“The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”
Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

We use this quote as it fits well to frame a recent law passed in New York State legislature, “A.9004/S.6903” which prohibits exhibitors of big cats, tigers, jaguars, panthers and cougars (a/k/a mountain lions) from allowing the public to have direct contact with these exotic cats. No petting, posing or physical contact allowed.

You may say, “I don’t live in New York State”. Fair enough, but be aware that when one state passes such a law, these types of laws have a tendency to roll through the states. Plus the state you work in may already have such a law. You may also say, “The law sounds great, I support protecting wild animals”. We can’t agree more. The law was intended to cover traveling carnivals and “zoos” featuring animals being kept under sub-standard conditions. But as is typical of many laws, this well-intentioned legislation has had unintended consequences and effectively outlaws various types of commercial and amateur photography in the State of New York. The way the law is written, it includes photographers, models, stylists and arguably even professional animal trainers.

That means that one very popular ad campaign that ran for 30 years, that started in the ‘60s with icons such as legendary golfer Arnold Palmer (also famous for inventing Jack’s favorite drink, half lemonade, half ice tea). You can see one of Mr. Palmer’s spots here.

The campaign continued in the ‘80s with “supermodel” (back when being a supermodel was limited to actual, real supermodels) Cheryl Tiegs. You can see a video here. The campaign revolved around the 1968 Motor Trend Car of the Year, the classic muscle car, the Mercury Cougar. It boasted “refined aggression” and oozing with luxury features. Funny, the same has been said (mostly by Ed’s wife) about Ed, who also drives a ’68 Cougar, even today.

In the Cheryl Tiegs spot, Chancey (a rescued feline BTW), frolicked in the front seat of a Cougar with super model Cheryl Tiegs – note that Ms. Tiegs has her hands all over the “vicious” Chauncey.

Chuncey would appear in Cougar ads along with spokesperson Farah Fawcett in the ‘70s.  Chauncey had been a rescued feline. Ms. Fawcett would later make public appearances – at Chauncey’s request – to raise money for various animal charities.  Like Ms. Tiegs, Ms. Fawcett couldn’t keep her hands off Chauncey and their interplay is prominently featured in those ads.

Chauncey made public appearances with his trainers   nationwide, did photo shoots with the general public at dealerships nationwide and acted in countless commercials without incident. Indeed Mercury used the line  “At The Sign of the Cat” as both a service mark and trade mark because the use of live animals in its advertising and promotion was so successful. Every Cougar ad for decades included the incredibly popular “Chauncey”. In fact, the tag line for the campaign was not comprised of words at all – rather it was Chauncey’s great snarl.

Any company trying to do a retro ad campaigns of the ’60s and ’70s akin to the Cougar campaign, or any campaign with such an animal and trainer today, would find itself on the wrong side of the law. Chauncey’s descendants are now unemployable. 

Mercury later used a live Bobcat (without incident) in marketing another car model of that name.  Now such marketing and photography even when using professionally trained felines, with professional trainers, leashed and under humane conditions, is illegal in the State of New York unless there is a physical barrier between any displayed cat and any member of the public. The requirement makes creating such advertising photography in NY impractical if not impossible.

As a photographer in ANY state, be advised that if you intend to employ animals in your work, make sure that you obtain any and all permits needed. Safe to assume that if you are using exotic animals, endangered or invasive species, predators and the like your local or state government will require you to pay some fee and obtain some piece of paper.

Promptly advise your client of any potential permit issues that could arise. We suggest that you lay off this responsibility onto the client or ad agency unless you are getting paid to obtain any necessary permits. Either way, check your local laws, then get and keep a copy of all permits for your files.  One of our photographers who spends his working days on or under boats goes by this rule, “If they speak English where you are shooting, you need a permit”.