to wonder if those defending the gory Halloween displays would be ok with their neighbours having swinger’s parties on their front porches/gardens? After all, it’s all in “good fun”, and you can’t “shelter children forever” and “they can do what they want”. Or if those same neighbours were playing loud, offensive music where every second word is a curse or derogatory name for anything and everyone?

    • admin October 20, 2014, 1:13 pm

      Given how many times the “Vote For XXXX” signs were removed from our yard during the last presidential election, it would seem there are people who clearly have no problems with trespassing on private property and removing signs they find offensive.

    • B October 20, 2014, 2:16 pm

      No, I think the big problem here is that people’s ideas of what constitutes bad taste vary enormously.

      Some people genuinely do not see anything offensive in what someone else finds horrendous. It has nothing to do with superiority, trying to shove anything in someone’s face, or moral relativism. They just have different standards of taste, and genuinely do not see that it is ‘wrong’. Sometimes we can all agree that something is disgusting or tasteless; sometimes we cannot. Comparing swingers’ parties to some decorations seems a bit like apples and oranges, although the dead cat is in a revolting league of its own.

      Some of these decorations fall straight into the disgusting category that 99% of people find bad taste, but quite a few really do just come over as someone else having a different view. I don’t see how dismissing all of them, and all those people’s opinions, in one unflattering lump is at all sensible.

    • B October 21, 2014, 4:22 am

      PS Lenore, a swingers’ party in your front garden would also be illegal (outraging public decency), as would very loud music.

      Decorations in general are not.

  • A different Tracy October 20, 2014, 1:30 pm

    Since you said your neighbor thought displaying the dissected cat was “a grand idea,” does this mean you actually spoke to them about it?

    Personally, I think removing the cat was okay, if you had already asked the neighbors to remove it and they refused (which is what you should have done first). Calling the police was overreacting.

  • JD October 20, 2014, 1:31 pm

    I don’t know that I would have called the police or not — I might have, but I really don’t know — but I sure would have taken the cat down or made him do it. A real body hanging on the door (cat or whatever), especially in an area where trick-or treating kids were very common, is disgusting. And I agree with admin’s comments. Yes, you can find fake skeletons of cats and dogs in a store, but you don’t (you don’t, right? Right? Please tell me you don’t) see scenes depicting animal torture or gruesome deaths in front yards. I no more want to see the fake corpse of a dog “caught” in the garage door than I do a person’s fake corpse caught in a garage door.
    Years ago my husband and I took in a young cat that our neighbor rescued out of the back of a truck, where it was trapped in a cardboard box, while the truck’s owner was in a store. It was going to be thrown to fighting dogs to help train them. The neighbor got this information from the dogs’ owner himself when he asked why he heard a cat in the box as he walked by the truck, and this is an area where dog fighting used to be rampant. Anyone think that little scene of a fake cat being torn to pieces by fake dogs is okay to set up in a front yard? I can’t see why it’s okay, then, to show a fake human being tortured or killed. There’s enough real horror in this world that I don’t need fake horror shoved at me, thanks anyway. I certainly don’t need a real cat hanging on a door!

  • David October 20, 2014, 1:38 pm

    I’ll take a stand with you against moral relativism anyday. I have often considered ordering custom bumper stickers which read:

    “Objective Truth Exists!”

  • kingsrings October 20, 2014, 1:41 pm

    I do agree that it was wrong for the OP to call the police. It wasn’t theft or anything that was against the law. However, it was definitely extremely unethical and the University should have been notified and taken action against the student who displayed it. I can’t imagine how upsetting that must have been for the unassuming people coming to the door to see, especially children. It’s also disrespectful to treat any corpse, human or animal, in that manner.

  • Cady October 20, 2014, 1:41 pm

    Putting a living person’s name on a headstone is not only in poor taste, but could also be construed as a threat, which explains the reaction to the Obama headstones. The secret service is supposed to take that stuff seriously.

    • Library Diva October 22, 2014, 11:22 am

      Absolutely agree. There is a world of difference between my styrofoam tombstone inscribed with the name “Dr. Victor von Frankenstein 1650-1692” with the blinky eyes and a tombstone with the name of a real, living person on it — especially a person who is often the target of death threats.

      Fake “headstones” “memorializing” Dr. Acula, I.P. Freely, Jim Shoe, C. U. Later and the like are more whimsical in nature. They’re not any sort of veiled threat. It’s not “political correctness” to be outraged over people wishing another living being dead. It would be just as outrageous if the homeowners had put the names of neighbors, celebrities, or politicians on the other side of the aisle. It would even be wrong to put the names of American enemies on them. Occasionally, you used to to see Osama Bin Laden’s name on these tombstones. He was so hated that I’m not surprised few people spoke up against them, but I found it disgusting.

      • Library Diva October 24, 2014, 2:29 pm

        Just another thought: if someone MUST make a political or social statement with the tombstones in their Halloween decor, why not have the “inscription” refer to an aspect of the person rather than the person him or herself? “Here lies Politican X’s sense of decency” or something like that. It removes the veiled threat and the unseemly appearance of wishing someone dead because you don’t like them. It also introduces a bit of humor back into it. Even if I disagreed with the statement being made, I’d still probably find a “tombstone” of that nature clever and humorous rather than ugly, nasty and vaguely threatening.

  • NostalgicGal October 20, 2014, 2:23 pm

    The cat was uni property, and provided for student instruction. Those things are usually preserved, but won’t take extended exposure to open air without drying out to the point of becoming useless for purpose intended.

    I would have taken it down, taken it BACK to the uni, and informed them of where it was found and who’s presumed possession it was in. Then let them deal with it.

    A formerly living thing such as this used for instructional purposes, should be treated more respect than being taken (mid-use it seems) and put up for a display to shock and horrify the general public.

    Yes you can get plastic fakes, but that’s not the same thing and usually not nearly as realistic. It only came into being because of blow molding plastic and some aerosol paint coloring…

  • Magicdomino October 20, 2014, 2:31 pm

    Confession time: I have several animal skeletons, and added two cats to the menagerie this year, but they are as genuine as the human skeletons in my basement closet. Genuine plastic, that is. 🙂

    I have seen props made with real animal skulls. It’s hard to argue with a deer skull on a reaper when real cow skulls are used in Southwestern-style decor. There is also the question of whether taxidermied hunting trophies are a tasteful home decoration. But that is as far as it should go for the real thing. I would object to an actual mutilated animal or human, and yes, I’d call the cops or animal control. Real monsters aren’t fun.

  • Syn October 20, 2014, 2:31 pm

    I think calling the cops *was* an overreaction. You should have spoken to the person responsible. I’m not a big fan of going straight to the authorities when you have problems with your neighbours. Unless you have reason to suspect they’d be violent or retaliate, why not try to resolve the issue on your own first. Going to the cops just creates more conflict.

    I do think shunning you was completely out of line, but I’m not surprised. That tends to happen when you do something that comes off as, frankly, dickish behaviour.

    • Rod October 20, 2014, 3:42 pm

      I think the same. When, as a student (engineering, but close ties to med/vet), some behaviours were deemed undesirable it was preferred as a group to deal with it internally as a first instance.

      Those that immediately called a higher authority (Dean, counselor, etc.) instead of trying to fix thing “in-group” were quickly excluded from the “in confidence” setting. Granted, some things couldn’t be fixed and needed further intervention. And some were serious breaches of safety (in lab) and those were treated both internally and externally – no one wanted to team-up with a lab cowboy that put people at risk.

      But even as children we learn this: a kid that is unable to solve any conflicts with other kids and appeals to the “adults” in all instances quickly finds himself ostracised. Would I call the cops on my co-worker that’s taking pens home theft? Probably not. A computer? Probably yes.

    • April Damon October 20, 2014, 3:51 pm

      You are dead straight on this. When you bring the cops into any issue that you should be able to handle yourself like a grown up, you invite their attention onto both parties. Furthermore, how does involving the cops ever calm down a situation whether it’s over loud music, boisterous dogs, parking spaces, or Halloween decorations? You’re only inviting years of friction between you and your neighbor or, in the original letter writer’s case, a shunning.

  • CW October 20, 2014, 2:46 pm

    I feel like there are a lot of people who go out looking to be offended by anything. If it’s not blood and gore, it’s politics or religion or music or someone’s haircut.

    To quote Stephen Fry, “It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so ******* what.”

    • Cat October 20, 2014, 7:03 pm

      It might be a good start to a conversation though. I have always regretted not asking a former friend of mine about a comment she made to me years ago.
      As a Catholic, whenever a funeral happens to pass by, I make the sign of the cross and repeat the prayer for the dead, “May his/her soul through the mercy of God, rest in peace” quietly to myself. It’s not meant to be offensive or to force my faith on others; it’s just meant as a kindness to offer a prayer for someone who has died.
      My friend said to me, “If I was in a funeral procession and saw you do that, I would stop and curse you out.” I was too shocked to say anything. She was not Catholic, but was married to a Catholic. I have always wondered what offended her to that extent.

      • Phitius October 21, 2014, 1:14 pm

        I’m not religious myself, but I always find it weird when people are offended by things like that. I don’t find such things to be in any forcing religion on me. It’s a kind and thoughtful gesture. Just like saying Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah. It wishing someone joy and happiness and I will never understand why people take that so negatively.

      • hakayama October 22, 2014, 8:57 pm

        I could not help but notice the “FORMER friend” part. Just be glad to no longer have in your life someone who can harbor such hostility as a reaction to a harmless and compassionate gesture.

  • Marozia October 20, 2014, 3:44 pm

    One wonders if your neighbour would’ve taken a human corpse, dissected it and hung it on the door!! Whichever way it goes, it’s still immoral, not to mention, stealing.
    It happened 20 years ago, the neighbour was just a plain yob/oaf.
    If he’s a FQ doctor now, I’ll bet he still brags about this prank to his patients, even his children!

  • iwadasn October 20, 2014, 8:44 pm

    Using an actual dead cat means he couldn’t even fall back on the weak “It’s fake so it shouldn’t bother anyone” excuse.

  • Today's OP October 20, 2014, 8:52 pm

    OP here. I appreciate all the comments.
    Admin: thanks for your pertinent points that I agree whole-heartedly with.

    As to why I called the cops: I was young (19) and it was a knee-jerk reaction. I was so appalled and ashamed by my classmate and the people with kids were blaming me for the display because my neighbors weren’t home that I just called the police. I didn’t really think, I reacted. Looking back at it now with 20 years of thought on it, sure, why the heck did I call the police? Don’t know.

    Why didn’t I talk to the neighbors? Well, they weren’t home at the time and showed up very drunk later. Not much else to say about that.

    Thank you everyone for my food for thought and my reflections on my thought process on that night. It is one of those things that has stuck with me for years but I can put a more mature light on it now.

    But for a final thought: I will be going trick or treating with my 5 and 2 year old this year. If I come across a real dead cat on a doorway will I call the police? Hmmm. What would you do if a 5 and 2 year old were there? Take down the cat? Talk to the neighbor you didn’t know? Call animal control that might not be open at night? Leave it for others to find? Call the police? With my children there I know what the best option would be and it is not to take down a dead cat.

    • Vermin8 October 21, 2014, 6:50 am

      OP, one more thought.
      After reflection, I say it is appropriate for you to call some local authority – if not the cops, the public health department. If this was after business hours, then the cops are the default number.
      It may have been a knee jerk reaction but let’s think about why – we have a very visceral reaction to seeing dead mammals parts in public. Why? It’s a public health hazard and cause spread disease – even the chemicals used for preservation can be problematic.
      After millenia of caution regarding biohazards, we don’t even think about it. We can’t even articulate it, we just know it’s bad.
      I probably would have said you overreacted but for a professional experience many years ago. I was working on the design for the construciton of a hunting lodge which included an out building for skinning and preparing the “catches” (primarily deer). The architect refused to include a drain to the sewer system because it would violate health code. We had to come up with a self contained system that would allow body fluids to be captured and disposed. I learned you don’t mess with this and there are local regulations that govern this (if not laws).

      So your fellow students were idiots – and those who defended them weren’t much better.

      • hakayama October 21, 2014, 2:27 pm

        You’re quite on target except for the “millenia of caution regarding biohazards,”…
        A century or so ago, in “organized medicine” establishments, there were many dead women (and one might presume infants as well) because the good doctors just did not wash their hands when going from one area to another. So, after draining pus from an ulcer, or even conducting a PM, they did see nothing wrong in just heading straight to assist in a birth. No gloves (then), no hand washing…
        I understand it was the midwives that started the wash up “nonsense”… 😉
        As far as formaldehyde itself, in many of those exposed to it with some intensity, it results in a loss of the sense of smell for quite some time, and also a bad sensitizing reaction withe subsequent exposure/s/.
        Also, not enough dissection labs have ventilation that draws the fumes downward…

        • Vermin8 October 22, 2014, 6:43 am

          I was basing that statement on the fact that we have been burying or burning our dead for thousands of years. It’s unclear whether it’s for spiritual or hygiene reasons but I suspect it’s primarily the latter and got mixed up with the former. I’ll qualify I’m not an anthropologist 🙂 and I am extrapolating.
          I wouldn’t be surprised if the situation in your account is based on the fact that women weren’t seen as that important in those days or the male doctors didn’t undertand the issues involved in childbirth – because they never had to go through it personally.
          And on the same line of chemicals vs. natural biohazards – I have been in discussions regarding reuse of waste water. At this time, it’s primarily for irrigation, not for consumable water – but this isn’t because of “organic waste” disposed of in toilets – I was told that is fairly easy to mitigate – it’s because of the chemicals used to clean toilets and the pharmaceuticals eliminated into the system.

        • keloe October 22, 2014, 10:33 am

          No, it was a male doctor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignaz_Semmelweis). And it didn’t go down at all well.
          It wasn’t an anti-women thing, they just had no concept of germs. As far as I know, midwives were no better than doctors in that regard, but they usually had one patient at the time, so couldn’t really carry germs from one to another, as doctor did on maternity wards.

          • hakayama October 22, 2014, 8:52 pm

            Thanks for the reminders and for setting the record straight on some details.
            However, how do we approach the funeral rites in cultures where the deceased were set out in the open on some scaffolding erected for the purpose? I guess that scavengers did a good job of disposal… All of this is just too-too for me. :-/

          • keloe October 23, 2014, 6:32 am

            The most famous of those were the Zoroastrians’ Towers of Silence. There were quite solid structures (some still are, but they are not in use nowadays). They were not close to towns, so I guess people didn’t look at whatever went on there. The way I understand it, it was mostly carrion birds that took care of the job. I think it would be a bit much for me, but I wasn’t raised with that religion.

            Europe wasn’t all that better in the old days. In the Middle Ages people were buried at the churchyard cemeteries, which were small After a year or two the bones would be dug up, dusted off and placed in the ossuary to free up some room. Between that and the public executions, I think it would have taken a lot to shock people in the Middle Ages 🙂 (or all the way up to the modern age).

    • Library Diva October 21, 2014, 11:05 am

      The difference between the real situation you encountered and the hypothetical one you described is your background information. In the situation where you did call the police, you knew full well that the dissected cat had come from your medical program and that your neighbor did not kidnap and torture a cat, and then nail it to the door. I think your classmates saw you as getting your neighbor in trouble needlessly. My opinion is just that it was the wrong kind of trouble. I think you’re right in that there are ethical issues here and that someone from your program should have dealt with him and explained the importance of having respect for living things, and for their bodies, and had a stern talk with him about whether he was going into the right field with that attitude.

      If you are outside the home of someone you don’t know and they have a cat nailed to the door, that’s an immediate 911 call to me. Your former neighbor is actually lucky that no one in your complex assumed he was a cat torturer and took this step on their own. Pretty stupid of your neighbors to blame you for the display, though.

  • Elsie October 20, 2014, 11:29 pm

    “the cat that lost it’s life so we could learn about anatomy and serve humanity, disrespectful to the kids, and disrespectful to the university and it’s property”

    That’s actually quite true. I’ve taken anatomy classes before, one where we dissected a cat, a cow eyeball, and a goat (or sheep?) heart, and another class where we dissected a frog. Both teachers were VERY clear that these were to be treated with respect and compassion. Any horsing around or whatever would result in the student being removed from the class and a F or a W marking their grade for the semester (those are tough to get off, you have to petition the college and have a really good reason).
    To be honest, I would NEVER go to a doctor/nurse/etc if I knew they treated an animal (even if already dead) so badly. Or that others supported that treatment. If you can’t even be compassionate to a cat – a cat that was given to you as a study aid to educate yourself – I sure as hell do not want you touching ANY part of me. Ever. I don’t trust them to be compassionate with me if they can’t do it for something “less than them”. :\

    As for calling the police, I’m not sure if that was the right thing to do or not. I feel removing it was fine (and returning it to the college, or disposing of it properly). I also think calling the police without removing it would be appropriate, especially given the complaints. It IS still a health hazard, even with “good preservation” or what have you (are you comfortable touching it without gloves/barriers?). It’s also incredibly violent and sends up red flags that this person is sociopathic. The police can deal with the situation as they please.

    Kudos, OP, to standing your ground. Your classmates were trash.

  • Rebecca October 21, 2014, 12:13 am

    I have also taken a comparative anatomy course and dissected a cat, a shark, and something else (I forgot what). I have also taken a human anatomy course and dissected human cadavers. The human lab had very strict rules around it out of respect for the bodies that were selflessly donated to science. I remember no such rules around the cats, but I say the neighbour who put it up as a “decoration” was disrespectful and downright disgusting. I got no amusement out of dissecting cats; I was told the animals were one of the too many, ie overpopulation, that had to be euthanized anyway from the local animal society. I think those poor animals deserve a little respect and reverence. It is not a joke, or a Halloween decoration. What is with the sick humour of some people? Displays pathological immaturity at the very least.

  • MK October 21, 2014, 8:42 am

    I have no issues with the OP calling the police in on the matter. Hanging the dissected body of a cat on a door for neighbors and children to find shows such an appalling lack of sense and judgment that perhaps a little shock from a police visit is what was needed. Had she confronted the person herself she risked ridicule in the form of “Oh come on! It’s a joke. You’re too sensitive!” I bet he thought twice before ever pulling such a prank again if the police were involved.

  • twik October 21, 2014, 9:44 am

    In the defence of students, black humour is often a mechanism for dealing with disturbing activities, such as handling cadavers.

    However, adults (even those in university) should recognize that if it disturbs *them* (who chose their path) to deal with dead things, it can be much more disturbing for those who never chose to do so in the first place.

  • TheCatLady October 21, 2014, 3:14 pm

    I think there is more to this story. The OP and the Neighbor might be both wrong, for the cat display and how it was handled. How was the incident described to the police? If the OP neglected to tell the police where the cat came from, the neighbor could have gotten into some real, detrimental trouble with the law. Animal cruelty is no joke, and could even result in the loss of future jobs, jail time, fines, loss of a semester at school dealing with court appointments. Even an investigation where legal action would have been threatened until the facts were checked seems mean spirited. His joke was tasteless, and he needed to take the cat down, but I would have asked him to remove it, and then called animal control to safetly remove the remains. I think that children seeing such a thing is appalling, and he needed to be fined by animal control, and smacked by his proffessor. The OP accidentally made themselves the bad guy, because Jail/Fines/ect seems really harsh for a tasteless prank that didn’t cause injury or property damage.

    • lkb October 22, 2014, 5:23 pm

      Actually it did cause property damage: the cat was presumably further damaged, as was the door (I’m guessing the duplex was a rental), in the very act of nailing it up. (Also, I don’t know if formaldehyde damages the finish on a door, but it sure can give off an offensive odor.)

  • Angel October 21, 2014, 3:40 pm

    I might have called university police to report the cat cadaver stolen–but no way would I have touched it or taken it down. Gross.

  • April Obe October 21, 2014, 5:53 pm

    What E. Dame said about become desensitized to goriness at a young age reminded me of a story. My friends mom grew up next to an Amish Household. One day one of the Amish children came over to ask to borrow some flour or something. While she was waiting, she was watching the news, which just happened to be on. The poor child promptly went outside and threw up.
    I always remember that story, because most of us will admit the news depresses us, but not that it horrifies us the way that maybe it should. The fact that people kill each other, or hurt each other, on a daily basis should be horrifying. We are desensitized. It’s not really a good thing…

    My rule for TV is the rule I take for real life. I do not glorify darkness. I do not glorify that which should not be glorified. Death and murder is awful…. but I will still watch war movies because they have a purpose. They are remembering something, or teaching a higher moral standard about freedom. But to sit and watch a horror film which delights and glorifies in dark actions I will not do. It would be a detriment to myself and eventually to others. I might loose my compassion.

  • Wendy B. October 22, 2014, 9:33 am

    I haven’t read all the comments but…

    My first thought was the woman was right to call the police BECAUSE it is one thing to dissect a cat for medical class, quite another to use said dissected cat for a Halloween display BECAUSE this shows a nature indicative of psychopathic tendencies. Early indication of these tendencies is to torture others, including animals. While that isn’t what he was doing, per se, it LOOKED that way to others (how many of the parents knew there was a medical student in the house?) and, additionally he IS torturing visitors to his home with the display. I would have taken pictures, then taken the animal down and called the police and given the statement of both the complaints and shown the pictures.

    The shunning should have been brought to the attention of the professor, who should have then explained to the class that taking property from the school is considered a violation of school code and the offending student should then have lost privileges since he obviously couldn’t obey said rules/code.

  • Inkcap October 23, 2014, 10:10 am

    In a situation like this, a major concern would be the negative reflection on the university. Yes, students often do things without thinking, or engage in risky or distasteful behavior just because they can. However, the fact that the cat was an actual course-related resource of the school should have given him pause. Would he want complaints reaching his academic advisor, professor, or department head? These days, a professor could get slapped by the higher-ups for a student failing to dispose properly of “lab waste.” If a student thinks it’s cool or funny or “no biggie” to play around with cadavers for dissection, how might he treat toxic waste from chemical labs or biohazards such as blood samples or bacterial cultures? Questionably cavalier behavior in one area might indicate a need for stricter regulations in others. All I’m saying is, after all my professors have done for me, I’d hate for them to hear of some such action on my part, let alone compromise them with the school administration.

  • homefree October 24, 2014, 7:27 pm

    I go trick-or-treating on Halloween every year with young children. If I saw the partially dissected corpse of a cat displayed at the front door of a home where kids come for treats, I would get those kids out of there immediately, warn the other parents coming for treats with their kids, and call the cops. Most if not all of my neighbors would do the same. We consider that type of behavior to be a danger to our community, and we don’t tolerate it.

  • BookNinja November 22, 2014, 10:23 pm

    Admin, I’m beyond offended by your “pitbull fighting ring with a poor Chihuahua as a bait dog” comment. It’s people like you that make Pitbulls, an amazing breed, into the monsters they are today. Why couldn’t you just say dog fighting ring? Why name a breed? Do you believe everything the media tells you?

    • admin November 23, 2014, 12:26 am

      PETA and the ASPCA on their web sites and FAQs both list the American Pit Bull as the most commonly used breed for dog fighting in the US. Get over it.

  • Ginger November 22, 2014, 10:24 pm

    Why did you call the police? I think THAT was definitely going too far. Taking it down was good enough. If you wanted to embarrass him, perhaps telling the pre med class what he did would have been enough. What did the police even say?!