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Image courtesy of Splash/Instagram
The world was treated to the latest in the ‘Justin Bieber vs.’ series two weeks ago, when the ever-delightful pop entity suggested PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) “suck it” after the animal rights organisation criticised his purchase of two Savannah cat kittens. The exotic pets, bought ahead of Bieber’s nuptials with Hailey Baldwin, are a cross between a domestic cat and a Serval (a species of wild cat native to sub-Saharan Africa) and are reported to have set the crooner back by $35 thousand.
PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange ignited the fight when she pointed out to the New York Post that ‘the dangerous demand for hybrid cats, [contributes] to the animal overpopulation crisis’. In response, Bieber unleashed a blistering tirade on Instagram Stories, in which he advised PETA to ‘focus on real problems’ and to ‘help with all of the plastic in the ocean’.
The notedly socially conscious star’s genuine concern for the environment is touching. But when, in the US alone, an estimated 6.5 million cats and dogs end up in overcrowded animal shelters every year and a further 1.5 million are euthanised, it seems clear that there is very much a ‘real problem’ to contend with here.
Bieber has a markedly bad record with animals. In 2012, he gave away his hamster ‘PAC’ to a fan while signing autographs. In 2013, a Capuchin monkey that had been gifted to the singer was seized at Munich Airport, after the then-19-year-old apparently attempted to smuggle the primate into Germany. More recently still, Bieber gave away his seven-month-old Chow Chow puppy because he was ‘too busy’ to care for it. You need not be clairvoyant to predict his latest animal acquisitions are unlikely to have found their forever home. The kittens, christened ‘Sushi’ and ‘Tuna’ by the sharp-witted celebrity, have been given their own Instagram page dedicated to their daily adventures (450k followers and rising), which only compounds the sense that the costly felines are to serve as luxury accessories, rather than cherished companions.
But even if Bieber has learnt from his prior mistakes, and does provide the care the cats deserve, there remains a burning injustice here. In defending his purchases, Bieber argued that people have ‘preferences’ in their choice of pet. Certainly, the Savannah cats seem like impressive animals: they are famed for their physical size, their distinguished looks and their ability to propel themselves 8 feet into the air. As rare hybrids of a wild animal, their novelty is an admitted draw. Yet the lives of animals prized for their aesthetics or exotic appeal are surely worth no more (nor less) than those assigned a smaller monetary value and inhabiting animal shelters across the world.
This is why it seems a shame that someone like Bieber, who could just as easily adopt a couple of cats from a shelter, and whose celebrity affords him a platform to inspire others to do the same, has chosen his pets for seemingly shallow and vain reasons, and opted not to help animals in need.
PETA is right to criticise Bieber here. His slavish adherence to gaudy consumerism has a cost beyond money. Hopefully this latest row will galvanise not only him, but the rest of us, to think more carefully about our choices.