A recently published paper in the Society & Animals Journal of Human Animal Studies by Arluke and Svanberg explores the phenomenon of the Swedish swan lady. This study describes media and judicial reaction to the first publicly acknowledged case of animal hoarding in Sweden—a 60-year-old Swedish woman who purportedly “rescued” 150 swans over several years by bringing many back to her one-room apartment. Reports in the press and social media reflected curiosity if not admiration for this woman, who was dubbed the “Swan Lady.” Although some condemned her deeds and saw her as guilty of animal cruelty, most commentators were more fascinated by her ability to capture the aggressive and large birds, and bring them to her home. While judicial reaction framed this case as one of animal cruelty, the response was sympathetic and people failed to consider the Swan Lady’s mental health when examining her behavior.
"The case of the Swan Lady fascinated the Swedish public because it made an unusual and captivating human-interest story about the woman, focusing far less on the welfare of the birds, as has been be the case with some hoarding cases in the United States (Arluke et al., 2002). The case occasioned much comment, but there were relatively few who described the woman as guilty of cruelty to animals (the crime for which she had been convicted). On the whole, of course, the perspective of the victim figures little in Swedish reporting on criminal cases (Pollack, 2001). All the same, it is striking how rarely her actions
were condemned, although it was unclear whether several swans had to be euthanized due to her improper care for the birds or because of injuries they had suffered earlier, which might have prompted her to take them in.
On the contrary, the Swan Lady became a kind of heroine, or rather antiheroine, at least according to some—not because she had rescued swans per se, but because she took these birds into her apartment. Particularly in social media, she became a kind of absurd anti-heroine. The epithet “Swan Lady” added to the media’s spin on this case as a charming, albeit ill-informed, behavior. Although the Swan Lady died in 2010, she is still remembered in a positive light by some. According to a local Stockholm paper, she has become a martyr for a controversial group that keeps injured birds and other small animals in their homes (Stockholm City, March 7, 2011). And social media and press reports, even today, still refer to her deed (e.g., Strömstedt, 2014; Massiveinvasion, 2014)."
The Swedish Swan Lady. Svanberg, I. & Arluke, A. Society & Animals, 24, 63-77 (2016), DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/15685306-12341388
Dr. Ingvar Svanberg is at the Uppsala Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. Dr. Arnie Arluke is in the Deparment of Sociology and Anthropology, Northeastern University, Boston MA and is Vice President of Forensic Veterinary Investigations, LLC.