ABSTRACT

In 2012, there were approximately 60 million dogs in the European Union;1 83 million in the United States;2 and 36 million in Brazil. Pet ownership among the middle classes is a relatively recent phenomenon in China, yet there are already 27 million dogs in Chinese households.3 India has the fastest growing dog population in the world, with a growth rate of 58.1 percent from 2007 to 2012.4 These figures suggest that dogs, like modern appliances, are a constant of consumer culture, embodying, through the trope of domesticity, the aspirational ethos of middle-class prosperity. From among the extraordinary variety of dog breeds that humans have domesticated and selectively invented over time, dog owners are able to choose the size, color, appearance, personality, and attributes of a dog that best fits their idea of themselves as social actors. You need not be a hunter to purchase a Labrador Retriever, who, according to the American Kennel Club, is a “friendly, active, outgoing” dog with the “temperament to be a family companion.”5 Nor need you be particularly active or smart to get a Poodle, who is, which is perhaps why he has “an air of distinction and dignity peculiar to himself.”6 If you own sheep, you might consider a Border Collie, a “remarkably smart workaholic” who is not “adverse to a good cuddle.”7 Allergic to dog hair? Why not try a Mexican Xoloitzcuintli, who, besides being hairless, is “calm, tranquil, aloof, and attentive.”8 Most dog breeds, moreover, seem to embody national traits, so if you feel like expressing the German in you, you can opt for a Pointer, a Pinscher, or a Shepherd. Or perhaps that mutt resignedly eyeing you from a cage in your local dog shelter embodies your cherished democratic ideals. In every case, these walking, breathing, and occasionally irascible animals have become personifications of human social conventions, many of which not only tend to repress their animal natures, but, in doing so, also minimize the animality of the human that breeds them.