Killing Pets: Yes or No

For me, of course, the question of whether the author should kill a pet during the story is a no-brainer. No.

One really big plus of the frame story in Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones is that we know the coonhound survives because of the way the story is introduced. That’s not just me. I noticed lots of comments on Twitter saying, Well, Ursula would never kill the dog, so I’m fine with reading the story.

I thought everyone knew better than to kill pets in their stories, but I guess some authors like to be edgy.

So that’s why this post at Kill Zone Blog caught my attention: Book Blurbs and Pets

She asked if I would read one of her debut author’s upcoming releases and provide a one-or-two-sentence “blurb.” She said it was a romantic suspense, which is a genre I’m familiar and comfortable with. …

But then … about ¾ of the way through the book … The protagonist, who by now had received threatening emails and phone calls, came home to find a box on her doorstep. Upon opening it, she discovered the mutilated body of a cat. Not just any cat, but a stray she’d semi-adopted.

Ugh. Three-quarters of the way through, too, so the reader is perhaps either less inclined to throw the book away or madder because she put more time into reading it and now is turned off.

At this point, I asked a couple of my best-selling authors of romance and romantic suspense friends what they thought. I knew my editor wanted my quote to appear in the soon-to-be-published book, but I was very uncomfortable putting my name on a book that would likely anger readers.

That’s a new take on the problem — would you be comfortable putting a laudatory quote on the cover of a book if you knew readers would be mad about some element of the plot? For me: maybe. If you knew readers would be mad because the author killed a pet? For me: probably not.

But here’s a comment at the post that strikes me as a bit odd:

Won’t read a book if I know an animal dies – won’t watch a movie with it. Kill a million people? I’m in. Just don’t hurt the innocent.

Uh, a lot of those million people are also innocent, right? I mean … right? So I don’t think that’s the right way to put it.

I don’t even think that this is a person/pet dichotomy as such. When a million people die in a novel, those people are faceless hordes. Everyone gets killed in a zombie apocalypse, well, nearly all of them are faceless extras in the story. A pet is different. If someone kills a dog, that’s up close in the scene. It feels much more personal.

But that’s not exactly it either, because secondary human characters can die without hitting the “I can’t believe she KILLED A DOG!” emotion.

On the other hand, triggering the “I can’t believe she KILLED THAT CHARACTER!” reaction can also be very strong. I think — not just a personal reaction, but what I think is objective judgment — that it was a mistake for Suzanne Collins to kill Prim at the end of The Hunger Games. I realize this cannot have been a spur-of-the-moment decision. I know she must have thought it out six ways from Sunday. Regardless, after due consideration, I think that death was gratuitous and offensive and did not fill a need of the plot. That was one of two elements that bothered me about the ending.

Okay! For me:

  1. Do not kill a dog, ever.
  2. Right, also, while we’re on the subject, don’t kill a cat either.
  3. Think twice before killing a child, unless you’re writing a murder mystery.
  4. Writing a murder mystery is not sufficient reason to kill a dog. Just don’t do that.
  5. Secondary characters should not be killed gratuitously.
  6. But sure, kill teeming millions, that’s fine. Not very emotionally affecting unless you set it up properly, either, so don’t think that just dropping a bomb on a population center will make your readers care.

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7 thoughts on “Killing Pets: Yes or No”


    Keep your paws off the pets.

    Honestly, I don’t think Suzanne Collins managed the ending of any of the HG books well. An ending can be bittersweet and still satisfying. But none of her book ending satisfied me.

  2. I get why she did it, bc she’s trying to make a point about what war does to the “righteous” side, and protecting Prim was always katniss’s strongest motivation, but it seemed unnecessarily cruel, and too grim for a YA ending.

  3. Well, as a Central European who grew up behind the Iron Curtain I really, really liked the whole Hunger Games, including the prequel, although I’m not usually into villains’ origins. So many things were exactly like my experiences and the experiences of my older relatives, who lived through WWII, it’s aftermath and the harshest years of communism. I hated that Prim died but I also felt that it fit the grimness of the whole story.

    On the other hand I loved Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series but found the deaths more difficult to handle than in Hunger Games and finally completely lost interest in the sequels after the first chapter of the new trilogy, when she killed off one of the previous main characters and later another. I did skim the new books in the library and they were objectively quite good, cool new magic, etc, but I just couldn’t get into them. Lots of reviews praised how brave it was, what good writing, but it just didn’t work for me at all. I Don’t know. Maybe I had different expectations. It has beautiful boys and shiny magic and lots of romance…
    I also hhate itt when pets are killed but usually won’t stop reading if the book is otherwise good

  4. I do mind when whole planets full of people get killed. Also when whole planets full of historical heritage get destroyed. That’s my main beef with Star Wars.

  5. Rachel Neumeier

    Irina, my version of that is hating when whole ecosystems get destroyed! I have to make a real effort to tolerate that.

    Maria, Aliens 3 was dead to me the instant it opened because oh, surprise, important characters who survived the last movie we’re dead after all. Extremely not okay.

    I felt that Collins did kill Prim to make a point. If the reader can see that that’s why the author killed the character, then that’s a story-level failure. Grimness per se wasn’t my objection, although I will stop reading a story that’s too grim. The manipulation was too obvious.

    Lise, I need to remember that website exists!

  6. Rachel, yes I realized she killed her to make a point it just didn’t bother me.

    I also hate it when cultural heritage or whole ecosystems get destroyed. Even if it’s not a whole planet. So many novels have large old libraries only to burn them down.

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