The Survivor’s Tail

Don't worry.  This article will not harm a hair on his body.
Don’t worry. This article will not harm a hair on his body., a company that annually makes a Superbowl ad wherein there’s some implied female nudity if you visit their site, decided to pull this year’s ad that featured a puppy being sold online.  It seems people were outraged about an implied abuse of a puppy, probably from a puppy mill for the commercial’s storyline, from a company that routinely makes commercials that objectify women.  What gives?  Does our society value dogs more than people?

In a word, it appears the answer to that question is “yes”.

People love animals.  Many people have pets that don’t really provide anything other than companionship and love.  I grew up with dogs.  My wife is a catlover.  We have two of those things.

Here they are.
Here they are.

We may get a dog once we get a house of our own, but not anytime soon.  Dogs need a yard.

But really, have you considered how far movies and TV shows will go to make sure a dog or cat survives whatever happens?  Even kids aren’t often that lucky.

Consider the following survivors:

  • The cat onboard the Nostromo in Alien lives along with Ellen Ripley.
  • Flannery O’Connor’s classic short story “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” has a psychopath kill off a vacationing family.  The cat survives.
  • The dog on Lost manages to be in the final shot, lying down next to a dying Jack.
  • Aliens destroy major cities, killing millions of people in seconds during Independence Day.  Don’t worry, though.  The camera will linger long enough to show a single Golden Retriever jumping to safety.
  • Technically not surviving, but Jonah Hill’s dog gets into heaven at the end of This Is The End.
  • Krypto the Superdog survived the destruction of Krypton.

Major league disasters hit, killing many a human being, but the pet lives.

Now, there are exceptions.  John Carpenter’s version of The Thing starts off by killing the dogs.  A dog dies at the beginning of Attack the Block.  Even family-friendly Stephen Spielberg had a joke about a dog being eaten by a T-Rex stomping through suburbia in The Lost World: Jurassic Park II.

Plus, you know, there was Old Yeller.

But let’s face it.  We do tend to care about dogs and cats (and pigs and horses and such, you know, domesticated and/or cute animals).  Play a sad Sarah McLachlan song to footage of sad-looking dogs in a  cage and watch the donations roll in.

I think dogs get this a bit better than cats.  Dogs can “act” in ways that cats can’t.  They can be taught to do tricks and look pathetic.  Cats don’t take well to training, so they don’t tend to be featured quite so much in these roles.  Dogs can be heroes.  Dogs can tell the family when that idiot Timmy fell down the well again.

I know I’m not immune.  Hulu Plus has an ad before some of its programming telling the home viewer to adopt a stray at the pound rather than buy from a pet shop because of awful puppy mills, and besides, a stray, cartoon dog will be put to sleep every six seconds or so anyway.  It just makes me want to save a life.  That would be the whole point.

I seem to recall Louis C.K. doing a bit about getting a pet is really just a future investment in pain, since you are very likely to get attached to the pet and then outlive it.  He wasn’t wrong.

But again, we love our dogs and cats.  We humanize them.  Increasing numbers of pet owners are getting expensive treatments to keep their pets alive in the event of illnesses like diabetes or worse.  We ascribe feelings to them we have no idea if they share for certain.  We want them to be with us, and they do make life a little better.  Want to emotionally devastate the audience?  Kill the dog.  That’s probably the reason so many post-Apocalyptic settings have a lone guy with a dog.

Want to show how good someone is?  Have Superman rescue a cat stuck in a tree.

But really, as much as we should treat animals better than we do, I think we also need to start treating people better.  The dog or cat surviving often means the people didn’t.

Postscript:  Ryan tells me there’s a classic book on this, entitled Save the Cat.  I may have to read that at some point.

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