Judge, Jury, and Social Executioner: Mob Mentality in the Digital Age

Meet Sunny:

(Name has been changed to protect his previous owner)

Sunny is a 13-year-old cream point Balinese male. A Balinese is essentially a long-haired Siamese, and is considered a distinct breed among most cat registries. CFA specifically classifies red/cream pointed Balinese (along with lynx points and tortie points) as a sub-breed called “Javanese”, but the color is the only difference. TICA recognizes red, cream, tortie, lynx, and the original four Siamese color points as Balinese.

I literally just got home at midnight tonight…

…and I’m still writing this at 4am…

…after driving over 300 miles roundtrip to pick Sunny up from a veterinary hospital 2 states away. He was surrendered there last week, and a fellow technician at that hospital just happened to post about him in a VetMed group that we’re both in, asking about his breed.

I immediately knew when I saw Sunny’s picture that I had to make the long road trip to go get him, as I have a lifetime of experience with oriental breeds and the trauma they often go through when they are forced to experience some type of unwanted change or their world is flipped upside down. I grew up with Siamese and Oriental Shorthairs literally from birth. The first two were a beautiful blue Oriental named Smokey who was my favorite cat, and a seal point apple-head Siamese named Tony who vehemently hated me for 17 out of the 18 years of his life, simply because I pulled on his tail once when I was just a year old. Eventually one day he finally decided I wasn’t so bad anymore, and allowed me to pet him. I blame this on him being completely senile for the final few months of his life. 😏

Come to think of it, Tony looked pretty annoyed with my existence from the moment Mom brought me home from the hospital, after spending my first 30 days in the NICU.

I have also personally owned several Siamese, Balinese, Himalayans, and mixes of the above, and have rescued/fostered countless more within the group that comprises orientals and colorpoints. I’ve also worked in feline behavior for over 13 years, and Siamese by far make up the largest percentage of my cases (followed closely by Bengals).

Lily, my stunning seal point Colorpoint Shorthair.

Another pic of Lily simply because it makes me giggle every time.

Billion, my absolutely gorgeous Siamese-Himalayan cross. Best cat I could ever ask for, and left me too soon at just 7 years of age. I miss him intensely every day.

A picture I snapped of one of my Mom’s Siamese kittens. He was my favorite, and his eyes were in the middle of changing from dark baby blue to adult ice blue, and looked like starbursts.

Lola, my beautiful blue tortie-point apple-head Balinese from several years ago. I loved smooching her half peach colored upper lip.

As often happens with oriental cats, this poor boy was absolutely petrified after losing the only home he’d ever known. I knew I had the ability to give him a home familiar with his needs, and the capability to provide practically unlimited veterinary care for a senior cat. These breeds often live 20+ years, so I easily could have another decade to enjoy with this beautiful boy.

Initially, the only information available was that he was surrendered by his owner.

Most animal lovers would generally react to a post like that with frustration or even anger that a 13-year-old cat was suddenly abandoned and traumatized. I see it every single day, all over the internet — vague, one-sided social media threads or news stories, however well-meaning, end up “trending” with stacks of impassioned comments, veiled threats, and outright hateful vitriol that demonizes and vilifies owners or the veterinarians who treat the case and make medical decisions.

This was posted by a technician at VSS after the “Faust” case went viral from Stray Rescue of St. Louis. The dog was an unvaccinated stray exhibiting neurological symptoms, and bit a technician. VSS reported the bite to the Health Department as required by law. The Health Department directed Animal Care and Control to immediately confiscate the dog and euthanize it for rabies testing. The rescue posted a one-sided video with false information that caused an uproar among their followers and many other dog lovers that the viral post reached, and resulted in VSS being inundated with phone calls, e-mails, online reviews, and social media messages threatening the hospital and its employees.

Yet as it turns out, Sunny was an extremely beloved pet whose older owner had brought him in for veterinary care several times regarding issues with coughing. He was absolutely her baby. She unfortunately struggled with some severe cognitive and memory issues — likely some form of dementia. She even struggled to find her car in the veterinary hospital’s small parking lot.

One day last week, the owner’s husband (who is likely her caretaker, thus leaving her reliant upon him) decided he “could not tolerate living with a coughing cat” and literally chucked Sunny outside. His poor distraught owner had no idea what to do, so she brought him to the veterinary practice whom she trusted with her boy, and surrendered him to save him from being left to die outside in the cold — or face God knows what if she tried to bring him back inside against her husband’s wishes.

Even after surrendering him, Sunny’s owner came to the hospital several times to visit him. Unfortunately due to her cognitive issues, she did not seem to fully understand when they told her the good news that Sunny was being adopted by a breed-experienced licensed veterinary technician and her veterinarian husband, who have their own animal hospital; pretty much winning the adoption jackpot. Even though they explained to her that I was picking him up this afternoon, she still stated she would be “back this evening to visit him”. Having been a CNA working with seniors in memory care for a decade before I got into VetMed, and seeing my own beloved grandmother ravaged and destroyed by Alzheimer’s, this absolutely shatters my heart at the deepest level.

So why am I bringing this up?

Because we need to stop being so judgmental of owners, doctors, or situations when, in the vast majority of instances, we do not know the background circumstances. Or we do not have all of the pertinent medical history. Or we only have one viewpoint or one side of the story.

I know it’s hard, because we love these creatures so deeply. As humans, we have an innate desire — even an instinct — to immediately want to defend animals against all the bad things in the world…or avenge them when they DO get hurt, and demand culpability regardless of circumstance. We are emotional and tend to think with our hearts first.

I think this applies even more when it comes to my fellow colleagues in veterinary medicine. We have devoted our educations, our careers, our entire lives to helping animals (and thereby helping the people who love them), and we can often feel like it is our JOB to analyze a situation and pass judgement. Yet no different than anyone else, we have to force ourselves to be objective and think about all aspects. It negatively impacts our community both internally and externally when we jump to conclusions about cases we are not directly involved in.

As a whole, we as a society HAVE to stop accepting every story at face value when we don’t have all the facts/information. This applies to all aspects of life, but really has a broad ripple effect when we unfairly judge situations involving animals, their owners, or veterinary staff. We HAVE to step back and look at every case objectively without making assumptions. We HAVE to keep in mind that there are two sides to every story, and that there will always more than meets the eye.

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