Animal lovers not laughing about joke Internet site "Bonsai Kitten"
By Theo Emery, Associated Press, 02/22/01
BOSTON -- A tongue-in-cheek Web site promising custom-shaped cats has raised the hackles of animal lovers, who see little humor in Internet images of kittens squeezed inside glass jugs.
The Web site, called Bonsai Kitten, went up in December on a Massachusetts Institute of Technology server, was taken down within a few days, and later moved to another Web site. It says it is "dedicated to preserving the long-lost art of body modification in housepets."
The parody site, which promises to deliver kittens raised for three to four months in a jar, has generated hundreds of complaints to the Humane Society of the United States, according to the spokeswoman Julie Shellenberger.
"It's quite obvious the site is a joke. It's in very poor taste, to say the least," Shellenberger said. "It's our responsibility as an animal advocacy organization to state our concerns about this and say that this is a very dangerous thing that they're doing."
The images have also attracted attention from the FBI, which is investigating whether the site violates a 1999 federal law prohibiting profit from images of animal cruelty.
"We really can't talk about anything ongoing. We are taking a look at it, but beyond that I can't really comment," said FBI spokesman, Gail Marcinkiewicz. "It's safe to say that the U.S. attorney's office is also aware of this."
MIT attorney Jeffrey Swope, citing student privacy, declined to comment on Bonsai Kitten other than to say the site's author had been told of a federal subpoena for documents relating to the site.
While animals rights groups say the site promotes cruelty, some free speech advocates have posted about a dozen of Bonsai Kitten "mirror sites" around the world. The site has also spawned a Yahoo! "Bonsai Kitten Club" online and a recent addition of "Bonsai Kitten Kids" showing children how to make a "Bonsai Kitten tissue box cosy."
Bonsai Kitten's Webmaster could not be reached for comment, but a home page for the site's originator scoffs at the protests.
"It's a work of satire, which should be obvious to anyone who has the intelligence of an average house cat. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't, as you will realize if you get to know these protesters," reads a statement below a photograph of a man -- presumably the site's creator -- also stuffed inside a glass jar.
The Humane Society has asked the current Web provider to at least post a disclaimer.
The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is investigating the site.
"As an organization dedicated to animal protection, we're appalled by this practice that promotes insensitivity and cruelty to animals," MSPCA spokeswoman Barbara Castleman said. "Some people say we don't have a sense of humor. That's true. There's nothing funny about animal cruelty."
Rae French, president of the animal advocacy group Hugs for Homeless Animals, targeted the site with a "Bite' Em Report," which the group sends out to about 30,000 subscribers.
The report has teeth: a 1998 Bite 'Em Report on Web sites depicting "crushing" -- the sexual fetish of high-heeled women squashing animals underfoot -- helped propel the animal cruelty legislation through Congress.
The group's efforts have resulted in Web providers shutting down some 25 mirror sites, French said, but the organization won't rest until the images are gone.
"We just want them to take it down. Basically they say it's a joke. Fine. The joke's over. Take it down," French said.