Is it cruel to dress up cats and dogs for photos?

Not long before I began working at the Nevada Appeal in 2001, this fairly popular feature called "Capital Snaps" started running in the newspaper. The editors conceived it as a way for readers to share a little bit of their lives with other readers by our publishing photographs they've taken around the house, at work or while having fun in and around our great capital city.

The vast majority of pictures submitted were of people's children and pets. And the prevailing philosophy behind these shots: silly and staged.

At first, cats were photographed as they curled up in bathroom sinks and dogs were snapped while they closely examined yard-invading raccoons and squirrels. Little children were memorialized in their highchairs making a mess as they were trying to eat chocolate pudding or spaghetti. Relatively cute, normal slices of life.

People eventually, however, began dressing and posing their children and pets in amazingly strange ways. Someone recently took a picture of a baby in a stew pot atop their stove, giving some readers nightmares similar to those one would suffer after reading "Hansel and Gretel." Someone else dressed up a white rabbit in colorful beach clothes and sunglasses, took a picture and explained -- if I remember correctly-- that it was a "Beach Bunny" and that they could "hypnotize" it through massage.

There had been so many photos of animals in costume that a friend of mine thought Carson City wasn't run by people, but by talking, costumed cats and dogs living in a cartoons-come-to-life world. This same person, however, thought Carson City was named after Johnny Carson, not Kit Carson.

Some of the reader's not only sent photos; they started sending letters and poems with their submissions, such as:

My cat is so witty,

he goes with me to the city.

I love my pussy,

he is no wussy.

A dog gave him chase,

so my kitty scratched his face.

He coughed up a furball,

and we left it outside the Carson Mall.

OK, I made this one up. I'm not a poet -- I'm a journalist. Deadline is coming and I feel a little like the baby in the stew pot.

What I wrote was stupid, but some of the things I've read by Carson-area adults about their children and pets would make a person's skin crawl. We journalists are tough and can take much more "sharing" than you civilians. It's our job not only to inform and entertain; we sometimes serve as society's filter by trying to present things in a way that makes sense to most people.

When the drip coffee pot isn't working right, free-floating coffee grounds can ruin that first cup and the entire morning. We journalists try to keep the kookiest things away from your weary morning eyes because they would be too off-putting. Sometimes we dismally fail, but we keep trying.

I have been tortured by viewing more children and animals -- especially cats -- in silly clothes and inane poses than anyone deserves. Ever a journalist. I finally decided to contact People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, because I had finally become disturbed enough to have a nightmare: Cats and rabbits were dressed in surgical gear, preparing to give me a lobotomy as I was flat on a gurney in a kennel cage.

PETA says its mission is to let humans know "animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment." I addressed an e-mail to Carla Bennett, PETA's "Kindness Consultant." I pretended to be a civilian, not a journalist feeling like an over-used coffee filter. I want to know if these pictures fall under PETA's definition of entertainment.

Dear Carla,

Do you think that dressing up animals in silly get ups -- to take pictures or just to allow them to enjoy special occasions like human animals -- is cruel or just annoying ? My local newspaper often runs these types of pictures of animals (and sometimes people) and I would like to dress up a pet and snap a few pictures for the newspaper to run. What are your feelings about this?

I await her answer. In the meantime, please stop submitting silly staged pictures of kids and animals for use as Capital Snaps for a while. My eyes will eventually stop hurting from all the kookiness and business as usual can return. How about photos of people not dressed in costumes? And read the entire previous sentence again. I don't want to see pictures of naked people. That'll set my recovery way back.

Terri Harber works on the Nevada Appeal's news desk.


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