The Chinese lion-dog isn’t really a story

Last night, I wrote about the two big zoo-related stories that dominated social media: the discovery of an olinguito masquerading as an olingo and of a dog masquerading as a lion. My suggestion was that the stories were governed by an absurd double-standard: in both cases, a zoo failed to recognize the animal it housed, but one was celebrated while the other became the subject of widespread ridicule.

When I posted my reaction on Facebook, one of my friends pointed out that there might just be a simple explanation:

Koalas, spectacled bears and now olinguitos are cute and dogs are boring what didn’t you get?

She certainly has a point. As a cat person [who has previously written about the uselessness of the dog], I’m not going to dispute the charge that dogs are boring. And it would seem that many people agree with that point of view. Why else would they go to such lengths to transform their pets into something less commonplace? [And trust me, there are many, many more than these five — if you care to take a look.]

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pandas

tiger

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lion

But here’s the thing: once the dog has been made over into a camel or a buffalo or a lion, it immediately ceases to be boring. I remember the first time I saw these pictures — I believe it was during Contracts — I was amazed (plus a little alarmed)! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a dog shaped like a bird or a plane! These pictures are some of — to quote Colbert — the craziest f*&king things I’ve ever seen.

The whole point of shaping boring old dogs into other animals is to make them cute and interesting like koalas, spectacled bears and olinguitos. And in general, it seems to work. Which is, I reiterate, why coverage of the dog/lion mixup ought to have been more along the lines of “Holy crap, there’s a dog that looks just like a lion and no one could tell the difference until it barked! That’s amazing!”

Now, before I wrap this up, I will make one concession: in retrospect, given current (or, at least, two year-old) fashion trends in China, displaying a lion-shaped dog behind bars seems somewhat inevitable and banal. On the other hand, maybe the dog was just doing his best to avoid the dinner plate. And come on, that would be pretty amazing in its own right.

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