Update: The Ledger reported June 6 “forensic tests have confirmed that coyotes are behind a recent spate of cat mutilations in several Lakeland neighborhoods, ending months of speculation over what or who might have been responsible.”
Lakeland Police Department has provided another example of a Public Relations 101 lesson learned the hard way. This latest lesson in how NOT to handle a potential crisis comes from events surrounding some mutilated cats.
In April, some residents in the southeast Lake Hollingsworth area reported finding three mutilated cats, and many other residents reported missing cats. One cat was taken to a local veterinarian, who said it had been cut by a knife. Enter Lakeland police spokesman Gary Gross, who told media outlets “This is how serial killers start.” All hell broke loose.
Let me say this: I get it. A veterinarian says the cat was cut by a knife, and you take their word for it because this person is a trained medical professional. But what if…they’re wrong? Is this particular veterinarian trained in forensic pathology? Should an LPD spokesman send a city into panic mode like that? People were feverishly writing social media posts about how they hoped police “caught this weirdo soon.”
I have the benefit of hindsight at this point, so I say the answer is a firm NO. You don’t send a community into a tizzy until you know for sure what you’re talking about.
The Ledger reported May 6 that a veterinary forensic pathologist has examined the dead cats and determined they were killed by a predatory animal- not a trenchcoat-wearing serial killer in the making. DNA samples should identify the animal species in three to four weeks, the article stated.
Let’s make this a lesson for us all: in a crisis, don’t publicly jump to conclusions and make assumptions that can escalate a situation when it has the potential send people into a frenzy. Deal?
Now that the mystery of the half-eaten cats is solved, I can say this situation brought me some hilarious Facebook posts from friends:
- From Brian Hall, who’s a laugh a minute in person and on Facebook: “This animal won’t stop with cats. It is obviously demented, and has no place in rational society. It may start with cats, but mark my words…..soon its anti-societal blood lust will make it crave a bigger challenge: Man. Our best hope is to provide it psychological counseling and help it adapt back into society where it can find gainful employment at a Wal-Mart or Denny’s, and learn to raise a family and be happy. We may already be too late…”
- From Tammy Wright: “Because a community that is already locked, loaded & trigger happy NEEDS to think that any teenager holding a cat could be a serial killer.”
- From Melissah Bruce-Weiner: “On a related note, I might know where my Chupacabra went to after he moved out.”
Keep it weird, Lakeland!