Psychiatrists define cruelty to animals as a psychological problem or personality disorder. Legally, animal cruelty is described by a list of behaviors. In Just a Dog, Arnold Arluke argues that our current constructs of animal cruelty are decontextualized—imposed without regard to the experience of the groups committing the act. Yet those who engage in animal cruelty have their own understandings of their actions and of themselves as actors. In this fascinating book, Arluke probes those understandings and reveals the surprising complexities of our relationships with animals. Just a Dog draws from interviews with more than 250 people, including humane agents who enforce cruelty laws, college students who tell stories of childhood abuse of animals, hoarders who chronically neglect the welfare of many animals, shelter workers who cope with the ethics of euthanizing animals, and public relations experts who use incidents of animal cruelty for fundraising purposes. Through these case studies, Arluke shows how the meaning of "cruelty" reflects and helps to create identities and ideologies.
Arnold Arluke and Clinton R. Sanders Temple University Press, 1996 Library of Congress QL85.A75 1996 | Dewey Decimal 304.27
What is it about Western society, ask the authors, that makes it possible for people to express great affection for animals as sentient creatures and simultaneously turn a blind eye to the most callous behavior toward them? Animals are sold as expensive commodities, used as food and clothing, killed as vermin, and hunted for sport. But they also are treated as members of the family, used as the cause célèbre of social movements, and made the subject of art, film, and poetry. Such contradictions motivate these unique ethnographers to venture into social worlds most people know about only in passing, such as veterinary clinics where companion animals are cared for, animal shelters where dogs and cats are "mercifully" euthanized, and primate labs where monkeys are kept for animal experimentation.
Arluke and Sanders are not distanced ethnographers. They worked in the clinics, shelters, and laboratories, cleaning cages, assisting in surgery, and participating in "sacrificing" animals for science or helping to provide them with an "easy death." In this book, the people who work with these animals and live through them talk to the authors about the strategies they adopt to cope with the stress of the job.
This fascinating book combines sociological analysis with ethnographic description to give us insight into the history and practice of how we as human beings construct animals, and by extrapolation, how we construct ourselves and others in relation to them.
In the series Animals, Culture, and Society, edited by Arnold Arluke and Clinton R. Sanders.