“Pet” Peeve

29 Feb

Or, Why Must the Animals Always Die?!

Dear Authors, look at my cutie patootie face! PLEASE don't take out your people problems on me. I just want to be your friend and cuddle with you all the time and love you forever! (Side note: I WANT TO STEAL THIS DOG AND KEEP IT. I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy.)

Guys, I’m having an issue right now. Maybe in comparison to other issues we might encounter in YA books–sex, gender politics, white-washing, relationships–the thing that’s bothering me is small potatoes. But to me, this one is kind of a big deal because it’s one of my LEAST favorite plot devices there is, and even when I understand WHY it happens, which isn’t all the time, I never like it and I ALWAYS have a hard time dealing with it. Friends, I’m wondering why authors like to kill all the animals. WHY?????? It just makes my heart so heavy and sad. And truth time: When I’m reading, I get more emotional about the death of an animal than I do about the death of a person. GET RID OF THE BAD GUYS INSTEAD, AUTHORS! Pretty please?

I’ve been encountering some kind of animal death in the books I’m reading more frequently lately, so this issue is on my mind a lot at the moment. I know that killing off what are usually innocent, sometimes-helpless, protective animals is often an effective way of communicating to the reader the brutality of life for the people living in whatever world the book is set. And I know that killing a beloved pet or loyal animal is a way to spur some kind of character growth through grief. Sometimes killing an animal is symbolic of something to do with the owner. I’ve even seen pets and animals die noble deaths, protecting their loved ones from harm (HEDWIG, ILY!!!). But guys? No matter how it happens or why or how well it’s handled or what it might mean, it’s always a thumbs down for me, often because I feel like I can understand the brutality of life from other things in the story, or the character can grow from experiencing other things, or a person can be saved through some other means. I’d believe ANYTHING an author told me as long as it saved an animal or pet. (Probably ;-)) (Also, Mild spoilers ahead.)

I mentioned Hedwig just before, and that’s a good example of a pet making a sacrifice. Her death SLAYED ME, and I kind of hated it. Of all the deaths in Harry Potter, Hedwig’s bothered me the most. It didn’t make me the saddest, but I just…I don’t know. I always wished that Harry could have been saved some other way. It happened so fast that it almost made me think we weren’t supposed to have enough time to be sad about it, and so that made me feel like Hedwig got bumped off and swept under the rug a little.

Hedwig isn’t the only pet death that has made me sad. One of my FAVORITE series of all time–A Song of Ice and Fire–kills off animals and pets in absolutely DEVASTATING ways that often make me sadder than when characters in those books die. Example (as spoiler-free as possible): In the first book, A GAME OF THRONES, there’s a BIG BIG death at the end. It is sad. It is surprising. It is brutal. It sets off ALL OF THE THINGS, pretty much, for at least the next two books. But before this death happens, a little ways back in the story, a pet dies in a horrible, unjustified way. I cried WAY harder about the pet than about the person. It wasn’t even close.

Another book that I LOVED leaves the life of a pet hanging in the balance (LEGEND). I’m super nervous about June’s dog, guys!! I keep crossing my fingers that Ollie will somehow escape June’s apartment and go off searching for June and find her in the Colonies somewhere. Ollie and June reunion, please!!

All of this isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the drama of a helpless animal in danger, or that I don’t think there are books that handle this kind of thing in a way that doesn’t stab me in the heart. There was one book I read last year that, I thought, handled this “pet in peril” really well, because it had the danger and the drama but the pet didn’t die. THE SCORPIO RACES is ABOUT deadly animals, so you can assume that you’ll come across pet danger. And yes, random sheep and neighbors dogs go missing and are assumed dead (this last part really DID make me sad, even though the dog was a complete stranger). But Puck’s family has a cat, Puffin, who is super attached to Puck’s brother, Finn. There’s a little bit of the story where we’re led to believe that Puffin has died. BUT!! It turns out that Puffin is a cat-ninja who escaped the gaping maw of the deadly water horse and LIVED! She LIVED! I can get behind things like this because it proved to me that saving the animal and amping up the drama and tension are not mutually exclusive. You can have both. More of this, please!!

So that’s my rant, guys. In a nutshell: I’m begging you to stop killing the animals, authors! If your story is good and dramatic and your characters have depth, then whacking their pets won’t really be necessary to creating or fostering those elements in your story. You can do all of those things without animal slaughter. I do want to make one thing clear, though: All of these books I mentioned here are books that I LOVED. That’s ALL CAPS love. I won’t hate your story if you kill an animal; far from it. But I’ll always hate that PART of your story, and there’s really nothing you can do to prevent me from feeling that way and griping about it somewhere. Well, except not killing that animal. Then we’d be good.

What about you guys? Am I being too sappy? Do animal deaths make you sadder than people deaths?


9 Responses to ““Pet” Peeve”

  1. Candice February 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    Other than Harry Potter I can’t think of a book I’ve read that kills off a pet. I was pretty torn up about Hedwig too. The only book that comes close to me feeling like this was The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore. There’s a dog that plays a huge role in the book – in fact I think I liked him more than the main character – and there’s a moment where you’re not sure if the dog is dead or alive… then huzzah! He’s alive! I’ve never felt more relief. I haven’t always been so moved by pets until I actually got a dog… now whenever I see the ASPCA commercials or there’s something sad about pets on TV I have to hug her. She probably gets annoyed with me, but whatever.

    Also… I want to make that puppy mine!

    • trippingbooks February 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

      Isn’t that puppy the SWEETEST!?
      I don’t know what it is about the books I’ve been reading, but it seems like more and more animals and pets are dying on me and I can’t take it! I don’t have a dog, but I’ve always had major soft spots for them (those ASPCA commercials are BRUTAL). I felt that same relief when Puffin didn’t die in The Scorpio Races. It was like, “oh, whew!”
      And puppies love hugs! Even though in their heads they’re probably like, “Oh my God, mom. PLEASE. This is so embarrassing. *eye roll*”

  2. Katie February 29, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    Oh my gosh – this trend is SICK! Clearly you have not read The Knife of Never Letting Go b/c the animal death there STILL brings tears to my eyes. Literally. Like right now. And I’m in the middle of the Delirium and the pet death there was just senseless and horrible! Why are authors doing this??? Also, that puppy at the start of your post might be the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.

    • trippingbooks February 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

      Oh my God, I can’t believe you brought up The Knife of Never Letting Go because I was going to mention in my post that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read it because I know what happens at the end and I REALLY don’t think I can handle it. But I left it out because, well, I haven’t read it yet, lol. Honestly, though, I wouldn’t hold your breath for me to read that series. Just THINKING about it makes me so depressed.

  3. Jacinda (@ReadingWifeJac) February 29, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    Okay…I hope I don’t come across as being a horrible person.

    Ever since I had children, I’ve thought of my pets differently. Before, my pets always came first. They got the best of the best. I ordered specialty stuff offline and I constantly went into pet stores.

    Now that I have children, by pets are my second loves. I know that might sound bad to some. But once you have kids, they become your main priority. I put all of my extra money and stuff into my kids lives, not my pets.

    I do cry when animals die though, I’m not that horrible of a person.

    And The Game of Thrones KILLS me with all of the deaths! AAHHH!

    • trippingbooks February 29, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

      Oh my God Jacinda! I can’t believe you would put REAL CHILDREN over animals. 😉 Of COURSE you don’t sound horrible! I for one am glad that you think of your kids first! I’m sure they are happy, too 🙂
      I personally don’t have any pets of my own, but I do pet-sit for friends, and sometimes pretend that their dogs are mine because I LOVE THEM. That’s really where my soft spot comes from.
      And I don’t know how far you are in the series, but GoT does not let up with the death and dying. It’s CRAZY!!

  4. bookishfeminist February 29, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    Aww, the puppy in that picture is absolutely adorable! I completely agree with you on pet deaths in stories being the worst. Especially when the author makes sure that they spend the time to allow you to get to know the animal and their relationship with their owner first. I love animals (in fact, I currently have a cat sitting on my lap as I type this) so my heart breaks every time I read about one being harmed in any way.

  5. Heidi February 29, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

    I adore this post so much because I agree with ALL THE THINGS! Hedwig was the death that bothered me the most as well. I didn’t just move on after that. I put the book aside. I cried. A lot. Same with the scene of Nymeria and Lady in ASoIaF. I truly think that the harsh reality but survival of the animals in The Scorpio Races is part of what made me love that book so much! I can see including animal tragedies as a strong device in a story, but it’s also sometimes a cheap shot at the heart. Sure, there’s those amazing animal stories that end with tragedy because that’s the way human/animal relationships are (Where the Red Fern Grows), but in the stories that aren’t completely centered around these relationships I feel like it hurts more.


  1. Dehumanization: Why people dying can be funny, and animals dying never is. « Bunbury in the Stacks - May 28, 2012

    […] too long ago, the amazing Amy of Tripping Over Books had a post about her “pet” peeve, in which she bemoaned authors killing off animals in books.  I agree wholeheartedly, and when I […]

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