You are a novelist and co-author a book that…
You are a novelist and co-sign a book which is a sociological investigation. Why did this Pilarski affair interest you?
I am from Béarn by birth and Basque by adoption, journalist for “Sud Ouest”. I heard a lot about this case in 2019-2020. We saw the photo of Elisa Pilarski everywhere, she became a familiar face like all these faces of victims of miscellaneous events. Le Cherche midi had read my previous book, “Welcome to Veganland”, a dystopia that dealt with animalist and vegan networks. He asked me to take over this book with Matthias Tesson, journalist at BFM TV. The latter had conducted the first interview with Christophe Ellul, the companion of Elisa Pilarski and owner of the dog Curtis. This interview the day after the tragedy had moved the whole of France and shed national light on the affair which had first marked Béarn and Picardy. It was the first time that the hypothesis of a hunt in the vicinity was mentioned, which could exculpate Curtis.
How did you proceed? Did you do the survey again?
Somehow. First of all, this work would never have been possible if the Pilarski family had not opened the door to me. Christophe Ellul received us once, but he didn’t want to give us his version. We still spoke with his lawyer and that of the Pilarski family. Then we met the experts on pets, social networks, conspiracy theory who enlightened us on this almost mythological turn of the case. I, for example, met the woman who had opened the kitty in support of Elisa and Curtis. She had wanted to organize a white march that the family had denounced. She had also tensed the Ellul clan. This kitty was the beginning of the change in the perspective of social networks. His testimony tells a lot about the life of these platforms and their influence.
Beyond the news item, your book is interested in the “unreasonable” debate around the animal cause. What do you want to demonstrate?
I took the current case and the editor asked me to take a little height compared to the news item. We wanted to add an analysis of the place of animals in our society. Social networks wondered what Curtis was going to become, if he was going to be euthanized, there was a mobilization, this online kitty… All this when there was a strong presumption around his role in the drama. When I met Nathalie Pilarski, I realized that Elisa’s victim status had been somewhat erased in favor of a hypothetical animal victim.
Placing the dog Curtis on the same level as Elisa Pilarski, in your opinion, is part of the animalist or antispeciesist movement?
Yes, but not only. First of all, there is this irrepressible movement which militates for the treatment of animals on an equal or almost equal basis with human beings. This pressure is expressed in particular on social networks. But there is also this underlying phenomenon that wants to find victims everywhere to save them. It is the combination of the two that transforms this news item. Even if Curtis bit Elisa to death, we still have to preserve him because he was the victim of something, his upbringing, his environment, we don’t know, but he is necessarily the victim of something.
This change of prism is also born of an impossibility: we don’t know how to judge animals…
Absolutely. In fact, there were animal courts in the Middle Ages. The animal was punished by holding it responsible for its acts before God. That changed with the Enlightenment. Reason then prevails over the animal and they are deemed irresponsible for their actions. On the other hand, the master remains responsible for his animal. That said, this vision is starting to be almost outdated with the animal’s new place.
Another thing that challenges, justice according to social networks very far from that of the courts…
Social networks move faster than justice and they tend to always judge from the perspective of the victim of the facts, even if they ignore most of the details. In this Pilarski affair, the investigators carried out very rapid investigations but the time for justice is longer. It will be three years since Elisa Pilarski died, the file is on the desk of the Soissons investigating judge and there is still no hearing date. The dog Curtis is still alive, he is “under seal” in a shelter. Christophe Ellul was indicted for manslaughter in the spring of 2021 after expert reports confirmed that the bites were the work of Curtis. It’s a long time. Social networks did not wait to draw their conclusions.
What lesson do you draw from this case?
I think that we can speak for this news item of a “total social fact” in the sense that Marcel Mauss understood it, that is to say a news item which channels all the debates of society and involves all its institutions. The Elisa Pilarski affair was a kind of catalyst where everyone could lose their minds, including outside observers. The journalists, the prosecutor, the investigators struggled to maintain their objectivity. They immediately gave very high credence to the hypothesis of a dog that escaped hunting with hounds when everything pointed to Curtis being responsible for the fatal injuries.