In Defense of Killing Dogs
Okay, the title of this post is a little misleading. I apologize, but as you’ll see there’s a purpose for it.
I lost another reader.
Yes, I read in a review of Darkness Follows that the reviewer did not appreciate at all that there were animals killed in the story and she will not be reading anymore of my books, thank you very much.
So far, I’ve gotten more positive feedback from readers for Darkness Follows than for any of my other three books. But I’ve also gotten more negative . . . all centered around the animal killing incidences. Apparently, some readers get very upset when an animal is killed in a story, especially a cat or dog (but it goes for groundhogs too).
This draws a few reactions from me:
1) Strangely, a high human body count doesn’t bother these same readers. One reviewer made the statement, “It doesn’t bother me when people are killed in a novel, but if an author kills animals I’ll never read his books again.” Wow. And ouch. This confuses and bewilders me and I’m honestly not sure how to interpret such statements. Do these folk really place animal life above human life? Or have they been desensitized to the death of humans in thriller/suspense novels? In our world in general? In Darkness Follows there are a couple murders of very innocent folk (read the book and you’ll know what I mean), yet I’ve received no comments about them, only about the animals killed. Really? Mind you, the comments have been very polite. No one has threatened to come to my house and “teach me a lesson,” and I’ve not once been called any unseemly names. Yet. I’m sure it’s coming sooner or later.
2) I’m not sure whether to be hurt that I’ve lost a handful of readers or flattered that my storytelling has drawn such an emotional response. Every writer hopes to connect with the reader on some level, hopes the reader will lose him-/herself in the story. The fact that a reader will be so engrossed in my story that the death of an animal seems real enough to spark a reaction is a compliment indeed. Such a strong reaction . . . well, again, I’m not sure how to feel about that.
3) I am an animal lover. I shouldn’t have to state this but it seems some may assume I hate animals and that’s why I portray their deaths in my books. Growing up we had cats and dogs constantly and up until just recently we had a black Lab as part of our family. I’m a dog person. Cat’s I can tolerate and some cats I wouldn’t mind owning (like a Maine coon), but I don’t hate any animal (except spiders and snakes). I portray the deaths of animals as a means of showing just how cruel and deprived the villain is. Anyone who would kill an innocent animal in cold blood must be a bad dude, right? And isn’t that just the response I’m achieving? Mission accomplished on that front.
4) Please understand, I haven’t killed a single animal during the writing of these stories. I’m not even a hunter. I get accused of killing animals (“I can’t believe you killed a dog!”), but I don’t kill anyone or anything, my characters do. Yes, I’m the great puppeteer working the strings, but it’s the character you want to direct your malice toward, not me.
So I end with a few questions:
Do these readers really value animal life over human life or are there other dynamics at play here? Is their reaction mostly emotional, not necessarily rational?
Should I be upset I’m losing a few readers or honored that my story has drawn them in so fully that this kind of reaction is the result?
How do you feel about animals being killed in a novel? Does it offend you? Does it disgust you? Do you hate me for it?
How do you feel about humans being killed in a novel? Does it bother you? Couldn’t care less? Just part of the story?
Really, I’d love to hear your thoughts. But let’s keep the unseemly names out of it. Deal?