Updated: Dec 25, 2022
I get it, I’m cute. So cute you want to smoosh my furry little face. How can you resist posting my pics across all your socials? Pet selfies are huge right now, and they’re only going to get bigger. Research has shown that pictures of dogs in your dating profile results in more matches, and that members of congress connecting with their constituents via social media get more likes if they post pictures of their pets. Some go so far as to say the next wave of influencers will be four legged, based on the success of celebrities like Grumpy Cat, and the sheer resilience of Caturday and Shiba Inu memes. The whole world is sharing their love of cuddly companions, and that sparks more joy than catching my tail.
But sometimes, some humans go a bit far in their quest for likes.
Back in 2009, a picture did the rounds. A cat in its human’s arms with ears flat and eyes wide, staring to the left of the frame and pushing away with its paws. The caption read: Oh girl HOLD ON. Are those shoes on sale? You see, the cat was in a mall, socializing like humans do and thinking like humans think. Funny right? The problem is, the cat is in distress, overwhelmed by the sounds, the sights, the smells, and the strangers in this scary environment. This image, and many others like it, go viral because you humans willfully misinterpret our very expressive way of communicating.
In the decade since that picture, it’s gotten so bad that Bronwyn Orr of the RSPCA had to remind people in 2018 that “a dog is a dog, a cat is a cat, we have to respect that”. Your lust for likes should never be prioritized above our dignity, needs, and right to emotional and physical safety. Sadly, sometimes, it is. Of particular concern to animal advocates, for both companion animals and wildlife, is the trend of staging the perfect photo using harmful training practices, restraints, provocation, and costumes. Culprits then go on to include captions and tags that misrepresent the manner in which the image was created, and our attempts to communicate that something is very, very wrong. It’s bad enough when one poor creature has to go through that, but the nature of social media is that each time it happens it encourages more humans to do the same. That normalizes manipulating and harming animals for entertainment.
After all the hard work we’ve done helping humans understand us as intelligent, unique, characterful, and above all feeling beings!
It’s not all bad news. Some sites, such as Instagram, have begun adding warnings when you search certain tags, informing users of photographic practices that endanger the welfare of animals. And I want to impress that not all pet selfies are harmful. Sharing healthy images and information on social media is an important part of improving the circumstances for animals of all shapes and sizes.
So how do you do it right? Here are some tips from the experts:
Photograph us without too much interference, doing the things we do normally. Things that make us happy like playing, cuddling (but not too hard!), and sleeping adorably. You know, the things you love us for! I know your followers will love us for exactly the same reason.
Don’t provoke us or use aggression and scare tactics to get a reaction. Don’t put us in danger of physical harm.
Pay attention to us when we’re showing signs that we’re getting uncomfortable. And if the nature of the photo interferes with you being able to read those signs, as in costumes that inhibit body language, don’t do it!
Prioritize your relationship with us. Post in moderation. Don’t see us as an object, or a means to an end. Take us for a walk because it’s fun, not because where we’re going looks good. Celebrate our happy times, definitely, but remember to put down the phone and just be our friend.
And finally, caption honestly. When you’re certain we won’t mind something a little more staged, tell your audience what you did and how you did it. Be transparent! It shows your love.
Remember that I love and trust you more than anything in the world. Be deserving of that love, and make sure you’re sharing pet selfies that help build a more responsible and compassionate world.