Sometimes it seems almost a matter of courtesy to take a photo of someone’s dog acting adorable and then share it with the rest of the world via Instagram or Twitter. In any case, you rarely hear people objecting to pictures being taken of their pets. Typically, they just stand aside, beaming like proud parents while you immortalize their pet in a high-rez, HDR image on your phone. And when it comes to adoption, rescue groups often use photo-sharing on the Internet to help find animals in shelters homes.
And then, there are people like those at the Jackson-Madison County Rabies Control Center in Tennessee. They would be very happy if you refrained from taking pictures or video of the animals in their facility, thank you very much. They’ve gone so far as to make an official policy saying so, which has added another layer of controversy around the center, which has already seen its share in the last few months.
The ban is in part a response to some extremely harsh allegations made by local activists about the conditions of animals at the center, including overcrowding, lack of medical care, a high rate of euthanasia, and dirty living conditions. The management has said that all the allegations are false, and it characterizes them as “hysteria.” The Jackson-Madison County Health Department says that it has investigated all the claims and come up with nothing. The center says that the “no pictures” policy is at the advice of its attorneys, to prevent false claims of abuse.
But the activist group Reform Jackson Rabies Control sees the new policy as an attempt by the center to suppress criticism. Bridget Gross told local TV station WBBJ, “They want pictures shown of the dogs, but in the good conditions. They don’t want the diarrhea, they don’t want the bloody parvo pictures, they don’t want the cats with the urine or feces floating in their bowls.”
Rescuers say that it makes their job harder because if they can’t post pictures of the dogs that are up for adoption, it makes the chances of finding homes for them increasingly slim.
“If we can’t get the pictures out to the rescues, then we can’t find a place for them,” rescuer Susan Bell said. “If we can’t take pictures then we can’t really network.”
Workers at the center are still posting pictures of animals on their own website, but photography by non-staff is forbidden.
At a protest against the Center in September, one of the reform group’s leaders, Rachael Ray (no, not the one with the cooking show) claimed that conditions were so bad that it might be better to consider closing the whole thing down.
“I don’t think it’s enough for JRC to just start following state law,” she told the Jackson Sun. “We need way more than that. As far as the law is concerned, animals really don’t have a lot of rights. You can tie a dog up to a tree and make it live that way for 14 years. I’m looking for more than the bare minimum.”
One of the most perplexing things about the whole fuss about taking pictures is that there really do seem to be very few pictures available on the Internet chronicling the allegations that the activists are making. Even on the group’s Facebook page, there are only three photographs: one of the sign banning photographs, one of a group logo, and one of a dog in a cage with a large red stain on the ground.
The comments claim that the stain is blood caused by the Parvo virus, and that the dog was killed with a heartstick after that. It seems that for all the controversy over photography, pictures don’t make up the main thrust of Reform Jackson Rabies Control’s case, and the policy probably isn’t going to slow down its allegations.