Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Letting dead horses lie: A short meditation about Barbaro, belittlement, paid obituaries, human decency, and the sad state of the newspaper business

In this morning’s paid obituary notices in the New York Times, I found one for a dead horse.

As you might guess, it wasn’t an obit notice for any old dead horse. It was for Barbaro, the champion racehorse who broke his leg and eventually deteriorated so badly that he had to be put down, an event that occurred just the other day.

I don’t mean to belittle the grief of Barbaro’s owners and others who knew him. Or petted him. Or admired his racing prowess. Or betted on him.

I also don’t mean to belittle the sincerity and concern of the Belmont Child Care Association which placed the obituary notice.

But I’m guessing – just guessing, mind you – that in some peoples' minds, placing an obituary for a horse in a human obituary column might seem to belittle the human dead.

It somehow appears indecent that to honor a dead horse, someone drew attention away from the humans whose modest lives and sometimes tragically early deaths are briefly illuminated by their relatives in these columns .

I’m also willing to speculate that 20 years ago, an obit for a horse among the human death notices would have been unthinkable. It would have been like a dead horse buried in religiously hallowed ground – an honor to the horse but arguably an insult to the adjacent dead humans.

What has caused this shift of values?

The fault, dear friends, lies in the Internet. Once upon a time, all manner of small type ads – paid death notices, help wanted ads, real estate ads, used car ads – added bread and heaping slabs of butter to the tables of newspaper publishers and their stockholders.

Alas, Internet sites such as, and others have sat down at the publishers’ tables uninvited and helped themselves not only to the bread and butter, but also to the meat and pudding.

Consequently, publishers’ advertising policy might just be loosening up to allow for a new income stream. Horse obits? Why not? Perhaps next week we’ll see a death notice for a beloved cat.

“You killed birds like a champ, Buzzby. You always covered the poop in your box. We will never forget you – Mom, Dad, Chip and Muffy.”

And after that, who knows? Maybe the dead hamster. Maybe a pet boa constrictor. Or an adored Iguana.

It’s a sad state of affairs when we have to wonder whether a horse or lizard will warrant more attention in the obituaries than ourselves.

1 comment:

Buce said...

Take it as a safe generalization that anyone who is passionate about animals is not very nice to people.