I know this doesn’t seem a very veterinary topic, but stay with me now…

You know the lolcats, right?  They’re the silly, sad and sometimes frustrated cats (and other creatures) pictured with cartoonish captions to indicate their inner thoughts…as we mere humans might interpret them.

In case you don’t know, Icanhascheezburger.com is the flagship site for these pics. They’re funny, they’re cute…and they’re sometimes unbearably poignant.

After devouring a fun piece in Salon from last week’s stash of must-read articles, I decided I agreed with its author’s basic premise: “We have seen the lolcats, and they are us.”

Their poignancy is largely what concerns Jay Dixit in his article, which is titled, “I can has cheezburger ... and pathos?” But for all his analysis of the success of lolcats (yes, even lolcats can be analyzed, it seems), the reason is incredibly obvious to me: They’re animals, yes, but it’s in their humanization that we revel when we read their “thoughts.”

No, it’s not just that they’re cute. If the explanation for their popularity were so simple they’d not need words to convey the immensity of their attractiveness. Jay Dixit is right. They may be “cartoons,” but like most humor (or sentimentality, for that matter), it’s most effective when it holds a mirror up to our own humanity.

In the wake of Mr. Dixit’s arguments, I couldn’t help but feel a bit like peering through the looking glass of his analysis. I mean, what’s up with the humanization thing? Is it a new phenomenon or is it a simple twist on an old favorite, á-la-Far Side?

When little girls (like me three decades ago) used to carry around schoolbooks plastered in kitten and unicorn-studded contact paper, we didn’t add captions (I didn’t, anyway). We didn’t contemplate our favorite animal images’ inner thoughts any more than we wondered why it was they appealed to us. (OK, so some of us wondered…but not many.)

The same is probably true for little girls today, though the popularity of today’s graphics tend towards less naturalistic, more distorted animal images. Consequently, it occurs to me that the lolcats’ fame is driven by a distinctly adult phenomenon. In fact, my ten year-old son doesn’t get many of the lolcat images—nor would I want him to.

So why do otherwise-mature adults engage in this kind of kid’s stuff? Why are adults more willing to play humanize-the-kitten in 2008? Why do we seek out the newest, best lolcat image to send to our similarly lolcat-smitten friends? Why the pathos? And what does this have to do with veterinary medicine anyway…?

OK, I have no answer for any of it. I was hoping you did (and that you’d let me know in your comments below). But here’s my current favorite lolcat image for your entertainment (at least it’s veterinary-themed):