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Media Influence on Public Perception of Exotic Cat Ownership


What makes something news? The fact that you take good care of your pets isn't newsworthy. Neither is your recent trip to the supermarket; If something is normal, it isn't news. Only aberrations capture our attention enough to warrant screen time. Why is murder reported on the six-o-clock news? Because it's unusual; it's a shocking deviation from routine events. But when we are repeatedly exposed to the abnormal, it begins to seem normal. If we see murder on the news every night, we begin to view it as a common occurrence. This naturally leads to fear of falling victim ourselves, thus we start buying guns and installing security systems. As Gavin de Becker writes, "We're hard-wired to entertain every thought of danger that's put in front of us."

How do you hold the attention of a nation that just watched a war fought on live television? You start looking for tiger attacks.

Before rushing to judgement on exotic cat owners based on a few negative headlines, we might be wise to realize that we only get to read about the horror stories.... News stories about responsible people and happy animals don't sell.

When judging any group, whether it is a nation, race, religion, profession, or demographic, we must look at the primary values and behavior of that group. When we base our opinions on the well-publicized negative incidents involving only certain members of that group, we risk reaching incorrect conclusions.

Just because certain individuals have betrayed the core values of that group does not mean that the whole group should be frowned upon. Unfortunately this happens far too frequently. We live in a world of 30-second news bites and a continuous bombardment of information. We are kept "informed" of a dizzying array of issues; so many; in fact that it would be impossible for us to truly research all of the issues we are confronted with. We make thousands of snap judgements, based on news broadcasts, (fictional) scenes in movies, comments made by strangers in a restaurant or friends at work, what happened to the first cousin of a friend of your dad's, that magazine at the dentist's office, and other equally reliable sources of information.

Years ago, the viewing public was treated to a videotaped broadcast of a group of Los Angeles police officers severely beating Rodney King. What this isolated group of officers did provoked a backlash against the entire law enforcement community, as people reacted by condemning the entire police profession. If people would have simply looked at the core values of the law enforcement profession, they would have realized that the majority of police officers would risk their own lives to protect them from the sort of violence portrayed on that tape. Of course there are some thugs, some thieves, and some murderers in that group. With the large number of officers in this country how could there not be? The broadcast led many people to distrust the police officer next door, judging an entire group consisting of hundreds of thousands of people by one single incident.

We also need to take a hard look at the accuracy of the information we are basing our judgements on. Let's turn to Rodney King again. The incident was caught on videotape and you watched it with your own eyes. Can't ask for more reliable information than that, can you? Well, did you know that the tape you saw was edited? That shots showing King fighting the officers and of the officers' frantic commands to King to stop fighting were cut from the tape?

Today, that infamous video is shown in police training classes for two reasons; to show bad police work, and to point out the damage that can be done when someone only wants to show part of the story.

On April 29, 2003 Environmental News Service reported that nine tiger and two leopard cubs were rescued from a private home where carcasses of some 30 tigers and 58 cubs were found. This lead to the arrests of the operators of the California nonprofit organization Tiger Rescue. The article quotes Michael Markarian, President of The Fund for Animals: "The plight of these babies demonstrates why people who care about animals must boycott the exotic pet industry as well as commercial animal displays that often pass themselves off as sanctuaries." He also states: "Congress can save young tigers and leopards from this cruel fate by passing the Exotic Pets Bill."

Click here to read the article.

Heart-wrenching, isn't it? What this article and others like it failed to mention is that California is one of the most heavily regulated states in the country. Private ownership of all exotic pets is banned. Sanctuaries must comply with an extensive permit process. Far from proving the need for legislation, this sad incident highlights the utter failure of ban laws to prevent cruelty.

The Tiger Rescue sanctuary operators allegedly failed to acquire required permits and violated animal cruelty laws. If laws are the answer, why did this happen? If atrocities like this can occur in a state so heavily regulated that one cannot legally own even a ferret, what is the justification for barring responsible exotic pet ownership? The Fund for Animals' use of this incident to tug at people's emotions and mislead them into supporting destructive legislation is despicable manipulation. We need to enforce our animal cruelty laws, not ban loving and law-abiding citizens from owning animals.

This article is written and copyrighted by Jessi Clark-White. Permission is granted to reprint this article in its entirety only; you may not display edited versions.

For more information on the responsible ownership of wild and exotic cats, visit my website http://www.exoticcatz.com


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