Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on May 2, 2014

This week, ALDF’s Animal Book Club reads David Grimm’s new book Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs. David’s book is a consideration of the legal implications of the changing place of animals in society. “The public isn’t aware of the legal status of animals,” David says. “There is really no other book for a broad audience that brings this awareness like Citizen Canine.

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A science buff and animal lover, David considered becoming a veterinarian but instead completed a doctoral degree in genetics. Yet he also pursued a career in journalism and has been the online news editor of Science for ten years. In Citizen Canine, he dedicates an important section to the Animal Legal Defense Fund and its formative role in the animal protection movement. The groundbreaking efforts of ALDF founder Joyce Tischler, as well as a number of influential and passionate staff, feature in the book. As David points out, “the animal law movement continues to grow.”

As a journalist, David says he works hard not to advance a particular viewpoint, and in his research he spoke to people from all sides of the aisle. For example, the American Veterinary Medical Association has opposed personhood rights for companion animals. “Vets are in a tricky situation,” David explains. Veterinarians benefit from the fact that people are willing to spend whatever it takes on the health of their companion animals. “It’s what allows the profession to exist, this relationship people have with animals,” he says. “But that stops in the courtroom.” Veterinarians argue that malpractice suits would be costly if animals were valued beyond the price of their purchase.

citizen-canineFor example, in 2013 Citizen Canine explains, the Texas Supreme Court decided a case “involving the accidental euthanasia of a dog at an animal control facility.” Even though “the owners weren’t asking for anything close to personhood; they just wanted to recover damages for the sentimental value of their dog… But even that was a bridge too far for the AVMA, whose amicus heavily influenced the judges to deny the claim. As the law now stands in Texas, you can recover more money if someone destroys a picture of your dog than if they destroy the dog itself.”

A fundamental problem for companion animals is that they are considered property under the law, but this wasn’t always the case. “A hundred years ago cats and dogs were not property,” David says. “Only economically viable animals like farmed animals were considered property.” And yet, he says, the way the law treats animals—both now and then—is out of step with reality. “Only 1% of pet owners consider their pets to be property.” In reality, our love of cats and dogs blurs the boundary between companion and property. David explains that cases involving animal custody, emotional distress, and felony anti-cruelty laws mean considering what is in the best interest of animals.

Companion animals also “keep us anchored to the real world.” It’s only in the last decades that companion animals have become like family members, David writes in Citizen Canine. Technological developments have changed our lives and our relationships. But with animal companions, “we have to engage. They are a living breathing loving presence in our lives. Companion animals bring us back down to earth in the physical world.” And that is why, David agrees, the work ALDF does is so important—to make sure these companions are provided the legal protections they deserve.

Enter to win—two lucky winners will be chosen to receive a free copy of David Grimm’s Citizen Canine.


5 thoughts on “Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs

  1. Nancy says:

    I do not like the idea of a nonhuman animal having “personhood” any more than I like when the issue of suffering and intelligence are coupled with nonhuman animal rights. After all they are NOT human, they are their own unique presence in the world.
    Although I love and respect dogs and cats and do not want to see them abused, we need to focus on the other species who are not even recognized as having any sentience at all- those nonhuman animal slaves used for food, milk and hide/fur, sylvan and ocean animals.

    1. Katie says:

      Why does one have to be mutually exclusive of the other? Because I choose to help animals does NOT mean that I do not help humans.

    2. Mona says:

      U obviously have not ever in your lifetime had a love or a bond with any dog or have had the love or loyalty of a dog or you would not have wrote such a stupid ridiculous thing my dog is my world even though I lost him afew months ago after 15 years France just passed a law that they are no longer property before you reply or do not whatever again you obviously have not loved or been loved by such a amazing thing like my rocky

  2. Rick says:

    I agree with you concerning more emphasis being placed on the sentinent beings suffering silently and being murdered by the billions in the farm and fashion industry, but I think you may misunderstand the term person hood. I am under the impression person hood does not humanize the animal but makes them more of an individual sentinent being.

  3. Patricia Long says:

    I do think that the issue of suffering as well as all other emotions,including intelligence, should be coupled with all animals including those used as food and who have their fur ripped off, who are shot for the fun of it,etc Watch some of PBS’s nature videos if you want to know just how close all animals are to human beings. These videos can break your heart!