Tue 29 Nov, 2005 10:33 am
November 28, 2005
Another Hurricane Side Effect: Some Soul-Searching About the Pet Coverage
By ANDREW ADAM NEWMAN
E & P
The cover of a certain magazine's "Katrina Special" features a displaced Gulf Coast resident with the caption: "My name is Sally. I'm from New Orleans." Sally is a pit bull mix and the publication is Bark, an 8-year-old quarterly that Time has called "the New Yorker of dog magazines."
The issue, which includes features about people reunited with dogs and articles about pet-rescue efforts, is decidedly newsy for a magazine usually dedicated to such ephemera as dog-park intrigue and how to meditate with your pet.
Karen Dawn, who runs the animal advocacy Web site DawnWatch.com, argues that while the pet press became news-astute with Hurricane Katrina, the rest of the media is still struggling to become pet-aware. "Public policy is way out of touch with how people feel about their animals, and I think the media is too," she said.
While many news outlets initially shied away from reporting on the fate of pets, perhaps fearing it would trivialize the storm's human tragedy, Ms. Dawn pointed out in a Sept. 10 op-ed article The Washington Post that human and pet tolls were inextricably linked.
Indeed, a bill recently introduced in the House of Representatives, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, would require state and local governments to devise pet-inclusive evacuation plans.
Roy Peter Clark, vice president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, says journalists gravitate toward three types of pet stories. "One is the cynical story that satirizes humans' over-attachment to their pets. Then, there are the outrage stories, usually written when human beings cause intentional harm to animals," he said. "And then there's the heroic dog, sort of the Lassie paradigm: 'What is it girl? What are you trying to tell me?' "
But after Katrina and the news reports of heart-rending human-pet separations and reunions, Mr. Clark said "there's a renewed understanding of how much pets mean to certain people, and how hard it is for some people to take life-saving actions if it requires them to abandon their pets."
Mr. Clark also argues that there is a lesson here for news organization: get someone to cover pets and pet ownership. "It's one of the things that people talk about most, and talk about most with strangers," he said.
Mr. Clark has an 11-year-old Jack Russell terrier named Rex "who my wife and I love more than we love each other, even though we've been together 35 years," he said.
Here at Castle Timber, we took part in a program which outplaced longer-term animal shelter residents from the affected areas to make room for the influx of new arrivals. We took in a couple mutts, as did some freinds and neighbors - the program overall outplaced thousands. The idea was to move out the animals with the least likelyhood of retrieval or adoption, freeing up space and resources to keep the newer, storm-displaced critters closer to home, in the hope their humans could find and reclaim them.
Congratulations, Timber, or your actions to save these pets. The TV pictures of those poor animals finally made me cry after Katrina seperated them from their families.
I know I would be one of those people who would not leave their pets behind. I would have to forced at gun point to do that.