In 2014, the Washington Post reported that only about 60 percent of people read beyond the headlines. In 2019, it’s taking that truth and just running with it in an article it teased with “The World’s Hard Truth: Dogs Are Bad For the Planet.” The actual title is a more measured “The dog is one of the world’s most destructive mammals. Brazil proves it.” Apparently, clickbait is the last bastion in the fight to save democracy from darkness.
If you actually read the article, you’ll find a skosh more nuance. It’s not really that all dogs are bad for the environment, it’s that in Brazil, packs of feral and semi-feral dogs are doing what dogs have been really good at for as long as they’ve walked the earth: hunting. Unfortunately, such effective hunting includes taking out a large variety of species, some endangered or vulnerable. They also pose problems for wildlife in Chile, New Zealand, and India.
Normal people realize the problem is that not enough dog owners have been listening to Bob Barker. Normal people also know that dogs are the greatest creatures on earth. WaPo could have gone after cats with similar zeal. They’re the most effective killers on the planet without even bothering to become feral or form packs first, for example.
If they did so, most people’s reactions would range from unperturbed to agreeing with them. That’s not how clickbait works, though, especially if you’re trying to get people to click on your garbage site that keeps most of its content behind a paywall.
Maybe WaPo wouldn’t need the paywall if it had a nice dog roaming around. Besides being effective hunters, they’re also good for our safety. Indeed, not only are our furry friends adept at protecting us, they’re also beneficial for our health and wellness. Beyond that, they’re loyal, adorable, goofy, adorably goofy, fierce, lazy, active, and just all-around good boys.
Being all-around good boys does detract from the truth that they’re predators. And it’s not a good thing that dogs are roaming around killing native species. Yet I do wonder if the burgeoning deer populations in suburban and exurban areas will change how humans think about packs of semi-feral dogs roaming around.
Granted, I’m basing this on a personal anecdote. Years ago, my wife and I were walking our puppy. It was a hot day and we took her down to the creek near the trail so she could cool off. That’s when the melee ensued.
A deer comes crashing into the creek, a dog close behind. The dog lunges and tackles, the deer gets up with compound fracture in her right front leg. That’s when I notice the cute little faces dotting the woods. There’s a lab, a German shepherd mix of some sort, others. We’d encountered a city herd that was hunting deer.
The doe got up and attempted to escape. I attempted to shoot video with my flip phone. My wife yelled, “Do something!” I replied, “I am!” before giving up on the video and calling Game and Fish to report the incident and that the last place I saw the deer was heading east on the golf course with the dogs still giving chase.
As more deer and people cohabitate, maybe we could use a few packs of dogs roaming around here and there, keeping populations under control. Mountain lions are also an option, but they’re not as lovable. The important thing is that neither dogs nor mountain lions raid people’s gardens, as deer do.
WaPo isn’t discussing any of that, though. No, it’s too busy focusing on being the worst, with points such as “How the dog became one of the world’s most harmful invasive mammalian predators is as much a global story as a Brazilian one. Over the last century, as the human population exploded, so did the dog population, growing to an estimated 1 billion.” There are some facts and links, but mostly the reader is left to infer what Terrence McCoy, the author, is laying down.
And mostly what’s being laid down is conjecture like the quote above. The article starts and ends with a discussion on tortoises, and who doesn’t love tortoises? It begins with a happy tale of the reptiles being reintroduced to an urban forest, and government biologist Katyucha Silva’s concern about dogs in the area.
It concludes with, “Could dogs kill these tortoises, just as they’d dispatched a few agouti? ‘Yes,’ [Silva] said. ‘They could.’” See, none of those facts and links mentioned were about the tortoises. And I’m sure the tortoises weren’t only mentioned to appeal to our emotions in this not-so-subtle attack on our four-legged family members.
There are some good points about how poverty is the main driver of the problem rather than the dogs themselves and, thankfully, the article puts forth no policy solutions (although it’s probably only a matter of time until we hear calls for universal electric fencing and a bone in every bowl). I’m sure WaPo will be there to lecture us about these pressing needs when the time comes. Or maybe they’ll just demand reasonable regulations on dog ownership. It’s not even enshrined in the Constitution!
It could also be possible, as jokers on Twitter suggested, that actual author of this piece was a cat. If a million monkeys can type Shakespeare, then surely one particularly intelligent and belligerent cat could figure out a way to try to shift attention from his species’ proclivity for mayhem and murder to that of their superior domestic brethren.
We can’t risk that, though. No, we have to focus on real issues, real threats, such as what effects WaPo and the mammals who work there have on the planet.
According to its policies and procedures, the Washington Post has a duty to ask itself such questions. It’s right in the second principle, which states, “The newspaper shall tell ALL the truth so far as it can learn it, concerning the important affairs of America and the world.” If it’s going to ask about the worldwide effects of dogs, which again are obviously the most awesome creatures on earth, then it needs to ask about its own.
The results may be a difficult thing for people to hear, but there’s just too great a chance that WaPo’s negative global effects are grossly underestimated.