How social class might affect a family’s view of its pet

Some sociologists have examined the relationship between people and their pets. Indeed, there is even an American Sociological Association section titled  “Animals and Society” (read their rationale here).  Here are the thoughts of two sociologists on this dynamic between pets and their owners:

Sociologist Elizabeth Terrien discovered in a study of dog owners that people from rural backgrounds view dogs more as guardians that should be kept outside. More affluent people tend to see their pets more as children and describe them in terms such as “child,” “companion” or “partner in crime.”

Terrien found that those with Latino backgrounds were more likely to use the term “protector” or “toy” to describe their pet’s role.

Carey also refers to sociologist David Blouin’s three main categories of pet owners:

Dominionists,” who view pets as useful but replaceable helpers. Many of the people in this category in Blouin’s study were immigrants from rural areas.

Humanists,” who pamper their pet much like a human child, let their pets sleep in their beds or leave money in their will.

Protectionists,” who have strong opinions about how animals should be treated and decide what they think is “best” for an animal (untying a dog tethered to a tree, for instance, or determining when a dog should be put down).

I wonder if we could map these ideas on top of Annette Lareau’s ideas about class and parenting styles in Unequal Childhoods. Lareau suggests that lower-class parents practice the accomplishment of natural growth, a more independent view of children and not encouraging children to challenge external authorities, where middle- and upper-class parents practice concerted cultivation where children are encouraged to speak up and parents give children the activities and cultural tools to get ahead. These categories seem to line up with the idea of these two sociologists: pets are more replaceable and functional for lower-class people (“dominionists”) while pets take are much closer to family members in more wealthy families (“humanists” and “protectionists”).

I also wonder if there is work comparing the treatment of children in families to treatment of pets. What might the impact of this be on children?

Additionally, it sounds like there could be some value judgment regarding which of the three approaches is most appropriate. How do “humanists” and “protectionists” view “dominionists”?

Quick Review: The Cove

On the surface, The Cove is not a typical film that I would watch: a documentary about nature. But I found The Cove to be engaging. A few thoughts about this award-winning 2008 documentary:

1. The story follows the actions of Richard O’Barry as he tries to expose the slaughter of dolphins in a protected cove in Taiji, Japan. O’Barry’s backstory is very interesting: he was the trainer for Flipper but immediately switched sides to protect dolphins after one of the show’s dolphins died (he says she committed suicide) in his arms. O’Barry assembles a team of people to help expose what is going on in Taiji as some in that community attempt to stop him. To me, O’Barry is the heart of this film – his decision and actions to try to save dolphins shows remarkable dedication and stubbornness in the face of difficult odds.

2. It is hard not to like dolphins: they are intelligent and are graceful. But O’Barry suggests one part of their appearance that may work against them: they appear to humans to always be smiling and this masks the times when they are in pain or are suffering.

3. Why do whales and dolphins get all of this attention, both in this film and from zoo or aquarium attendees? There are plenty of animals that are mistreated and locked up. There has to be an interesting social history here.

4. One of the side plots in this film is Japan’s role in the International Whaling Commission. This international body has difficulty stopping Japan from doing anything. Again, this could be a whole story or film in itself: how Japan skirts international law and advisories to conduct whaling activities.

5. One strong point of this documentary is that O’Barry’s team actually attempts to do something (and it is set up like the plot of some action film) as opposed to documentaries where people talk the whole time and viewers are shown statistics.

Overall, I enjoyed this film: the fight against what happens in Taiji, Japan makes for an interesting tale.

(This film was highly rated by critics: it is 96% fresh at with 116 fresh reviews out of 121 total.)

The presence of coyotes in cities and suburbs

Residents of cities across the United States have reported seeing coyotes in recent years. This has been an issue around Wheaton, Illinois: earlier this year, I even had the opportunity to be about 100 feet behind a car that hit a coyote walking across a busy road.

Among other discussions, such as the exact background of coyotes, researchers suggest coyotes are long-term residents in urban areas:

Even in their new habitat of the great metropolises, with nary a sheep in sight, the coyote finds itself, at best, a nervously tolerated visitor. In recent years, urbanites have been simultaneously charmed and disturbed by coyotes strolling in Central Park, trotting into a Quiznos restaurant in downtown Chicago and taking a dash around a federal courthouse in Detroit. Such news is, more often than not, soon followed by the news that the coyote has been rounded up and removed. It doesn’t seem to matter that coyotes are relatively harmless, as researchers point out, as any person or pet is much more likely to be injured or even killed by a domestic dog.

Neither does it seem to matter that the removal of a single showy coyote is unlikely to leave a city clear of these animals, or even give any sense of just how many coyotes a given city harbors. Dr. Gehrt said that when he began his research he would have guessed there were some 50 to 100 coyotes in the Chicago metropolitan area. After a decade of radio tracking and genetic analyses, he knows better. Dr. Gehrt said he conservatively estimates the number of these rarely seen creatures at more than 2,000.

The coyote is out there, and it is here to stay.

I would have liked to have seen more discussion in this article about why coyotes have returned to urban areas in such large numbers.

Seeing a coyote is also a reminder than even our most urbanized areas, like Manhattan or built-up suburbs, are closer to nature than we often think.

Planning animal-shaped communities

The government of Southern Sudan has plans to create new cities in the shape of animals. The picture at the top of the news story of a city planned in the shape of a rhino is fascinating.

But there are some problems with this plan:

The $10.1 billion multi-decade project to re-create Southern Sudan’s 10 state capitals into elaborately-shaped dream towns may sound Dubai-esque — only Southern Sudan is no Dubai.

Actually, it is one of the poorest places on earth.

The undeveloped region — which lacks any paved roads outside its three main cities — is part of Africa’s largest nation, Sudan, which is ruled by the Khartoum government South Sudanese fought against for most of the past half century in two long civil wars.

But Southern Sudan expects to achieve independence next year through a January secession referendum promised in a 2005 peace deal that granted the war-torn region self-rule until the vote.

Even without the unique city designs, the multi-billion dollar price tag alone was sure to turn heads. Southern Sudan’s total budget for 2010 is less than $2 billion, 98 percent of which comes from the oil revenues it hopes will fund its postwar re-construction.

If Dubai can construct islands in the shape of palms, can a currently non-existent government build cities in the shape of giraffes? It sounds like there are a lot of hurdles to clear before these development plans become reality.