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Karen Davis: What does it mean to be an ‘animal lover’?

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It is time to retire the term 'animal lover', which is as demeaning and patronizing toward animals as this same type of attribution would be in being used to characterize a socially privileged person who 'loves' an oppressed human population.

KAREN DAVIS: The term “animal lover” sounds like a relic of a bygone era, pre-1990s at least. For modern animal rights advocates, “animal lover” sounds quaint, but the mainstream media seem content with it. Granted, being an “animal lover” is better than being an animal hater, but should we embrace this attribution as a tribute to the designee or as a favor to animals? What might animals say if they could weigh in?

Tributes to celebrity actress Betty White, who died December 31, 2021 at age 99, led me to raise the question in a comment I posted to Animals 24-7’s more sobering look at Betty White’s decades-long association with animal welfare. The thoughts presented here expand that comment. I knew Betty White from ads for Golden Girls, a popular TV comedy in which she starred from 1985-1992. Scanning tributes to her in early January, 2022 prompted by her death, I saw among the accolades that she was a front for the American Humane Association’s seal of assurances that “No Animals Were Harmed” in the making of films in which animals appeared under AHA’s oversight. I think there is evidence to the contrary.

A question I asked was, did Betty eat animals? She not only ate them; she publicized her consumption of animals to the point of being the celebrity booster for a hot dog business in Los Angeles. Of course, she is beloved by the owner of that business. A hot dog has been named for her with proceeds from sales going to the Los Angeles Zoo.

Unfortunately, the term “animal lover,” whether attributed to a celebrity or anyone else, suggests that the person may be more cloyingly sentimental than truly sensitive toward nonhuman animals, their feelings, needs and miserable frustration in institutional captivity. Thus I believe it is time to retire the term “animal lover,” which is as demeaning and patronizing toward animals as this same type of attribution would be in being used to characterize a socially privileged person who “loves” an oppressed human population.

The fact that Betty White has been gushed over, almost universally, by celebrities, media, and other commentators signals that she was an “animal lover” who ensured that the status quo would not be disturbed and would even be enshrined. Betty’s love for animals is reminiscent of white people’s professed “love” for cute little “colored” children, as reflected in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Life Among the Lowly. Such “love” is quite compatible with an approval of enslavement of the “loved” objects of affection…

Betty White was a public figure who constructed a persona for public consumption. The fact that she died or is still fresh in the grave does not exempt her public doings from examination, including criticism when the shadow falls between fiction and fact. I believe she honestly cared about some animals – the kinds of animals it is socially “safe” to “love” and the kind of care that does not rock the boat. At the same time, the animals she was photographed with, whether wildlife captives or pampered pets, were props for her celebrity image. She and her publicists knew that the public loved her twinkly face snuggled up to captive creatures who were made to appear to “smile” for the camera. SOURCE…

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