CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When I saw the headline, "Dogs and cats are murderers," I almost burst out laughing.
Headlines like that have been all over the Internet lately, in the wake of a published study that focuses on dogs' role in killing billions of birds and small mammals.
Yes, dogs kill birds and small mammals. So do cats. It is, after all, the nature of predators and carnivores to kill and consume other creatures.
Does this make them "murderers?"
No. They are animals doing what animals do.
Merriam-Webster defines murder as "the crime of killing a person, especially with malice aforethought."
Last I checked, there is no law against a dog or cat killing a chipmunk or a starling. Last I checked, animals are incapable of malice. And last I checked, birds and small animals are not considered "persons."
Granted, the people who conducted the study aren't the ones who wrote the lurid headlines. After 33 years in the newspaper business, I've learned that some of the most sensational (and misleading) headlines are written by people who: a.) wish to put their own slant on the story, or b.) don't fully understand what they're writing the headline about.
I suspect many of the copy editors who wrote the lurid dog and cat headlines fell into one or both of those categories.
It's not hard to imagine an avid bird watcher, for example, writing such a headline. Birders tend to be acutely aware of the number of avian deaths attributed to domestic and feral cats.