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If You Tame Me

If You Tame Me: Understanding Our Connection With Animals

Leslie Irvine
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    If You Tame Me
    Book Description:

    Nearly everyone who cares about them believes that dogs and cats have a sense of self that renders them unique. Traditional science and philosophy declare such notions about our pets to be irrational and anthropomorphic. Animals, they say, have only the crudest form of thought and no sense of self at all. Leslie Irvine'sIf You Tame Mechallenges these entrenched views by demonstrating that our experience of animals and their behavior tells a different story. Dogs and cats have been significant elements in human history and valued members of our households for centuries. Why do we regard these companions as having distinct personalities and as being irreplaceable? Leslie Irvine looks closely at how people form "connections" with dogs and cats available in adoption shelters and reflects on her own relationships with animals.If You Tame Memakes a persuasive case for the existence of a sense of self in companion animals and calls upon us to reconsider our rights and obligations regarding the non-human creatures in our lives.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-791-6
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword: To Know Them Is to Be Them
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Mark Bekoff

    Most human beings form close attachments with at least some non-human animal beings (a.k.a. “animals”), usually companion animals (a.k.a. “pets”) such as dogs and cats. Often those who are not sure about how they feel about other animals have a sort of love–hate relationship with them, even if they cannot articulate why. That is how closely we are tied into the lives of other animals, whether we like it or not. I have been studying various aspects of the social behavior and cognitive and emotional capacities of animals for more than three decades, and I begin my studies by...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: The Fox’s Wisdom
    (pp. 1-11)

    This is a study of how the animals who share our lives influence who we are. It is based on several sources of data collected during three years of research. Most of this research took place in my work as a volunteer at a humane society that I refer to as “The Shelter.” I also interviewed people who were adopting and surrendering animals, and I observed them as they came to look at homeless dogs and cats. In addition, I observed and interviewed people at community dog parks and drew on my own reflections about a lifetime of living with...

  6. 1 How and Why
    (pp. 12-32)

    This research focuses on our bonds with dogs and cats for several reasons. First, they are numerically the most popular companion animals in the United States, with nearly 60 percent of all households including either or both species (American Veterinary Medical Association 2002).¹ Granted, many households include fish, birds, rabbits, hamsters, reptiles, ferrets, and other animals. However, all of the “specialty” or “exotic” animals taken together occupy only about 10 percent of American households. Second, few other species can share our lives and our homes in the ways that dogs and cats are able to. Although some people have rabbits...

  7. 2 Them and Us
    (pp. 33-56)

    There can be no single answer to the question of why people form relationships with dogs and cats because our relationships with them have not been of a universal, standard type that could generate a once-and-for-all explanation. Although people have lived with dogs and cats for ages, the meaning of doing so has varied significantly over time. Living with a wild animal one has captured and tamed differs from true domestication, and in neither case is the animal necessarily a pet. A pet has surpassed categorization as an animal. Animals, in contrast, are often nameless, which makes it easier for...

  8. 3 From Pets to Companion Animals
    (pp. 57-77)

    If we could go back in time to survey Western people’s views of animals across the centuries, I am certain of one thing: Most would not describe animals as thinking, feeling partners in social interaction. Some would surely express great affection for animals, but few would describe animals as having selves akin to the human experience of selfhood. By the late 1990s, however, that would have changed enough for scholars to begin taking notice. InUnderstanding Dogs, Sanders (1999, 3) found that a majority of people who lived and worked with dogs defined them “as thoughtful, reciprocating, emotional beings with...

  9. 4 Looking at Animals/Glimpses of Selves
    (pp. 78-88)

    One of the most contested implications of our continuity with other species is the possibility of animal selfhood. I argue that animals help to shape our identities because they bring selves of their own to the interaction. As most people who live with animals know, animal selfhood becomes present in long-term human–animal relationships. However, it is apparent even in brief and periodic interactions, such as those I observed among people visiting homeless animals at The Shelter. These clients constitute a category distinct from those who intend to adopt, and I examine the latter group’s interaction with animals in the...

  10. 5 The Adopters: Making a Match
    (pp. 89-115)

    Here is a description, drawn from my field notes, of one “type” of potential adopter:

    I have in my hand a list of dogs to photograph for the website when The Shelter opens for the day and the first clients arrive. One of them is a woman who has been looking for just the right dog. She adopted a cocker spaniel mix about a year ago. At the time, she had an elderly beagle, but the dog since died and she now wants a second dog as company for the spaniel. She wants another beagle, between two and four years...

  11. 6 Rethinking the Self: Mead’s Myopia
    (pp. 116-125)

    The observations I made in the adoption areas may ring true for many readers, who perhaps identify with the adopters’ feelings of connection or the visitors’ pleasure in seeing and interacting with animals. Familiar as these observations may seem, however, they alone do not offer a theory for understanding our relationships with animals. The theory emerges by searching for the theme that underlies the pleasures and concerns of human–animal interaction. That theme, I argue, is the sense of self. Animals confirm and enrich that sense in us. To do so, animals must also have selves. In other words, animals...

  12. 7 Self versus Other: The Core Self
    (pp. 126-146)

    We know the selves of animals in the same ways that we know the selves of other people. Two processes occur simultaneously. First, animals’ subjectivity becomes available to us because the elements of a core self become visible through interaction. Animals, like people, are born with the capacities for core selfhood. These capacities then allow for and depend on interaction and relationships, which in turn elucidate and engage additional senses of self. The capacities for the core self do not depend on language. In humans, these core capacities appear in the first few months of life (see Stern 1985). Human...

  13. 8 Self with Other: Intersubjectivity
    (pp. 147-171)

    The woman sat at her kitchen counter with a fresh cup of coffee in front of her. She picked up the phone and called her HMO to resolve a billing dispute. The task had stretched out for so long that it had begun to feel like a full-time job, and a dead-end one at that. Each time another “customer service representative” put her on hold or transferred her call to yet another department, she grew more frustrated. Each new voice required another telling of the story, another reading off of dates and policy numbers. After listening to the annoying on-hold...

  14. Conclusion: Putting Theory into Practice
    (pp. 172-184)

    In this book, I have conceptualized the selves of animals in a way that highlights the similarities with the selves that we experience as humans. In particular, I have shown how elements of a “core self” and a capacity to share thoughts, intentions, and emotions become apparent during our interaction with animals. This idea challenges the conventional, language-centered concept of the self. The symbolic-interactionist tradition, which is where the sociological study of the self is located, maintains that selfhood is an exclusively human accomplishment that relies on the use of symbols, chiefly language. In contrast, I have argued that, although...

  15. Appendix: Methods
    (pp. 185-190)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 191-202)
  17. References
    (pp. 203-218)
  18. Index
    (pp. 219-223)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 224-224)