BOOKS: First Friends

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2005:

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 thorough 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
contents.
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 evident
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, teachings associated
with conservative Islam, and socialism as
interpreted by Mao Tse-Tung each offer a
prominent example of “humanitarian” doctrine
expressing deep offense at the alleged pampering
of useless pets while millions of humans remain
in desperate need.
In other words, though loving dogs cuts
completely across socio/political class lines,
how we treat our dogs is often represented as a
class issue.
Speaking for myself, one of my favorite
Animal People features is the obituaries page,
where I find I am just as interested in the
animal obituaries as in those of humans.
Put me among the dog lovers.
–Chris Mercer
<www.cannedlion.co.za>

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