Social media can be equal parts weird and wonderful. It allows us to keep in touch with friends across the globe, but has also meant the birth of some eyebrow-raising trends.
Case in point – creating online profiles for our pets.
We dress them up and place them in unnatural scenarios so the world can collectively giggle. Tell that to our deceased ancestors and I’m fairly sure we’d be met with some blank stares.
The thing is, a kitten dressed as a lion is undeniably cute. But the RSPCA is raising concerns about how this trend can affect the animals in question.
The animal welfare group recently received complaints against an insurance company that, unknowingly, used a sick kitten in their advertisement.
Scientific Officer for the RSPCA, Bronwyn Orr says, “…a lot of people have real difficulty actually reading the body language from their animals and knowing when exactly they are distressed.”
The RSPCA is urging people to be more mindful of our animals and to take care when putting them in costume… or seating them at a table for brunch.
Signs of discomfit or distress varies from species to species.
Ms Orr says a dog may show signs of distress by displaying ‘whale eyes’, which is showing the whites in the far corner of their eyes.
They may also tuck their tail between their legs.
Cats often flick their tails rapidly when unhappy.
Ms Orr wants to remind us:
“Posting a picture of your cat and dog dressed up or with makeup on, for a lot of people that might seem really quite funny or cute, but it obviously goes completely against the dignity of the animal and their natural needs and instincts.”
However, the RSPCA knows that profiles like Doug The Pug (see above), and Officially_Shelby (a Persian, brunch-loving Instagram sensation), aren’t going anywhere.
Associate Professor Pauleen Bennett, the head of La Trobe University’s Department of Psychology and Counselling, says, “It feels warm and fuzzy to know that people are laughing at the same things you’re laughing at, that they think your pet is cute.
“We want to be heard, we want people to know that we exist. We want to be part of a community.”
In Australia alone, this community is huge.
According to Animal Medicines Australia, we spend around 12 billion dollars a year on our pets.
In light of this, the RSPCA’s solution isn’t to wage a war against our celebrity pets and their owners, but raise awareness.
They are currently developing a series of guidelines on how to treat pets in these scenarios.
“Essentially, what they are going to be is just advice for people in the media, as well as people who are using animals in social media and promotion, on how to portray animals appropriately and to not put them in situations where they are uncomfortable,” Ms Orr said.
Professor Bennett also thinks that just as users are able to report and call out inappropriate jokes or comments across social media platforms (see Twitter’s Racism Watch Dog), we have a responsibility to flag “what is and is not acceptable according to our own ethical standards” when it comes to our cross-dressing cats.
“No animal should be put in danger or made uncomfortable for the sake of a giggle or a cute photograph.”
The RSPCA guidelines will soon be released and available online.