BOOKS: Companion Animals in Society

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2010:

Companion Animals in Society by Stephen Zawistowski
Cengage Learning, Inc. (P.O. Box 6904, Florence, KY 41022), 2008.
560 pages, hardcover. $84.95.

What is a companion animal? American SPCA executive vice
president Stephen L. Zawistowski starts Companion Animals in Society
with definitions offered by Jared Diamond and the late former ASPCA
president Roger Caras. An impressive body of research, Companion
Animals in Society is loaded with references, graphs, and charts.
Each chapter concludes with questions, hinting that the intended
readership may be university students enrolled in an introductory
survey course–perhaps Companion Animals 1-A.


Though Companion Animals in Society reviews topics such as
puppy mills, animals and human health, and the pet food industry,
it does not delve deeper than routine media coverage. It does,
however, bring together subjects that are seldom covered together
outside of ANIMAL PEOPLE. Zawistowski describes the evolution of
animal shelters, beginning in New York City with opposition to the
19th century practice of drowning stray dogs in the East River;
discusses pound seizure, perhaps the most contentious issue in
humane work during the mid-to-late 20th century; and outlines the
Asilomar Accords, which were written to reduce friction between
conventional and no-kill animal shelters, but may have had the
opposite effect.
A section about discrimination against disabled people and
their service dogs includes relevant language from the Americans with
Disabilities Act.
“People who use service animals cannot be discriminated
against by privately owned businesses that serve the public,”
Zawistowski writes. But reality falls short of the intent of the
law. Thousands of disabled people file complaints with the
Department of Justice every year because service dogs are still
denied access to public places. Violations also occur in public
housing. Conversely, many people claim bogus disabilities as a
pretext to take pets–even pythons–into public places as purported
service animals. Undocumented “service dogs” have mauled people and
other animals, including authentic service dogs, increasing
pressure on the Department of Justice to tighten the Americans with
Disabilities Act enforcement rules.
Zawistowsky discusses legal issues which might at a glance
appear to have little to do with companion animals–for example, the
workings of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species. Exotic pets, however, often are protected to some extent
by a listing on one of the three CITES appendices. Unfortunately,
CITES has not stopped poachers –including exotic pet traders–from
driving some species to the verge of extinction, and not just in the
developing world. Pet trafficking is also the leading threat to some
reptile species right here in the U.S.
Companion animals in the U.S. are increasingly protected by
law, and enforcement of laws against cruelty to companion animals
has rapidly improved in recent decades. Dogfighting, long illegal,
is now much more aggressively investigated and prosecuted. Puppy
millers more often go to jail now, or pay hefty fines for committing
mass neglect. Some communities and even states now limit how long
dogs may be chained outdoors. But a wide gap has developed between
the protection extended to dogs and cats, and the treatment of
cattle, pigs, chickens and other farmed species, who still have
virtually no protection from gruesome cruelty on factory farms, in
transport, and at slaughter.
Veterinary medicine, Zawistowski explains, originally
addressed economic concerns. Horses and oxen powered agrarian
societies, so veterinary care evolved first to keep these animals
fit for work.
For those new to the animal field, or young people
interested in developing a career in animal welfare work, Companion
Animals in Society would be a worthwhile investment. Discussions of
canine sports, kennel clubs, bomb-sniffing dogs, dog training,
animal hoarding, and the origins of cat litter provide a glimpse of
what the companion animal field is all about. But for all you old
dogs, there’s not much you haven’t already sniffed out somewhere
else. –Debra J. White

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