“Grumpy Cat” — whose actual name is “Tard“, theoretically short for “Tartar Sauce” — is just one of many “oh look at the cute animal” memes that have gone past my radar over the past few years. I’ve seen Sam, once voted the World’s Ugliest Dog; Thumbelina, billed as the world’s smallest horse; and an infinite number of critters on sites like Cute Overload.
I have a difficult time enjoying such photos. The animals in them are not natural. Their appearance is generally the result of man messing with animal genes; of overzealous (over)selection for extremely specialized traits; and of practices such as “line-breeding” (a polite term for inbreeding). Animals don’t look like that naturally (the rare ones which do generally do not pass on their genes). Those mutations — usually extremes of the brachycephalic mutation wherein the bones of the face stop growing before the rest of the head — give the animals “human” expressions — and incidentally produce malocclusion of the teeth, tear duct abnormalities, facial deformities, and a variety of other ailments. (Another “popular” mutation for internet-photo-sharing is dwarfism, producing animals with short, twisted limbs, overlarge heads, and, again, a variety of other problems.)
These are not happy animals. I cannot laugh at them, not even if they are humorously posed and captioned. They look the way they do because some humans got together and thought, Wouldn’t it be great if dogs/cats looked more like human babies? and bred siblings to each other until the offspring looked sufficiently funny. The fact that the animal can’t breathe, can’t see, and can’t eat is meaningless — look how cute it is! It almost looks human!
I am not arguing that we should not breed, for example, Persian cats, because breed-standard Persian cats do not necessarily look like “Tard”. (It should be noted, however, that there are good arguments against extreme type-breeding in purebred animals.) I am arguing that, when man’s interference with nature produces its inevitable sports, we not give the poor things contracts to do television commercials and buy T-shirts celebrating them (and, indirectly, the process which produced them). I don’t support irresponsible animal breeding — why should I support its byproducts?