The Fate Of The Kitten Begging To Be Saved In Vietnam

The Fate Of The Kitten Begging To Be Saved In Vietnam

Heartbreaking photograph of an unknown kitten begging to be saved in Vietnam

I’ve seen a lot of photos of kitten and cats on the internet whether it be sad, happy, funny or cute photographs.

One of the photos I’ve seen that really got stuck on my head was the photo of a kitten that appears to be in bad condition, asking for help while hugging the man’s boot.

Animal lovers who have seen the photo would ask: “What happened to the kitten”, where is the little creature now”, Did the human save the poor kitty?”

Recently, Christine Liff was able to acquire the answers to these questions regarding the the fate of the unknown kitten begging to be saved in Vietnam.

 Christine Liff said:

I think most of us have seen this picture of the tiny, wet kitten begging to be saved. We have all hoped that the outcome was positive, that either the person taking the picture or the person in the boot had compassion and pity for this poor wee soul. However, after a bit of research I have found out that this was not the case.

These two men left that kitten there to face it’s fate, whatever that may be. I am heartsick and so angry that two grown men were unable to show compassion for such a tiny animal.

Here is the reasoning behind their decision (a litany of rationalization and quite a few insults at Americans).

Graham Lavery:

November 12, 2011 at 10:28 pm


I have received several emails from users of this site about my photo and its posting on your site. This picture has managed to find its way all over the Internet, in some cases with hundreds of thousands of views, and I realize it is a very provocative shot that touches people deeply.

Normally I do not respond to these types of comment threads as they are often degenerative in nature and can get very nasty, one only needs to reference any news site to see how these things generally play out. After reading all the comments here however, and receiving several polite emails I have decided to write a comment.

“First of all, I think it is very important to understand context, and while many request the “story” behind this shot generally to learn the final outcome, it is not that simple and context is critical. I have spent a good bit of time in Vietnam as my wife used to work there a few months each year, and have shot the war in Afghanistan several times, as well as disasters such as the quake zone in Port-au-Prince, Haiti very shortly after that event. When discussing any of these places, or subjects, the context is a most important and often overlooked part of the equation – especially by North Americans.

“This shot, as you seem to have ascertained, was taken in Hoi An, Vietnam during the worst flooding in almost half a century. My wife was there for the worst of it – flooding into the second story of buildings – and the loss of homes, personal property, and life, was pretty significant as you can imagine. It should however be remembered that societies like the Vietnamese have been at this for the better part of 5000 years and have seen it all before, a great many times.

“In my travels all over the world there is a common theme that makes itself known and very obvious to me: we in North America are an extremely young culture and society, with a great deal left to learn. How does this help understand this photo and its story? Well it goes to follow that perspectives on many issues differ from ours, priorities are placed in different areas, and that there are very salient reasons for this.

One such area is animals, and how they are viewed.

Sad kitten begging to be saved in Hoi An, Vietnam hugging man's shoe kitten begging to be saved in vietnam The Fate Of The Kitten Begging To Be Saved In Vietnam The Fate Of The Kitten Begging To Be Saved In Vietnam2

“In Vietnam, the phenomenon of “pet” ownership is a very new development, prior to the American War this was a practically unheard of concept in many areas. Dogs, as a prime example, are a food source much like cattle, sheep, or pigs are here. Since the development of the “pet” concept, there has been an explosion in numbers with a great many feral and stray dogs and cats roaming the country in various states of health, which is becoming a large problem in and of itself.

“Given the general cultural attitude toward animals like cats, the massive property damage during the floods, and the great deal of human hardship that was experienced at the time this photo was captured, it can be seen how a kitten such as this one would pass well under the radar and slip pretty far down the priority lists of most people who were literally striving to survive.

When my very good friend and I came upon this kitten, it was pretty obvious what its fate would be given the described circumstances, a situation that brings with it several ethical questions that have no really simple answer, mainly: “What to do?”

“As essentially tourists in the area who were in Vietnam temporarily (barely two weeks in Charles’s case), the practicalities of helping an animal such as this become a little more cloudy. If you take it in, how do you care for it? Where do you care for it? What do you do when you leave? Does rescuing it jive with the ethics and practices of the local people (it is their country after all)?

“These are tough questions to answer, and I would submit they become exponentially more difficult when you are in combat zones or disaster areas and instead of a kitten the faces staring at you are those of children or women, either in extreme poverty, or wounded… It can rip one’s guts out, I assure you, and there are no easy answers. Given the ability I’m sure I’d have adopted half of Afghanistan by now. Charles is a Paramedic who has traveled the world through his career, so between us we tend to see things similarly in this regard.

The Fate Of The Kitten Begging To Be Saved In Vietnam kitten begging to be saved in vietnam The Fate Of The Kitten Begging To Be Saved In Vietnam The Fate Of The Kitten Begging To Be Saved In Vietnam3

After a brief discussion, it was decided to let nature take its course and leave the kitten to its own devices, whatever the outcome. Some will agree, some will not, but that was our decision based on our collective experiences of this planet over the years. What became of it ultimately? I can’t answer that with certainty, but I can guess.

In the end we are all faced with choices, some more difficult than others. In photography – particularly in war, or in other difficult circumstances – there are some major ethical implications of even taking a photo: Questions of dignity, intent, and moral imperative. If you do take the shot, do you “put it out there?” I have a hard drives full of photos that will never see the light of day because of this, and countless more that I never took at all given the circumstances.

“This photo has been taken off my website and Flickr without my permission and used all over the world now, and I am fine with that as I think it is critical for people to engage with life in whatever form. I see the members of this site have been affected by it in one way or another, and I am happy to see some thoughtful responses to it.

“I hope that helps answer your questions. -Graham Lavery

starving kitten grabbing soldier's boots kitten begging to be saved in vietnam The Fate Of The Kitten Begging To Be Saved In Vietnam The Fate Of The Kitten Begging To Be Saved In Vietnam

What about you…What would you do if you’re in their shoes?  Tell us your thoughts below…

Share This
  • MidgardMortal

    -Graham Lavery…. soulless “human being”.

  • Albert Schepis

    I tried to understand the photographers’ explanation, but compared to other stories of war-torn or devastated countries where a “visiting” American, be they a soldier, corespondent, photographer, DID save the life of a kitten, being a compassionate human is most important. I understand how one can become detached from all that they’ve seen, but not so desensitized that they can see the impact of taking such a photo yet deny the response they purposely invoke by using it, and just using this tiny, begging life as just fodder for their craft. If out of all the destruction and misery they witnessed they could only save this one little life… why not? They did nothing… they didn’t even try, out of cultural respect? Diplomatic formalities? Inconvenient impracticalities? Turn your back or be a hero, that was the question, and they failed it, as Americans and as human beings.

  • Belinda Blok

    Whomever left this poor kitten to die has no soul. You can rationalize it all you want, but if the sight of a wee animal in such distress does not move you to do the right thing, you’re worse than an animal.

  • Becky Hartzell Stanley

    I hope Graham Lavery never needs help from anyone or asks for any assistance in his life. I would step right over this lowlife scum. You don’t worry about what to do later, you do the right thing at the time and work it out as it comes.

  • Holly

    If you wanted to rescue the kitten, you could have. The fact is you didn’t. I’m surprised you use the ethical and cultural mores of Vietnam as an excuse. People rescue animals from war/disaster zones all the time. I have several friend who have brought back animals from such situations. I hope if you are in this situation again, you choose differently.

  • Bon Crosby

    It would break my heart not to save this kitten.

  • Joy Brakey

    Where do I even begin!!?!?? Avid cat lover, yes. Crazy cat lady in the making, well yeah probably.
    Supporter of animals rights, absolutely! I understand there are huge cultural differences regarding animals and which are considered pets/companions and which are considered food. And I understand that what may be considered in one country is not necessarily going to be considered the same elsewhere. That does not lessen the pain that a living being feels when it is slowly dieing.

    Can’t see a way to justify rescuing it in lieu of all of the pain and suffering of the people due to the catastrophic flooding; then at least for the love of God, take the poor thing, find a facility (if one is available) and at least have it HUMANELY euthanized. Rescue is always the first and most desired option, but do not leave a living being to linger and slowly starve to death in unbelievable agony, or leave it vulnerable to animal attack or to wind up on somebody’s dinner plate.

    “Letting nature take it’s course” only goes so far. Leaving that poor baby, when it is basically beseeching you to save it’s life, is unconscionable. Justify it how you will, Mr. Photographer, but SHAME ON YOU and SHAME ON YOUR FRIEND. Regardless of what you both “have seen” in your life’s work/adventure, blatant disregard for life is never excusable.

  • ddiamondr

    I have been in a disaster zone myself and the victim of disastrous flooding that destroyed my home, killed a neighbour, demolished my town. I’m sorry, but it would not have been that difficult to care for this small animal. People have offered up logistical reasons why it couldn’t be saved, why it was impossible, it’s not impossible. Every small life is precious – that is a Buddhist tenant – and if you can help one life it is your duty to do it. You could have saved that kitten, I’m sorry, but you could have.

  • Ali Sina

    This is a cruel world. God loves cruelty. He loves suffering. Compassion is only a human thing. This picture breaks my heart, but just like the author i have no answers. We are so helpless trying to fix the world while it designer likes it the way it is.

  • Kate Asaurus Rex

    Graham Lavery…world traveling asshole

  • lgcatwoman19

    I heard that although these men left the kitten that someone did pick him up and give it to someone to feed and care for, I hope it was the truth. I don’t believe that the photographer couldn’t have scooped him up and put him in a pocket to drop off somewhere safe. He knew the value of the shot for sure, but didn’t know the value of the heart that would react to this type of a photograph evidently.

  • sari

    I have friends who have saved animals while on vacation in poor lands. They figured out a way to save them and find them homes. That is what I would do. You can write all you want about Americans as a young nation. If being an old nation means having no compassion, I hope Americans never grow up. Heartsick over this.

  • mojo


  • Vex

    I would have done everything in my power to help a creature clearly begging me to save it.
    FUCK any other logic,You cant steal kids or women,But you can adopt an animal.
    I hope that cat lived a full life and found some wonderful family,These guys are scum.

  • cindy

    They could have found a shelter for it. They could have done a lot of things if they’d tried. I would have gladly given up my vacation to find a home for this animal. But this guy…..he writes a long rationalization and moves on.

  • Daniel Corral Jr

    Go back and find it and take care of it. Find it!

  • Guest

    I would’ve kicked the living s–t out of it. I hate cats and I especially really really hate kittens!!!!

  • Skyshadow38

    tl;dr – I didn’t want a pet. But making cash off it’s circumstances and eventual deal is fine though.

  • mommi2myboys

    why even post a picture like this just to let us know u left the poor cat there. idk how this picture made it onto my news feed but I hope no others like this do…the picture was sad enough…the story behind it was even worse.

  • mommi2myboys

    seems like a photographer trying to use this poor kittens picture to make money for himself…when he didnt even care enough to save the poor cat. id be ashamed to even admit I left the cat like that…

  • Wolfgang

    I’d say screw the red tape. The poor cat was begging to be rescued. It would not be morally wrong as nobody else would have cared for it. I hope I am wrong on the last point and it has survived.

  • Kris Bennett

    I would have done something! To leave this kitten to it’s fate is cruel and heartless. It’s ok that the picture may have generated some money for the photographer, but, not ok to help. Sounds like a typical American. Makes me sick to be one too.

  • kelley wyskiel

    refusing to acknowledge compassion, if even for a moment of your time while you are able to give it, demonstrates a lack in humanity, no matter how well you try to excuse the lack of action. it wouldn’t have taken much kindness to simply acknowledge it for a while as a life in need.

  • Lejane Kurt

    I can’t believe they didn’t try to save the kitten or at least give it the best chance by feeding it etc. for the two weeks that they would’ve been able to. How disappointing humans can be.

  • Lynn Massey-Davis

    I understand the rationale and the response. I have worked with children in difficulty and am well aware of the argument ” you can’t save them all”. Personally I would have tried because all life is precious. I save worms which swim out in the rain!

  • aj

    I hope this rich American gets something bad coming his way. Fair enough he was leaving soon but surely he could put it into a sanctuary, adopt the little one, clean and feed this helpless creature? I wouldn’t care about the cost, as long as it was safe. This picture shows the cruelty of some humans, letting poor and defenseless animals die.