Pet Noir

Posted by Lisa Franzetta, ALDF's Director of Communications on July 9, 2007

A few years ago I saw a painting by Damien Hirst–not a darling of the animal rights set, thanks to his fondness for displaying dissected sheep and cow carcasses preserved in formaldehyde–entitled “Do you know what I like about you?” It’s a giant canvas covered with thick yellow paint and the tiny, trapped bodies of butterflies who were intentionally captured, and died, on the artwork while the gloss was still drying.

I think of this painting when considering our strange, confused, often misguided infatuation with animals. In many ways, it is their exoticness, their wildness, their non-humanness that draws us to love them–yet that is also the source of our predictable failure to protect them from our own frailties and misconceptions. Yeah, we dress up our schnauzers in Halloween costumes, we teach gorillas American Sign Language, we put rhinestone collars on panthers and pose them next to sports cars for magazine ads. But, really, isn’t so much of this fascination with animals because they are, in their essence, not like us?

When we make dogs, cats, and other companion animals part of our families, we find that they often become subject to the same perversities we inflict upon our human relatives. In our society, we’ve more or less formalized ways to deal with child abusers, wife batterers, war criminals, and garden-variety sadists. But we’re still figuring out what to do when our dysfunctions end up crushing the wild out of the animals we attempt to love or, more tragically, to control. At the Animal Legal Defense Fund, we hear such stories every day: cats doused in gasoline and lit on fire by “boys being boys,” chimpanzees having the “smiles” beaten on to their faces for Hollywood appearances, tigers kept as house pets mauling their keepers (to whose surprise?).

*This entry was excerpted from the afterword for Pet Noir: An Illustrated Anthology of Strange but True Pet Crime Stories. A portion of the proceeds from Pet Noir are donated to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.