ASPCA: The Danger of Pathos

Almost all of you have seen this ASPCA video at least once, if not twenty or thirty times. You probably either cry, tear up or immediately change the channel. Maybe some of you make comments about the poor puppies, while others probably claim that commercials like it should not be allowed on television. Sarah McLachlan’s “Arms of an Angel” will never affect anybody the same. Images of sad dogs flood your mind as soon as the first chord is played.

Regardless of our individual reaction, almost all of us become somber. Animal-lovers and non-animal lovers alike let their pretenses fade away as sensitivity takes their place. Maybe some people donate, while others are just encompassed by the sadness of it all. There is only one word for this- pathos.

As the music flows through us and our eyes fixate on the suffering dogs, we feel the emotions that we are supposed to feel, that we are being forced to feel. ASPCA knew the reaction that it wanted viewers to get, and it made sure they did.

However, most of us stop there. We either pity the puppies but then get up to get a snack before the commercial break is over, or we hug our own dog a little tighter. Maybe we donate some money. But most likely, we don’t go beyond that. Chances are we do not investigate the organization orchestrating this emotional appeal.

In reality, ASPCA does not do what they claim to do in terms of helping animals. When former President  Ed Sayres left the organization, more and more reports came out about his terrible treatment of animals. He released manuals which taught directors of shelters how to fight No Kill reform efforts, and he did not invest ASPCA money like he claimed to have done. And the worst part is that this is common of ASPCA presidents. The amount of money invested in paying employees also exceeds the amount that most people would deem to be “acceptable”, which might stop people from donating or supporting ASPCA, if they took the time to find this out.

Most people are too drawn in by pathos to imagine that there might not be a completely reputable company behind an alluring emotional appeal. Regardless of the wrong that ASPCA has done or is claimed to have done, those of us who support it without question because of the commercials are also in the wrong. Pathos is a powerful appeal that really does have the ability to mask our sense of logic in situations like this one.

Take it upon yourself to research organizations that have mastered the use of pathos so that you do not fall prey to the deception that can be caused. Read articles such as this one about a false lawsuit ASPCA filed and find others yourself in order to better understand the organization behind the sad dogs.

Have you ever looked into ASPCA after watching the commercial? What do you think about ASPCA?


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