When you see an image of an animal suffering, it evokes an emotional response. You feel empathy and want to ease the animal’s pain. And if there is somebody in charge of caring for that animal who could have — and should have — prevented the animal’s suffering, it is natural for you to feel angry and frustrated with them. When somebody agrees to the responsibility of owning an animal, subjecting that animal to neglect or cruelty is a huge betrayal.
Advertisers and animal activists have known this since forever, and used our empathy to their advantage. Can’t blame them — it certainly adds to the impact and urgency of the message. The only problem is, sometimes the picture doesn’t tell the whole story.
Case in point from last week: Clarksville crying dog video, petition spur death threats.
Two dogs lying in the snow in a fenced-in area, crying out with no shelter. There might even be a third, possibly deceased dog in the frame! And the cruel owners are nowhere in sight. How could you not be enraged? Naturally, people signed the petition and expressed disgust — and some went way out of line and even threatened the dog owners.
But what was the reality?
CPD and Montgomery County Animal Control have both investigated and found that the video did not convey anything resembling the reality of the situation.
The dogs had heated shelters (out of sight of the video, which gave the impression there were none), and food and water were placed on elevated surfaces.
Additionally, the two dogs are Husky mixes, bred to withstand temperatures far below anything experienced in Clarksville this winter.
And the third, possibly dead “dog” was actually a piece of cardboard. The person who took the video had full sight of the property, and must have known they were not portraying reality. It is hard to believe this was not a willing deception. But the video of these “agonized” dogs was still posted, and a family terrorized and made into villains. Whatever the reason for posting this video — seeking attention, misanthropy, or an “ends justify the means” activist mentality, it did nothing to ease an animal’s suffering. It caused anger and sadness in viewers without reason, and brought misery to the dogs’ owners.
The adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. It also aptly characterizes one of the main goals of visualization, namely making it possible to absorb large amounts of data quickly.
It’s true — a picture is worth a thousand words, but be careful before you round up the villagers, before you grab your pitchforks and torches: what you see may not tell the whole story.