Citizen Canine

“Citizen Canine,” by David Grimm. Public Affairs. $26.99.

What rights should Fido have? And how about Fluffy?
Citizen Canine 3
Grimm, a deputy news editor at Science, travels far and wide investigating the ever-changing role of our companion animals, seeking to determine if we should continue to regard them as property or “person.”

He delivers a well-balanced, inquisitive historical analysis yet pivots smoothly into what the future might hold, noting the combustible feel between proponents and opponents of greater rights for man’s best friend.

Grimm touches on everything pets – domestication, rescue, rights, science, law, changing historical attitudes and the “personhood” movement away from property. In the process, “Canine Citizen” serves up a familial, non-science approach that is bound to appeal to everyone.

As attempts are made to personify animals that were onetime camp-side followers 30,000-plus years ago, Grimm asks if we are going too far. Is there a happy medium? In the process, the author draws an analogy between our treatment of black slaves with that of the plight of pit bulls.

He also details the views of those who question putting animal abuse on par with child abuse; American Veterinary Medical Association that questions malpractice suits; opponents of the Army classifying its dogs as equipment rather than personnel.

One of his most intriguing interviews comes late in the book with David Favre, 65, who Grimm describes as one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the legal status of animals. A professor at Michigan State University College of Law, Favre contends, “You can still have rights without personhood. That was my intellectual break with everyone else. Some people say property can’t have rights. Why? We make the law. There’s nothing that says we can’t do that.”

Favre, however, isn’t comfortable with simply the word “property.” As a result, he proposes a new legal status: “living property.”

Grimm adds, “Think of it as a middle ground between property and personhood, an evolution rather than a revolution. The great thing about the term, he (Favre) says is that is gives lawmakers a clean slate. Rather than binding us to traditional definitions, ‘it will mean what we want it to mean. We can pour into it whatever rights we wish.’ “

In addition to countless individual interviews, Grimm spends time at an animal shelter in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina; with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Animal Cruelty Task Force (a one-of-a-kind agency nationally); with the Military Working Dog Program at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; and attends a sold-out animal-law conference in Portland, hosted by Lewis & Clark College (which it has hosted annually since 1993).

As technology has improved in this country the past century, we have become disconnected from reality, Grimm and scholars argue, more today than ever. Scholars call this the “Internet paradox.” As a result we are more alone, he says, citing statistics. “Those numbers have been bad for our health. Socially isolated individuals are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and mental deterioration. Obesity is on the rise, as is depression. Loneliness is killing us.

“. . . The bonds that unite us are breaking. And it’s only getting worse. As society fractures, can anything hold us together?”

Grimm answers: “Cats and dogs just might. Companion animals keep us anchored to the real world. You can’t play with your dog on Facebook. You can’t cuddle your cat with a Tweet. Their love and warmth are the antidote to an increasingly cold and indifferent society. And their presence in our lives fills a void left by disappearing friends and family.

“As pets become people, they become the saviors of society. And they truly earn their citizenship.”

There are tailwinds and headwinds in this emotional bumpy ride but there is rich nourishment for thought throughout. In that context, “Citizen Canine” is the “Full Meal Deal.” An arresting and valuable overview, it’s packed with inspiration and imagination for our future relationship with our four-legged friends.