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What it is to be a Dog: A Qualitative Method for the Study of Animals Other than Humans

By Kenneth J. Shapiro

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"Anima-a-al!" apparently is the most vilifying invective that the playwright Arthur Miller can dredge up to signify the calumny, the otherness, the radical betrayal by his ItaloAmerican protagonist of his community (Miller, l960). Somehow, "vegetabl-l-le!" would not do. How did animals, that is nonhuman animals (I will use the former term for the latter in this essay) gain this freighting?

Sabaka is a dog that is a member of my family. ("Sabaka" is Russian for dog.) My family is not peculiar in considering an animal as a family member, as 68% of the respondents in a study of pet-owners do so (Cain, 1985). We love Sabaka but does he love us, and how? Somewhat over one half of the households in the United States have a dog or a cat, a population of 90 million animals (Rowan, 1986). Even if some of these pet owners would not admit it if asked or even explicitly think it to themselves, I believe that most of us live with our pets as if we had a sense of their allegiance, of their feelings, of roughly, their experience. Is this sense reflective of these animals' experience (can I even use that term in speaking of animals) or is it merely reflective of our present social construction of this segment of our reality?

We have two questions: Can we know the experience of an animal -- does Marco really know what he is referring to when he attributes animality to Eddie Carbone in Miller's play; can I know if and in what sense Sabaka really loves me? Second, how did the term "animal" come to bear such an ambivalent set of images and symbols as suggested by our two examples; and, more critically to our concerns, what, if anything, is the relation of that ambivalence to the animal's actual experience?


Mason N McLary

HABRI Central

Date 2003
Publication Title The Humanistic Psychologist
Volume 31
Issue 4
Pages 67-96
Publisher The Humane Society
Location of Publication Washington, D.C.
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Animals
  3. Dogs
  4. Experience
  5. Knowledge
  6. Love
  7. Mammals
  8. Pets and companion animals
  9. Qualitative Research
  10. Wild animals