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Identity Complex

The September-October issue of

The September-October issue of Animal Sheltering featured a partial interview with sociologist Arnold Arluke, whose recent book Just a Dog examines how different groups contextualize animal cruelty. Much of his book explores the experiences of those working in the humane field—shelter staff, humane law enforcement officers, even shelter marketers, who garner public support through stories of cruelty cases. Associate Editor Carrie Allan continues the interview here with Arluke’s observations on euthanasia-related dynamics in animal shelters.

Animal Sheltering: Much of your book, Just a Dog, deals with giving cruelty a context as part of building a personal identity. How much of that do you think is conscious?

Arnold Arluke: For the most part, it’s not. A lot of what makes us who we are, we don’t articulate because it’s too in front of us and we don’t have the language to do that. It may be the hardest question to ask people: Who are you or what are you? It stops them. There were some exceptions where people did specifically talk about identities, and that was shelter workers. Frankly, when I talked to many “no kill” workers, a lot of their rejection of much of euthanasia … is also rooted in their desire to go back to what they think shelter workers should always have been. [It’s that idea that] “somewhere along the way we got sidetracked and we got stuck with this awful, dirty job of doing euthanasia, but can’t we go back to our original roots?” And that to me is very specific identity talk: “Who are we?”

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