Book Review – Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs

Citizen Canine

I can honestly say this is one of the best books about dogs and cats I have ever read (and I’ve read a lot of them!) This book takes on a subject matter that is often touched on in books and articles, but rarely the main focus – pets in society.  More specifically, it analyzes how society’s view of pets has evolved as society itself has evolved.

The book is divided into three sections: “Family” – which outlines how dogs and cats came to be domesticated, “Person” – which explains how the animal welfare revolution brought about changes in animal cruely laws and created groups like the ASPCA, and “Citizen” – which tells of the ongoing legal issues that modern day dogs and cats (and their guardians) are fighting.

Now, most of us dog lovers are at least somewhat familiar with the theories of how dogs and cats went from being wild creatures to living in our homes…so that first section wasn’t really anything special.   The second section, “Person”, is where things really start to get interesting.  It is hard to believe that what we take as common sense respect of animals – the fact that you can’t abuse your pet, for instance – was once political debates.  It was fascinating to read about the legalities of something like this.  To me, these principles are obvious it seems ridiculous that at some point our legal system had to spell them out…yet, in a court of law, if a dog was considered your “property”, why couldn’t you do whatever the heck you wanted with/to it?   Also included in this section were detailed accounts of what happened to pets left behind when New Orleans was evacuated for Katrina and the ongoing efforts to care for them.

“Citizen” really dove into the current state of pets in our legal system – of course it touched on the whole pit bull issue, but also describes how the  field of veterinary medicine has transformed as pets become more like family and less like animals.  He shares court cases where dog mothers and fathers have sued their vets for far above what the animal is actually worth.  Well – in the word “actually”, we get to the heart of the matter.  Would you really say your dog is “actually” worth only what you paid for it?  (You wouldn’t, of course, but what would a court of law say??)  I found all of this incredibly interesting and something that I had never read about before.

I think one of the reasons this books stands out in its genre is the author.  David Grimm (check out his website here) obviously has an amazing analytical, scientific mind.  (And I’m not just saying that because I know he is the online news editor for Science!)  He takes on the topic of pets in our life with as much seriousness as he does when discussing biochemistry.  It is obvious he did extensive research when writing this book – I love how many personal stories of dog and cat lovers he tells.  Grimm writes with a scientific brain and a cat-loving heart.

Have I convinced you to read this book yet?   I said it before…and I’ll say it again – I loved this book!  It is a well written, fascinating read with interesting personal accounts as well as pet related historical facts.  It will help you understand more about our human society by examining the way we have and continue to view our pets.  It will make you think…and help you understand more about that furry creature that has found his way into your home and your heart.

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