Monday, September 7, 2020

Katja M. Guenther's "The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals"

Katja M. Guenther is Associate Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Riverside, and author of Making Their Place (2010). Her research focuses on gender, social movements, human-animal relationships, and the state.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals is one of several places in the text where I reflect on my relationship to the research I conducted as a volunteer at a high-intake, high-kill public animal shelter that I call the Pacific Animal Welfare Center, or PAW. On this page, I specifically focus on how fostering dogs from PAW for animal rescue groups who would find homes for them shifted my thinking about how kill shelters like PAW often justify putting dogs and cats to sleep: there are simply not enough homes for all of the shelter animals, and too many shelter animals are unadoptable. On page 99, I also begin a discussion about how fostering dogs deepened my appreciation for members of this species in ways that undercut PAW’s—and our society’s—dominant messaging that not all shelter animals can find homes and that their deaths are a tragic but necessary reality of the human relationship with companion animals.

The content of page 99 doesn’t reflect the core elements of the analysis I present in The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals, but it still provides the reader with a good idea of the whole work. The text on this page makes clear that this is a book about animals without homes, and that I am an author who is problematizing myths about these animals and the humans with whom their lives intersect. Importantly, this page, among many others, illuminates how I approached the research and research site, and how my experiences changed me and my own views. People often take the path of least resistance when faced with complex problems: identify and accept the simplest explanation that best resonates with existing explanations for similar problems. In the context of animal sheltering in the United States, there are a number of such easy explanations that have become dominant myths, including that some people (especially poor people of color) are “irresponsible” guardians for animals, some animals (notably pit bulls) are dangerous and pose a particular risk to public safety, and some animals (particularly those who are most vulnerable because of their health, age, behavior, or breed) must die in shelters. What page 99 makes clear is that I questioned and came to doubt these easy explanations, to instead discover that these myths reflect and reinforce hierarchies of race, class, gender, species, and breed.
Visit Katja M. Guenther's website.

--Marshal Zeringue