BOOKS: Dog Love
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1996:
by Marjorie Garber
Simon & Schuster (1230 Avenue of the Americas,
New York, NY 10020), 1996. 346 pp., $24, hardback.
Marjorie Garber, director of the Center for Literary
and Cultural Studies at Harvard, is perhaps best known for two
groundbreaking scholarly works on what used to be called
abnormal sexuality––Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism
of Everyday Life and Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and
Cultural Anxiety. Both challenged readers to rethink perceptions
of just what “normal” means.
Not surprisingly, Garber is at her best in Dog Love
when discussing the sexual aspects of dog-keeping, both overt
and covert, normal and aberant, from sexual self-identification
with the dog, a common factor in male reluctance to neuter
dogs, to active sexual involvement with dogs. Her discussion
is frank without being smarmy, she cites verifiable sources,
and would seem credible but for two points.
First, Garber seems to argue from literary accounts
through the ages that dogs are uniquely preferred by women for
extra-species exploits, without considering the importance of
access, and with scarce mention that most of the literary
accounts come from men whose credibility on the subject of
female sexuality is––to put it politely––suspect. Indeed, her
thesis was previously advanced about 20 years ago by one Jack
Saunders, in a briefly notorious semi-pornographic novel called
Trailer Park Tramp.
Contemporary literature would suggest that today dolphins
are more often the objects of female bestial fantasy and
desire, and a generation ago, horses; and common sense
would place the emphasis on fantasy, as well as making some
passing mention of the possibility that in such fantasies the
fantacizer is also one of the animals in question.
Second, Garber cheerfully quotes the late Alfred
Kinsey’s 1948 and 1953 assertions about the frequency of bestiality––8%
for men, 3.5% for women––without acknowledging,
as is now widely known, that Kinsey seriously compromised
his data, taken from face-to-face interviews, by relying
excessively on the exhibitionists and prostitutes of both sexes
who were most willing to talk with him. The beatnik writers
William Burroughs and Herbert Huncke were among Kinsey’s
major interviewees and procurers of other interviewees; both
were also noted throughout their lives for their devotion to
shock. As Garber fails to recognize, other serious investigators
of bestiality have never found a fraction as much of it. Cruelty
prosecution reports collected by ANIMAL PEOPLE, for
instance, indicate that while feelings of sexual inadequacy and
frustration are among the major motivations for animal abuse,
overt sexual behavior with animals is involved in the offense for
which an abuser is convicted less than 1% of the time.
Gardner also fails to mention that even if Kinsey’s
data wasn’t compromised, masturbating dogs and cats to alleviate
behavioral problems was much more common in Kinsey’s
era than since the advent of readily accessible surgical neutering.
Even now, discussion of how and when to stimulate a dog
or cat to relieve heat can be found among fancy-breeders’ publications
and online bulletin boards, with the tips on killing fleas.
Garber gets off a howler, as well, in comparing stories
by Milan Kundera and Jack London. “What is therefore
remarkable is that the unconditional completeness of love is
experienced from both sides,” she writes. “The dog completely
loves the man; the woman completely loves the dog.” This
may be true, but we have only the narrators’ word for it, both
of whom are human.
This is quibbling. If as Ambrose Bierce put it, a
novel is a short story padded, Dog Love is a readable and
provocative treatise on sexuality, rounded out to commercially
viable size with other observations on canine/human relationships
that seem to have been plucked from Internet newswires
and regurgitated whole. That’s also quibbling. Think of the
first two chapters and the last three as the plain brown wrapper
that enabled the publisher to distribute Dog Love through mainstream
bookstores, and enables readers to peruse the rest in a
public place without excessive self-consciousness. Agreeing or
disagreeing with anything Garber says, one must acknowledge
that once again she’s broken difficult ground, this time in an
area that humane workers may benefit by understanding.