The remarkable Katja M. Guenther, PhD joins the podcast this week for an eye-opening interview about companion animal shelters and their practices, and the intersections of poverty, race, stigma, and animals. This is an interview you won’t want to miss. Dr. Guenther, a sociologist and author of The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals, describes her three years of ethnographic research at a high-intake shelter in Los Angeles and uses what she learned there to discuss the dichotomy between our love for the animals we claim to treat as our best friends and our continued use of shelter killing as a ‘solution’ to unhoused companion animals who live in underserved communities. She breaks down how shelters may deflect blame onto what they characterize as “irresponsible owners” instead of looking at the social problems that give rise to situations which result in harsh, and often deadly, outcomes for animals. She also discusses acts of resistance by both the humans and the animals in the shelter and explains why she believes animal rescue and shelter advocates should be doing more to end poverty.
Katja M. Guenther is a Professor of Gender & Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Riverside. Her main areas of research, writing, and activism are feminist politics and the human exploitation of non-human animals. Her newest book, The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals, is the 2021 recipient of the Distinguished Book Award given by the American Sociological Association’s Section on Animals & Society. She is currently developing a feminist analysis of how rescuers of companion and free-roaming animals represent and negotiate those relationships. She is also researching the roles community (“feral”) cats occupy in low-income communities and the relationships they build with human caregivers.
“People who are involved in animal rescue—if they’re truly committed to helping companion animals stay with their original guardians […] and avoiding the severing or disruption of relationships with companion animals—absolutely need to be doing more to work against poverty.” – Katja Guenther
- The dramatic contrast between what happens to animals in wealthier communities when they lose their homes, as opposed to those in poor communities.
- How pit bulls epitomize attitudes towards Black masculinity and how shelter policies against pit bulls can act to discriminate racially
- Adverse conditions that pit bulls experience at the shelter, regardless of any kind of behavior testing
- How not to fall into the trap of equating poverty with irresponsibility towards companion animals
- Resistance, both from humans and animals, to policies within animal shelters
- How mourning becomes an act of defiance
Connect with Katja Guenther:
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