BOOKS: First Friends

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1995:

First Friends
by Katherine M. Rogers
St. Martin’s Press
(175 Fifth Avenue, New York,
N.Y. 10010), 2005.
263 pages, paperback. $24.95.
The title is carefully chosen
for this history of the interaction of dogs
and humans. Note that it is “First
Friends‚” and not “Best Friends.”
Katherine M. Rogers, in this
erudite and sometimes repetitively thor-
ough treatise on the use and treatment of
dogs in English and classical literature,
deals in depth with the two extremes:
dog lovers and dog detesters.

“For some people dogs are no
more than beasts, and it is fatuous, if
not impious,” Rogers writes, “to value
them in anything like human terms.”
Rogers places herself between
the two extremes, adopting the phrase
“dog interested,” meaning that she
believes dogs should be well treated but
that it is better for both dogs and humans
if dogs are kept a subordinate place.
Chapters entitled “How the
Partnership Started,” “Hunting Dogs,”
“Working Dogs,” “Dogs in the 19th
Century,” and “Dogs used as Surrogates
for Humans” accurately describe the
In “Dogs as Equals,” Rogers
deplores the trend among some modern
writers to exaggerate egalitarian feelings
to the point of denying any differences
between the sensibilities, priorities, and
rightful claims of dogs and humans.
Writers who ridicule such sentimental
anthropomorphising are quoted with evi-
dent approval.
Rogers’ book might provide
an interesting basis for examining
broader social, political, and religious
implications of dog companionship, but
this lies beyond the scope of a review.
The Roman Catholic catechism, teach-
ings associated with conservative Islam,
and socialism as interpreted by Mao
Tse-Tung each offer a prominent exam-
ple of “humanitarian” doctrine express-
ing deep offense at the alleged pamper-
ing of useless pets while millions of
humans remain in desperate need.
In other words, though loving
dogs cuts completely across socio/politi-
cal class lines, how we treat our dogs is
often represented as a class issue.
Speaking for myself, one of
my favorite ANIMAL PEOPLE f e a-
tures is the obituaries page, where I find
I am just as interested in the animal obit-
uaries as in those of humans.
Put me among the dog lovers.
––Chris Mercer
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