Is It Cute? Or Is It Exploitation?

Cute animal pictures and videos often make me feel sad.

You see cute kittens. I wonder what will happen to them when they're not cute kittens anymore.
You see cute kittens. I wonder what will happen to them when they’re not cute kittens anymore.

I know, cute kittens and puppies are what keep Facebook, America’s Funniest Home Videos and Instagram going. So my position isn’t a popular one.

It’s the goal of any good blogger or videographer to have his/her animal video go viral, such as this recent video of a dog licking a lion’s teeth at a “zoo” in Oklahoma.


But I don’t find that video at all cute.

This is not a relationship found in nature, though to be sure, such friendships do occur.

I look past the lion to the enclosure, and realize the lion is in a large cage with a concrete floor. That’s not healthy for the lion.

At the clip’s end, we learn the pup was 4 weeks old when introduced to the lion. Really? As a potential friend, or as a meal?

What you may not know is that this lion and dog don’t live at a reputable zoo, but at the Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park in Oklahoma. This park has been in trouble several times before for alleged animal abuse. The park breeds animals, especially tigers, to make money through their “pay to pet” tiger cub business (learn more about “pay to pet” here). 

This 2011 Inside Edition segment tells more about the park’s “pay to pet” business.


It’s easy to get lulled by the cute animals that fill the Internet these days. Don’t be fooled by what’s on the surface. Look deeper, and ask yourself if it’s truly cute, or another example of animals being exploited by humans for entertainment and personal gain.

67 thoughts on “Is It Cute? Or Is It Exploitation?

  1. There are many incidents that wild animal in captivities for so many years but still cause harm. I think their wild instinct is still very strong.

  2. Interesting post 😀
    I agree, that video is exploitation…that dog could be killed in an instant especially when it was introduced to the lion at such a young age. Very dangerous, and all for the sake of going viral.
    One of the most horrible ‘cute animal’ videos I’ve ever seen was a little baby bear that had been put in an enclosure with two baby lions and it was terrified. So scared that when it saw these lion cubs it would fall backwards with fear! The people (it was in Asia somewhere) thought it was hilarious but the poor thing was so terrified….that was in a zoo too.
    Apparently zoos breed lions and tigers (not pure breeds) in order to lure customers at certain times of the year with cute baby animals…and then they cull them because they ‘don’t aid the protection of the species’ because they aren’t pure bred. I’m starting to wonder whether zoos do more harm than good…but that’s a whole other story!
    Sorry for the long comment, haha! But I agree with you 100%

    1. I’m ambivalent about zoos as well. In the end, they all make money by putting animals on display. It’s just that some also do some good for animals as well.

  3. We think alike? All of your thoughts about the lion and the doxie were mine, as soon as I saw the concrete floor, and heard about the age of the pup when it was introducted to the lion. There is also a vid that’s gone viral about a baby elephant plunging in the sea in Thailand. Stolen from its mother, forced to to this and other tricks for tourists and thus money. God, money can stink to high heaven.

  4. I think the bars are a reason to find it not really cute. As I was a child, they offered pictures with baby lions for the tourists in kenya. I have such a photo and I was happy about as I was a child – today I feel shame and sorry for this animals – I don’t want to think about what happened with them as they weren’t still “cute photo objects”.

  5. Working for a Boxer rescue group has convinced me that there are a number of humans who consider animals to be objects that are expendable. There is no logical reason for the pain and suffering imposed other than the arrogant belief that the particular individual is superior to the life being tortured. Think Michael Vick. I too am saddened by exploitation. Thanks for the message

    1. I do think Michael Vick. But I also think the majority of people who love their own dogs and cats, but don’t necessarily see all dogs and cats the same way. Those folks forgave Michael Vick, and see those that still rail against him as fringe elements. So my task is to make them see that caring about animals does not make them a part of that fringe element.

      1. I agree with your purpose. My point about Vick was not railing against him, but the example of the mentality of human superiority over animals

  6. Truthfully, the kitten pic would have never made me think about the negative exploitive side of the business. Now, I see it and will think about it every time I see pics of animals. Thanks for providing awareness. I love animals and never want them hurt. It’s sad to think about.

  7. I think that I partially agree with you. I say partially because I have just spent half an hour entertaining the kids I babysit with animal videos on youtube. They love seeing Einstein the talking parrot and OMG cat. The majority we watched were just funny home videos. I video my piggies and make videos for youtube of them doing funny things like breaking out of their cages when we don’t latch it. I do not agree with animals in zoos being abused, in fact I disagree with anything that isn’t a natural environment or thing for the animal to do. But I don’t think you can say a picture of five cute kittens is exploitation. I have plenty of friends who take pictures of cute animals, kittens and puppies. They aren’t exploiting them, they are just loving them and immortalizing the memories of when they were younger. You say what will happen to them when they aren’t cute kittens? They will probably be cute cats in loving families having their photos taken to.

    I do see where you are coming from But the only issue I see is if the animals are being hurt or made to do things they would not do on their own or in the wild.

    So yes, I partly agree with you and partly don’t.


    1. I didn’t say these cats will be abused. I said that I wonder what will happen to them when they’re no longer cute. I know that there are folks out there that take those pictures because they are ethical folks that love cats. There are also folks out there that are puppy mill breeders who play on emotional response to make sales. So while I also hope cute puppies and kittens find great homes, I know not all of them will. That’s a fact of life.

      1. I personally don’t think any animals ever stop being cute, but that may just be me!

        I just think it is harsh to assume that most cute pictures are a result of exploitation.

  8. A very good post and I agree with you completely. Still cute animals and megafauna rule the common peoples emotions .

    I have browsed one site , that has specialized in interspecies actions like yoy lion and dog and I find it highly disturbing, not contributing for conservation but just incredibly foolish.

    1. I sometimes worry about posting pics of Rumpy and June Buggie together, because I don’t want people to just throw cats and dogs together and think they will be fast friends. I can’t imagine who thinks a dog and lion would be instant friends, but some people will see cute and not even consider the rest.

  9. interesting post and i agree this is a risky friendship, and Im not a fan of the enclosure. I have read an article in bark magazine about some dogs bonding with zoo animals, I believe it was with primates and it seemed more appropriate. I also cannot remember the breed. I have also features on rhinos and elephants being friends that seemed more appropriate. The doxie lion think is scary. However, i think the kitten picture is fine, I mean I love kittens and I also love cats so I have to believe plenty of other people will too.

    urban hounds

  10. Couldn’t agree more Rumpy. There are some extraordinary cross species friendships out there but you have to let the animals make the decision without any of them being locked up.

  11. I was so worried if something might happen to the dog until I finished watching the video….now, I’m very relieved to know the dog was ok.
    Humans shouldn’t forget that lions are predatory animals…. 😦

    1. Indeed. Let’s not forget about the recent death of a zoo worked who was mualed to death by a tiger. Not the first – remember Ray from circus fame. His lions knew and still on of them almost killed him.

      Frankly, I feed bad for the animals that have to endure what humans do to them. I don’t not feel bad for the humans who get hurt and would probably do nothing to save them. (Not really.) And, not saving someone is against my religion.

  12. it made me sad watching the vids.. i almost couldn’t breathe while watching the doggie licking the lion’s teeth afraid that the lion might suddenly bite the dog.. so scary.. and the vid about the tigers is just too sad to watch.. poor kitties.. they are so stressed!

  13. There are humans who exploit their own children so exploitation of other species is not surprising, just very very sad…I wish I knew how we could teach respect for all beings

  14. As cute as they are, they’re still living beings. We humans can be so cruel…:( Truly an eye-opener post. Thank you, I will share the video to my friends and acquaintances.

  15. Like Coins… every ISSUE has two sides… there are times when I believe that BOTH sides have value.
    Remember that I live just about 20 miles from where Terry Thompson turned loose all the “WILD” animals and then SHOT HIMSELF nearly two years ago. He had them all LEGALLY, but Morally should NOT have.
    If taking pictures with a baby animal… brings in FUNDS to help the animals… I can see GOOD in that…
    It is a Tough Tough issue for sure. Balance would seem to be the KEY… Balance between the INTENT and the FACTS.

    1. I suggest you read the blog post I wrote on the issue, and then watch the Inside Edition video, then ask yourself if you think they are doing any good.

  16. Rumpy, I fink you and your hooman are very brave to write this post. There are so many pictures and videos of dogs and cats and other animals on the internet. Personally, me and Mommie like da pics of little animals who while having lost a limb still are happy and living a good life cuz de have wheels or new limbs. This does good to show people that furs are brave and can still be happy good parts of a fambly even if they got sick and have to have a make believe leg and paw! Thanks for da posty. Your pal, ChazzTheDog

    1. I also like those pics of animals that are brave and still having happy lives. But I also wonder how many animals’ lives could have been saved by rescue with all the money used to save one animal. Pessimist? Maybe. Realist? Yes.

  17. We agree 100% pal. I can’t believe anyone would be stupid enough to put a dog in the cage with the lion! The pictures of the kittens is the “ahhh” factor because they are so cute. They probably will get adopted because they are little and cute. But, there are lots of rescues out there that, given the chance, are just as cute.

    1. It’s not the cruel and stupid ones I worry about. It’s the ones that don’t realize what they are supporting that are creating these problems.

  18. Now that I see the “cute” videos like the one you shared here, I am able to realize what’s really going on thanks to reading and learning from your blog. I do love some cute pictures of domestic pets though… maybe it is a guilty pleasure?

    I am friends (online) with a a woman who helps feral cats. She recently got to hold and feed a baby lion. I really want to mention something to her I think. Maybe I’ll refer her to one of your posts.

  19. I am in total agreement. Even knowing that the video has a “happy ending” doesn’t entice me to watch it. My heart breaks for the trusting little dog, and my heart breaks for the caged lion, and my heart breaks from the inevitability of their situation… a man made situation.

  20. Talking about cute.. The former owner of Phex, my Belgian shepherd, was a woman who got herself a puppy and gave it to the animal shelter when it was grown up. Multiple times, Phex wasn’t the first one and not the last. I only know it because my vet recognised Phex and told me about it. For me animals are cute as babies and still cute as adults (with the exception of spiders), but some people only react on the scheme of childlike characteristics. I actually wondered some days ago what might have happened to the puppies on a calendar I bought last December. And then I’ve thrown the calendar away. But I think most of us (petblog-people) share pictures and videos of our own pets anyways.

    1. Yes we do. And I make no secret of how I use Rumpy’s cuteness to share my message. Am I exploiting him? Yes. But I also bribe him with cookies, so he doesn’t complain.

      1. Nono, 1. you ARE Rumpy and 2. we know what happens to our own pets when they grow up. They sleep in our beds, sit on our sofas and re-sort the garbage. They are family members.

  21. When we adopted our shelter kittens, I saw too many of them – and puppies – as well as adult cats and dogs. It is more difficult for an older cat or dog to be adopted. I hope they all find homes.

    1. Yes, there are far more of them than we can realistically care for as a society. And yet, while we are opposed to euthanization, we don’t make the hard choices about what to do to prevent this over-abundance of cuteness.

  22. I think it is because we live in a world where image is everything! It’s what people see, it is not what you are that’s important. Same with humans, animals, you name it …..

  23. I agree with you rumpy. Have you ever watched Bad Dog! on TV? Videos sent to them about dogs doing “bad” things. I saw it once and got so upset, I turned off the TV. What about FB posted pics of kids and dogs. Everyone is going “awwww, how cute,” when in fact a child is being put at risk and the poor dogs look miserable. If I post a comment that is not falling all over the cuteness, I get hate mail! Though this might seem off the subject, I think it’s just another chapter in the same book. Please keep waving your banner. The animals need a human voice to advocate for them. Please keep up the good work. 🙂

  24. Good post! Never thought about it that way before.

    As to your comment, we’re sorry Jan foiled your fancy dance move. Humans are sooooo hard to train. 🙂

  25. I used to feel bad cos I thought Grumpy Cat was being exploited but now that she signed a movie deal, I wish I could be exploited like that too! We rarely have time to watch videos that aren’t on a furrend’s blog so we get to see those “cute” kitties and stuff.

    1. I thought it might be cool to sign a movie deal, but I don’t think anyone in this household would be open to being on a film set, even with a green screen, for any length of time. That would definitely be abuse for them.

  26. So purrleased Mom and I read some back posts Rumpy. We are trying to catch up with my bestest furriends. This post is ABSOLUTELY brilliant! We mostly don’t watch all the cute videos…because there is frequently an element of disregard for the animals IN the videos,photos. We remember one where a monkey was tormenting a cat and it flew around FB, Twitter and blogs…everyone thinking it was funny. Mom cried over what the kitty was subjected to. Not cute, not funny. Thank you

  27. Definitely something to think about Rumpy! I love going to the zoo here in town, but they strive to give the animals something closer to their natural habitat rather than concrete. And most have a large space to roam in, and the caretakers seem to really care about the animals. I love all animals (ok, I’m not a great fan of spiders & snakes, but hey they are fine as long as they aren’t in my house….).


  28. Oh god that Oklahoma zoo is horrible! I’ve only been to the Vancouver zoo once + it was really depressing. But what are your thoughts on zoos with legit endangered species programs? You know what really gets my goat?! Is when I see pictures of people with really really really young puppies or kittens. Of course they’re cute! They’re like only 5 weeks old! Not old enough to be separated from their mommas + litters!!!!

  29. It hurts to think about people wanting to exploit other living beings, especially those who can’t speak for themselves. The videos you show are disturbing. Children especially need to know that other creatures can feel hurt and pain and sadness just like they do, so that they can make the right decisions in their lives. Thank you for bringing the topic forward for discussion.

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