Hundreds of people across the United States have been communicating with each other this week about the death of a cross-eyed, black feral cat in Baton Rouge that two animal rescue groups, one from Livingston Parish and one from New Jersey, said they made arrangements to save.
Kodak was a male cat that had been kept at the Companion Animal Alliance shelter for 21 days before it was euthanized Sunday for being too aggressive, hurting itself in his cage and continually scratching and trying to bite a shelter staffer, CAA Executive Director Beth Brewster said Friday.
Since that time, the president of the New Jersey animal rescue group, Homeless Animal Lifeline, created a memorial Facebook page called “In Memory of Kodak” that counted 1,617 fans or “likes” as of 3 p.m. Friday.
Another animal lover who discovered Kodak’s story on Facebook started an online petition to have the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals investigate the Baton Rouge shelter group. The petition had more than 722 signatures as of 3 p.m. Friday.
Brewster said Kodak was euthanized due to a miscommunication about the pending rescues. She said the staff member who supervises transfers to rescue groups did it verbally and was out sick when the decision was made to put Kodak down.
Still, Kodak’s death sparked a heated and passionate response from animal lovers nationwide that would have been almost impossible without the power of today’s social media.
“Ten years ago, we had the Internet and email but not the ability to reach out to people you don’t know like today through social media,” Jensen Moore, an assistant professor of public relations and advertising at LSU, said Friday.
The ease of connecting through social media such as Facebook can be positive and negative, Moore said.
Brewster said people told her that someone on one of the Facebook pages threatened to kill her.
Michelle McHugh, president of Homeless Animal Lifeline, said Friday that there were a few aggressive statements made on the page but they did not represent her group or the intent of the memorial page.
“People go overboard. If someone actually made a death threat, I would call and report them to the police immediately,” McHugh said.
McHugh wrote on Kodak’s memorial page Friday, “The reason everyone is so upset over Kodak’s senseless death is because of our respect for life. As animal advocates, we know the value of all life — we treasure it, and we work tirelessly to preserve it. Sending death threats to anyone not only contradicts our message, but soils the memory of Kodak. You can be angry. You have the right to be angry. You do not have the right to threaten anyone’s life.”
Moore, the LSU professor, said the anonymity of social media can sometimes lead to derogatory statements.
“With a virtual identity, people don’t have to give their real names. They can use handles. People are comfortable in hiding when they say certain things,” Moore said.
Brewster said she would never euthanize an animal if she knew someone was coming to pick it up.
Brewster said she called the Livingston Parish animal rescue group, Don’t Be Cruel Sanctuary, and apologized.
Brewster also said changes are being made to better deal with feral cats, including securing feral boxes or cat dens that will assist the staff in dealing with wild felines.
McHugh said she thinks social media is wonderful because it allows her group to get involved and to try and save other cats.
“It didn’t work in this case but it gives us a chance to reach out to animals in other states to help them,” McHugh said.