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1 Introduction I am his Highness’ dog at Kew, Pray tell me Sir, whose Dog are You? —­ EPIGRAM ENGRAVED ON THE COLLAR OF A DOG PRESENTED TO THE PRINCE, BY ALEXANDER POPE, MINOR POEMS When the inevitable question came up, in the early days of the Obama administration, about what breed the first family would have as their White House Dog, the new president (still able to show sparks of wit) commented that he would prefer to have a dog from a shelter, and stated that “a lot of shelter dogs are mutts,” adding the charming comparison, “like me.” The parallel that the president drew referred to his own mixed-­ race heritage, and led to the predictable responses, ranging from those happy with his comfort in talking about sensitive race issues to those offended that he should refer to mixed-­ race people as mutts.1 President Obama’s joke says as much about the way people in the twenty-­ first century think about dogs as it does about the way Americans view race, and there is much in that small statement that bears thinking about.2 To follow the analogy—­ perhaps in a backward order—­ Obama’s racial heritage makes him a mutt because, as we are reminded, it consists of an African, or black, father and an American, or white, mother, and the “muttness” refers to the mixture of races as much if not more than to that of national or regional identities. Neither Ann Dunham, the president’s mother, nor Barack Obama Sr. has been described as a mutt or as belonging to mixed ethnicities, even though the Dunham family tradition contains rumors of Cherokee blood.3 In this line of thinking, neither of the president’s parents was a mutt, only he is, and only because he represents the mixture of white and black races. For a dog to be a mutt like Mr. Obama, then, would mean that it is a mixed breed. And that is the point that holds interest for me, as it is quite a bit different from saying that this dog is of no breed. A mutt, a mongrel, a Heinz are terms that can only have meaning through the reference to breed identity, and they persist in framing the single dog in terms of type. Such framing in terms of breed has become almost inevitable, and holds consequences that most of us would rather avoid facing up to, for they make our happy relations with dogs into something of an uncomfortable paradox. On the one hand, in this era we profess to care deeply for our animal companions—­ a care that Alice Kuzniar, as well as anyone, has shown makes for intensely close relations.4 And, on the other hand, we continue to condone breeding practices that subject animals to questionable treatment, that effectively reduce animals to breeding machines to produce offspring conforming as closely as possible to a breed ideal. The beautiful and sweet dogs we care for deeply have been molded both physically and temperamentally to predetermine their capacity 2| Introduction for one kind of relationship or another. This paradox has come to seem to me inescapable, for as I think about the care for animals that we value—­ that I personally value—­ I cannot help but question what such care is in itself when it entails selecting a canine companion for qualities that have been preprogrammed: what do I in fact care for, this individual who is sharing a world and experiences with me in unrepeatable ways, or a type, of which a potentially infinite series of individuals are merely representatives? This book has grown out of my effort to understand this paradox governing the treatment of dogs in the modern era, which in dog years can be delineated as spanning the time of the death of Alexander Pope’s dog Bounce to the present. The attempt to confront this paradox has led me to try to understand the two principal figures involved in this modern relation of caring that at some point depends upon uncaring. At the basis of this study, therefore, lie these questions: how has the modern human-­ canine relationship come to take on the quality of this paradox? Are other possibilities, less troubled by this or equivalent paradoxes, available to us? What would it mean, after all, to see our dogs without regard to breed—­ as neither purebred nor mutt; what would it mean for us as well as for the dogs? Even while...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781609175405
Related ISBN
9781611862584
MARC Record
OCLC
990618932
Pages
182
Launched on MUSE
2017-06-25
Language
English
Open Access
No
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