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The Context of Cruelty

Since the mid-1980s, Arnold Arluke has been watching us.

Since the mid-1980s, Arnold Arluke has been watching us.

Don’t be creeped out: It’s a good thing. Arluke is a professor of sociology and anthropology at Northeastern University and senior scholar at Tufts University’s Center for Animals and Public Policy. His most recent book, Just a Dog: Understanding Animal Cruelty and Ourselves, is a fascinating and provocative examination of the subject of animal abuse.

Instead of looking at the animals’ experience, he looks at those who try to help them—humane law enforcement officers and shelter workers—and observes how they attempt to process and understand cruelty. Arluke’s subject matter is broad in scope, covering everything from the experiences of hoarders to the “no kill”/open-admission debate. The book even devotes some pages to a discussion of marketers who rely on cruelty cases to generate support for shelters.

Essential reading for those with an interest in the humane movement, Just a Dog is likely to create some controversy in the field because of its questions about some of our core beliefs—most notably, the presumed link between animal cruelty and violence towards people. Animal Sheltering associate editor Carrie Allan spoke to Arluke about his research; excerpts of that interview appear here.

How did you get involved in studying people who work with animals?
I’m a sociologist, so I got involved in this not so much as an advocate [but] more as someone who’s interested in the culture of laboratories and science that made it possible for people to do these animal experiments without assuming that they are fundamentally flawed or sadistic. I found that when I was doing that work, the whole area of human-animal relationships opened up to me as this gold mine, really, of fascinating relationships. And when I was studying their euthanasia of animals—which they call “sacrificing”—they kept saying, “Well, you should go to shelters because they do this euthanizing full time.”

Why did you start looking at animal cruelty particularly?
I was talking to someone [in the early ’90s] about research that I was doing on the relationship of animal abuse to subsequent violence toward humans. And the person I was speaking with suggested that, as a sociologist, I might come at the issue of cruelty in a very fresh and new way.

 Read the full article.


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