Review: Citizen Canine

Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs
Citizen Canine, by David Grimm.

In the past few years, I have read at least 75 books about dogs, so when a new dog book comes out, I kind of assume that I’ve already read some iteration of it before. I’m sure many of you feel the same way.

But this has proven to be a false assumption with David Grimm’s new book, Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs.

Grimm explores the fast-paced and monumental success of American pets to become the most legally protected animals in the country. Given Americans’ deep love of their dogs and cats, and the billions of dollars a year we shell out on them, it is no longer surprising to hear that we consider our pets to be valid members of our families. But what does this mean for us as a culture? And what does it mean for the dogs and cats?

The author talks with scientists, canine researchers, animal shelters, law enforcement, inmates, and everyday pet lovers as he unpacks this significant modern conundrum. He presents us with an array of ponderous questions: What kind of emotions do animals feel? Should the punishments for animal abuse be equal to those of child abuse? How far do we take the “personhood” movement for pets? And what about all of the other animals, who aren’t lucky enough to live in our homes and sleep in our beds? What kind of obligations do we owe them? It’s dizzying to even begin to think about, but it’s an important consideration for those of us who willingly share our lives — and our pocketbooks — with these beloved, domesticated creatures.

Some of the researchers (such as Marc Bekoff, Brian Hare, and Alexandra Horowitz) and their opinions recounted in the book are already very familiar to me — as they may be to many of you — but they provide important context to Grimm’s exploration of the topic. His chapter on pit bull hysteria is also particularly excellent, providing a great deal of historical and contemporary context. It’s a well-researched and well-documented book, and Grimm does a superb job balancing a variety of perspectives here.

I heartily recommend this book to any US-based intellectual pet owner who has ever thought about the philosophical, legal, and cultural implications of pets as members of a human family.

Disclosure: I was NOT provided with a review copy; I checked this book out for myself at my local public library.

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