A shocking news story out of Northeastern Pennsylvania: A basement-dwelling groomer offers “Gothic kittens” for sale on eBay. The uniquely “Gothic” quality? A pair of pierced ears, a pierced neck and a pierced tail.

What the seller didn’t know is that not only is it illegal to sell live animals on eBay (hooray for eBay!) it’s apparently illegal to pierce cats in Pennsylvania.

No, it’s not that there’s any specific law against feline ear, neck and tail piercing. It’s simply that doing so is considered sick and inhumane—by the vast majority of the US public, anyway. And I would hasten to agree.

Here are a couple of pics  in case you're wondering what these kittens might look like:

So you know, using a 14 gauge needle to poke through a cat’s tail is a recipe for tail loss (the probability of tail sloughing is very high). And those earrings? Pretty soon they’ll rip through after they catch on something. Promise.

Yes, piercing a kitten’s ears, neck and tail for simple human vanity is a bizarre and irreprehensible act of feline vandalism. Sure, it’s your cat and she’s your property but here’s one way in which our pets are, legally-speaking, NOT like toaster ovens:

You cannot harm your animal any more than you can wantonly disregard their need for food and water. And thank God for that.

But there are some exceptions to this rule when it comes to dogs and humans. After all, many cultures pierce children and babies' ears. Many societies (including ours) engage in neonatal circumcision. And in the US, cropping and docking dogs' ears and tails is still widely accepted.

Though most veterinarians I’ve heard from (in a thread on the Veterinary Information Network) agreed that this kitten-piercing situation represents a new low in human behavior, canine and human analogies were raised by way of questioning the entire spectrum of this welfare issue:

Sure, we all accept that it’s wrong to pierce cats’ ears for an "enhanced" cosmetic appearance. But is it any less wrong to crop ears or dock tails? And how does this compare to the human side of things where babies have their ears pierced purely for cosmetic gain or are circumcised solely for religion’s sake?

I come from a Cuban-American family where female babies’ ears are pierced at 30 days, just prior to their christening. Having a boy, I never had to make this decision. But there’s little doubt as to the pressure I’d have felt to do so had a different set of chromosome been at work.

In my view, my culture’s approach is little different than that of the Jewish briss, despite the health benefits dubiously conferred by circumcision and the religious significance of the act.

Whether God’s involved or not, tradition is tradition. Though some acts are more easily defensible from our complex cultural points of view, invoking religion or tradition doesn’t make it any more or less right. After all, other religious and traditional, mutilation-oriented rites of passage have gone the way of the Dodo for their extremism (reference foot-binding, so-called “female circumcision,” and human sacrifice, among others).

Nonetheless, we defend our existing traditions vociferously from a wide array of angles.

OK so now that I’ve offended half of the human universe…back to the animals:

Kittens with their ears and tails pierced. This is wrong on so many levels that you’d be right to argue against comparing it with some of our more benign human traditions. Nonetheless, I consider it a worthy exercise in rethinking why humans engage in some of these behaviors.

From canine ear crops to foreskin excision…what is it that makes us want to pierce, puncture and slice when we now know there’s no health benefit or utility to defend it?