NC Shelter Photos: Abuse or Just Poor Judgment?

I have read numerous online statements from Charlotte-Mecklenburg AC & C employees and supporters denying there was any abuse indicated in the shameful photos posted on Facebook.  “No animals were harmed” seems to be a common sentiment as well as “If this is abuse then everyone who dresses up their pets in Halloween costumes is guilty of abuse too”.

I would like to clarify my opinion on the matter:  These photos indicate abuse.  Comparing them to photos of pets in costumes is a false equivalency.  Just because the cat didn’t have the knife stuck through his leg does not mean “no animals were harmed”.  The fact that at least some folks at this shelter and those defending the photos can not see that this is abuse is perhaps indicative of a larger problem, I don’t know.

Let me put it this way:  I think we can all agree that dressing up your kid in a Halloween costume – even one that some might consider “inappropriate” in some way – and taking a photo is not abuse.  But say your kid’s been missing for a week, you are frantically searching for him, hoping he hasn’t met some untoward end when you find out a good Samaritan picked him up off the street and brought him to the city homeless shelter.  Then you find out that while at the homeless shelter, the staff dressed him up in an inappropriate costume, took pictures of him and posted them online with “funny” captions.  How’s that grab ya?

You would probably complain that you, as a taxpayer, pay these people’s salaries to protect and serve members of the community in need – not “play dress-up” with them for laughs.  You would want to know what right do these workers have to use the homeless people in the shelter in such an inappropriate manner and whether they realize all of these people could be – now or at some point past or future – loved by a family member or friend.  You’d be appalled to think that the people you are paying to provide care for those most in need don’t seem to appreciate that the homeless have value and a right to life, respect and care.  You’d demand accountability from your city officials.  You’d go to the media, write letters – do whatever was necessary to effect change at this place.

Now imagine how you’d feel if these same homeless shelter workers who posed your kid for inappropriate photos and posted them online turned around and said YOU were the problem.  That YOU were making a big fuss over nothing.  Sure, maybe they showed poor judgment but hell, he’s just a kid and it’s not like they burnt him with cigarettes or anything.  Your kid was not harmed and people dress their children up in dumb costumes all the time so what’s the big deal?  Why don’t YOU stop being such a pain in the ass and just shut up already?

Get it?

These cats were not living in someone’s home, being well cared for and loved, and having a costume put on them for some funny photos.  They were, in fact, homeless cats who may have been someone’s beloved pets at some time and/or perhaps would be in future.  These cats had no voice to protest, no means of escape and were completely reliant upon the city shelter staff to protect them from harm and take care of them until their owners could be found or until they were adopted by new owners.  If they were feral, they should have been neutered, ear tipped, and returned to their managed colonies.  Under no circumstances should they have been posed for inappropriate photos and killed.  But that’s exactly what local taxpayers paid the staff at CMPD-ACC to do:

Cats shown in controversial pictures taken at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control facility in west Charlotte were euthanized, but it’s unclear whether that was before or after the pictures were taken.


In an e-mail to Channel 9, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department spokesperson said “the cats were deemed unhandleable and unadoptable and were euthanized after a required holding period of 72 hours.”

Who deemed them unadoptable – the clever photographers or the people still defending the photos?  And are those the same people who killed them?


Get it now?


Added:  Local news station spoke with a shelter employee today who said if you’ve ever put your pet in a Halloween costume you’ve done the same thing as the people who sedated shelter cats, posed them for pictures and killed them.  She also produced a ferret and said the hair loss in the photos was “natural”.

29 thoughts on “NC Shelter Photos: Abuse or Just Poor Judgment?

  1. It’s all about respect – or lack of it – for life. These are sentient beings, not personal property with no more value than a footstool or TV remote control.

    The problem lies in the hearts of those with the power to change this – animals mean nothing more than ornamental fur or food to them and they relish the thought of blowing them away for fun.

    Leadership is tough work. It requires much of people. Most people in positions of authority should not be.

  2. It could probably be argued that what they did was not abusive.

    It certainly makes me feel very uncomfortable that these people have so little respect for the lives that they are in charge of. As uncomfortable as when our own soldiers posed POWs over in the Gulf and took pictures of it.

    If an animal’s life has meaning, then that life should be respected. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to end up on your dinner table, in a mansion as someone’s pampered pet or killed by the blue juice in a shelter.

    How would you feel if your surgeon did something like this while you were anesthesized and took pictures of it? I expect you’d be outraged. I am not one that likes to put human emotions and feelings on animals but this is really poor judgement on the shelter worker’s part.

    I’m sure the job is stressful but take up crocheting or power walking on breaks and leave the animals out of it.

    1. In light of the fact that these cats were posed and then killed (or the other way around, no one seems to know for certain), I can’t buy any argument that says it’s not abuse.

      1. I know and the *humor* of it certainly escapes me. Please note I said it could probably be argued … not that I said that it was or wasn’t.

  3. Whether the situation could meet the legal definition of “abuse” is debatable, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call it what it is: abuse. Just using the basic dictionary definition of “abuse” shows that it fits the behavior around these photos: abuse=”wrong or improper use; misuse.” What was done was wrong and improper. I can’t help wondering whether the same abusive behavior would have been shown towards dogs. We all know that in many shelters cats are second-class citizens (at best) and therefore potentially more susceptible to abuse. I have no knowledge of whether that is the case in this specific situation, but I do wonder. . .

    1. Feral dogs are more rare. Dogs are also more forgiving, and usually don’t need to be knocked out to be photographed for intake. (And an animal that is awake and aware is perhaps a lot less “fun” to dress up and get a “good” photo of?!)

      Is it better or worse to think that the photographs might be of dead cats? WHY does this little detail bother me so much? Why do I need to know? Who cares? If they died before they were posed or after, does it matter? If they didn’t die, would that make this any less offensive?

      There’s a lot here that I just can’t figure out. (In my own mind and heart…) It hurts to look and to poke around in there. I venture a lot of the backlash is coming because others don’t like to be poked in this fashion either.

  4. It seemed pretty clear all along that these cats probably had been killed after being drugged and posed. Or before. Because, it’s hard to imagine someone drugging cats, posing them, then allowing the tranquilizer to wear off and putting the cats into the adoption pool. As the police have now acknowledged, either the process of killing them was put on pause so fun could be had, then the killing was completed . . . or, they were killed and then employees played with the bodies. Either way: abuse.

    Unadoptable, my ass.

  5. YES.


    “Then you find out that while at the homeless shelter, the staff dressed him up in an inappropriate costume, took pictures of him and posted them online with “funny” captions. How’s that grab ya?”

    THIS QUOTE Shirley.

    You nailed it to the board.

    Enough has been said about this, because this quote sums up the entire thing. Right there.

    THIS is the problem.

    You can argue the details, you can argue the possibilities, the assumptions, the what ifs… but you can’t argue the FACTS, and circumstances surrounding these photos.

    This is CALLOUS. This is NOT what their job entails. This is animal CARE and control. And this is NOT CARE. These people are responsible for the protection of these animals. Does this look like PROTECTION?

    YES. YES. YES.

    Shirley, that metaphor was spot on.

    Now, everyone refer back to Shirley’s comments here when you get the urge to rant and rave about possibilities and worst case scenarios and black helicopters, please re-read this quote. THIS is how you win over those people who look at this and say “so what?” Or worse, those that may actually find this humorous.

    I’ll do her one better, halfway in between both perspectives. What if that was someone’s child posed that way before surgery? Was the child hurt? Injured? Physically, psychologically, or otherwise? Nope. Would you be outraged?

    Now THAT is a reasonable comparison that I could get behind.

    Excellent breakdown of the situation, Shirley.

  6. Abuse of Power!!! THAT’s what this is. Yes, the animals were abused, but I could actually get over that if there were not this other backlash of the director saying “STOP posting what you do on Facebook!” Not stop disrespecting the animals, just stop getting caught?!
    The “oops killings”…I’d let it go if the killers said, oh man, we really messed up here, so sorry that we murdered your beloved pet, it was a horrible accident. But that’s not what they say, they say: They were euthanized after 72 hours, which is what we can legally do. Or, “We don’t know what happened” or, lets go back to that dang chicken plucker who fires the volunteers (because they are more eyes that might witness the plucking of chickens.) This is abuse of power. And I want it to stop. How do we make that happen?

  7. It was abuse.

    It was also evidence of poor judgment, because even if they thought it might be funny, they had to have known it was wrong and went ahead and did it anyway.
    I expect that’s part of why it seemed like it’d be funny. Transgressive, and all that.

    It was also pitiless, and I cannot imagine a quality I would less like to see in a shelter employee.

  8. i think i may have been on the fence about the abuse aspect- wasn’t sure i’d personally see it as abuse (inappropriate, uncomfortable, sad- those are the thoughts i had)
    But i really appreciated your metaphor- i think it shed a lot of light on how to think about the issue.

    If we’re going by the dictonary defenition (thanks SMCR for posting that), then i guess i’m on board now

  9. It was poor judgment for sure. There’s nothing funny about these. Abuse? not so sure. Were animals actually harmed?

    But I have started to wonder why no one has even speculated that the behavior might be a form of “gallows humor” or a type of PTSD in people who are underpaid, undereducated and undermanaged, and who (if they are normal) are told to do a lot of things they hate. Why is it so different.. except for the scale, and for the public posting of the photos.. from what doctors/vets say/do to relieve tension. M*A*S*H anyone?

    It seems to me that shelter workers are the new whipping boy of the no-kill movement, while constant excuses are made for the owners of the animals the workers kill.

    Neither extreme is useful or correct.

    1. So, Emily, you’d be okay with it if your kid got lost, was picked and taken to a shelter, and then drugged and posed for inappropriate pictures–as long as he wasn’t actually harmed? Oh, and the pictures then posted online with “funny” captions”

      “Gallows humor” ? Are you serious? Gallows humor doesn’t involve using the patients–human or animal–as props and publicly mocking them.

      As was pointed out above, either the shelter workers paused the process of killing these animals, to use them, drugged, as props for these Laff Riot pictures, OR they killed them, and then used the dead bodies for props for these Laff Riot pictures.

      There’s a fundamental lack of empathy and compassion in that that is the opposite of what fuels genuine gallows humor.

      1. Everyone thought the “expose Hotlips” shower scene in MASH was a laff riot.
        Everyone thought the waitress in “One Flew Over the Cucko’s Nest” was a stupid bitch who only knew the rules and deserved a comeuppance by Jack Nicholson.

        I see that a fundamental lack of empathy shows in many ways.. shelter workers deserve none.

  10. Since the cats weren’t conscious when they were posed and photographed, I don’t think of this as “abuse” exactly–more like desecration. And it’s truly vile.
    Whether they were sedated or already dead, what the workers did was horrible. I hope they all get fired and the shelter director as well. These cats were either terrified in the shelter or maybe feral so they got labeled as unadoptable. I find it deeply disturbing that cats who live apart from humans are viewed as worthless and held in such contempt.

  11. Vile is exactly the word. And as to gallows humor, perhaps it is in a way. To kill an innocent is not easy for most people. To make a sentient being into a “thing” that has no value, that can be hurt or humiliated for amusement makes it easier to kill it. After all, it’s just a “thing”. People do this to other people all too often. Perhaps it comes down to that fact that we aren’t built to kill and another better way should be found, not just for the animals but for those who kill them. Be healthier all around.

  12. The cats in the photos are clearly alive and somewhat conscious, and one of them is not only chemically, but physically restrained in what looks like a fairly rough manner.

    That’s just not what a dead cat looks like.

    This is not merely (merely?) indicative of odious callousness and disrespect, it was directly abusive to the individual animals.

  13. What’s even scarier is that it would not take much (or perhaps the connection already exists) to go from taking these pictures while the cats are sedated to actually abusing the cats, or worse….

    There’s a shelter in NY that takes pictures of pitbulls up for adoption with cute feather boas around their necks or hats on their heads or other cute props, to help get them adopted. But the intent behind the NY adoption photos is entirely different.

    Also, the NC shelter workers should be getting off their DUFFS and cleaning or doing other work to take care of the animals instead of taking abusive pictures!! Heck, if they want to take pictures so bad, why not take good pictures of the dogs and cats up for adoption—get them adopted, give them a chance! Duh!

  14. Scene 1:

    Volunteers dress adoptable shelter pets in halloween costumes and take pictures to post on the Adopt Me! web site. The animals are healthy, alert, not subjected to physical or psychological discomfort.

    I don’t see a problem with this. It could be a perfectly valid event to get the public to meet the animals.

    Scene 2:

    Behind closed doors, shelter animals are sedated or restrained, dressed, posed, and photographed in poor taste, the photos posted online on social media (to be shared with friends of the volunteers, not locate homes), and the animals destroyed shortly after.

    Assume for the sake of argument that no physical or observed psychological damage resulted before the animals’ demise.

    Still a problem for me. The animals are not playthings, even if it is “no harm, no foul,” because who calls where that line falls?

    When the animals are in custody, here are most of the things I think are OK for us to do with them:

    – attend to their physical, medical, and companionship needs, which means interaction with both people and other animals

    – provide stimulation and exercise, and if possible, training. PLAY, AFFECTION, etc. are included, but not limited to this category.

    – do our best to find their owners or appropriate homes. Posting photos, hosting events, websites, etc. – all appropriate.

    If you are too dense to tell the difference between what is appropriate and what is not, you should not be caring for any living creature dependent on you.

    1. I just have to make a comment here.

      Comments like this “If you are too dense to tell the difference between what is appropriate and what is not, you should not be caring for any living creature dependent on you” are inappropriate for any forum, but especially here. Let me say again, there is strength in numbers, and by chasing people away (and I don’t mean the real nutjobs) we’re hurting only ourselves and the animals we’re trying to help.

      Now, what is inappropriate is the mocking of shelter animals, period. For reasons that perhaps people who haven’t spent time in that environment simply don’t understand… yet.

      In fact, when the photos first came out, I privately said immediately that I didn’t believe the kitten in the second photo was not sedated, most of all because its claws were extended. Later on I mentioned that it’s also extremely dangerous to sedate kittens, and feral kittens who are scruffed properly generally freeze their limbs in fear, particularly if they feel they have a bite in something.

      We’ve used soft wood dowels, and all natural leather glove fingers folded in half. Scruffed with a mouthful of what they think is you, they don’t know what to do next, and a cursory eye/ear/nose/body/rectal exam is possible, usually even a temperature (although with the stress they’re rarely reliable). We also apply a dose of Revolution at this time, and if the cat is continuing to be still we’ll wipe him/her down with a damp cloth and an ear cleaning swipe through their ears.

      However, using a pen is a great way to injure the kitten in about a million ways and very irresponsible. Also, without a helper there to support the rear end properly there is too much pressure on the neck for too long, IMO. Lastly, if the cat *does* decide its going to snap, it will go with back legs first. We have leather forearm guards for the bigger guys and use extra padding for the little guys, but a pair of hands capable of simply restraining those legs with those deadly claws is much more reassuring, even though it happened rarely.

      I also had several people contact me privately and admit to me that when they first saw the “Angry Kitty wants to write you a note” photo they thought it was an LOLCat.

      Now, I love LOLCats. I think they’re great, they provide a wonderful stress easer when you’ve had a crummy day – who can still be in a bad mood after a dozen pages of LOLCats? Or LOLDogs for that matter?

      But haven’t you ever seen one that kinda made you wince? Haven’t you ever looked at one and just thought “wow, I would never let my cat/dog get in that situation… and if I did my first instinct would NOT be to grab the camera.”

      My point is that “appropriate/inappropriate” isn’t *always* so cut and dry, and to call someone dense or to accuse them of being unfit of being a pet owner on the other hand.

      Do I consider the first photo inappropriate? Yes.

      The second? Yes, along with being dangerous in countless ways

      The third? Yes, simply because it portrays abuse towards animals, real or not. However, I would really like to get some official confirmation (ie paperwork or confirmation from the adoptive family with followup photos) to see how this animal is faring. Judging by the extreme lack of hair loss, the adrenal disease is quite progressed… although the body size still didn’t seem as severe as the hair loss suggested, so consider me a bit confused on that one.

      My point is that if you want to tell someone that you believe that what they said was dense, or that it sounded like something that came out of an idiot, fine. But no name calling, and you are certainly not in any position to be judging anyone’s fitness to own an animal (or do anything, for that matter). I’m not being derogatory, quite simply you know nothing about the person you are offending, and that was quite a cruel thing to say (and I’m not even sure who you said it to).

  15. So the animals were put through major surgery to be spayed or neutered and then they were killed. Sorry that sounds like abuse to me.

  16. I would hope that someone would look at this and see a kid differently than an animal. I remember a time when animals were nothing more than property and good “protectors”. Those chained up dogs do nothing but protect the house and yard. And I happen to know that most of the people in Charlotte do not like feral cats, let alone colonies that are constantly fed by someone who is trying to help take care of them.
    Most people still think that way and therefore looking at a lost kid that was posed for pictures at a homeless shelter is different than a homeless cat that someone didn’t want in their yard to begin with.
    I wonder if they would’ve considered this abuse if it hadn’t been a knife but rather a fairy wand and wings rather than a cigarette. I don’t know.

    But I do get the point of the message and they should be looking into other options to head toward no-kill. Isn’t that what everyone wants anyway? If this is what it took to start in that direction, then so be it.

    1. Hey now, I’m the first one to stand up and say that we have to be careful when making these comparisons. I disliked the comparison between these photos and Abu Ghraib, and I’ve protested numerous times every single time PeTA compares factory farms to Jewish Internment Camps. My disagreement comes from the fact that these people were ripped from their own homes and then submitted to psychological and physical torture along with painful deaths.

      Subsequently, I can not compare the two.

      How about if this cat was sedated on its way to be euthanized and they thought it was funny to put fairy wings on it? (it likely was, by the way)

      But regardless, I prefer to deal with the facts. The fact is, they stuck earbuds in his ear, a cigarette in his mouth and an open switchblade between his front paws. Those are the facts.

      They they posted the photos on Facebook, and proceeded to make derogatory comments about the animal, including other employees who found it just HIL-arious!

      Here’s the bottom line.

      If you were the shelter director, of an animal shelter, it is your JOB to ensure that these animals are treated humanely while in your building.

      Websters defines “humane” as the following:

      “marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals”

      Here are some synonyms for “humane”:

      beneficent, benevolent, benignant, compassionate, good-hearted, kind, kindhearted, kindly, softhearted, sympathetic, tender, tenderhearted, warmhearted

      Tell me again what part of those photos is “humane”. Would it not make sense that rule number one of the employee handbook would be to treat all animals humanely and with compassion. Breaking of this rule should result in termination or at least suspension.

      Breaking this rule should result in termination immediately if this rule is broken in the way it was – publicly, as a source of humour, for others to laugh at.

      I’m not sure if you’re playing devil’s advocate (I have a habit of doing so myself when I’m on the fence, just seeing if I can poke holes in either side) or if you really do look at these photos and not see a problem. That’s your opinion, and you’re entitled to it of course, but I’m afraid it won’t win you many friends around here – although I am impressed with your persistence and what I perceive to be an honest effort to see the other side of the story, so for that I commend you.

      1. Oh I didn’t say this was humane. By any means. As a matter of fact, I never even used that word. I truely believe this is wrong and they should not have done this. I was just remembering what animals used to be referred as 15-20 years ago and seeing that we’ve come quite a ways from that.
        And I don’t believe that they should be compared to those Abu Ghraib photos either.

        I think, looking back at what I wrote, I just worded that incorrectly. What I meant was…if it had been a wand instead of a knife would the staff thought it to be cute instead of hilarious. But that doesn’t change the fact that they still did something very wrong. I do not condone what they did at all.

        I guess the whole point to say was: look at where we were back then to where we are now. And unfortunately, I guess the only way to implement a positive change in the right direction toward becoming no-kill ended up starting with a terrible way of doing it.

        Bottom line, I don’t agree with it. It was wrong. I’m pretty sure I heard from somewhere that two employees were terminated because of this. And I hope that we can start the long and much needed process to make that change happen.

    2. You can substitute “pet” for kid in my Halloween costume scenario to the same effect. Well loved family member, photo taken as a keepsake for sharing with friends and family vs. animal in need of protection, drugged, posed, photographed for laughs then killed.

      Please share with us what your interest is Karen. Have you spoken before the city council advocating for shelter reform?

      1. I have not written city council on any of this stuff but that’s because I am not fully educated or informed enough to present anything to city council. I, personally, didn’t think about it because it’s not exactly one of the things that are plastered all over the news like the war and the weather and traffic reports. It took these pictures to be exposed to the public to get certain people to look into no-kill; whether it was to look into it further or for the first time. However, I am doing research and with some of the links that I have found (and a couple from you about no-kill) I am starting to educate myself more about it.

        I just wasn’t sure that the people who went to the media or wrote to you about these photos (or anything else) had even attempted to do it themselves because they seemed to have made it clear that they are the experts on the subject.

        I said before that they are loudest right now and they should be advocating the change to the council rather than just posting blogs but again, if this is the way to get councils attention, then so be it. And like I said, I can only hope that we start in that direction.

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