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Behavior Science Blog

My webinar notes are written out and sketched on my ipad Pro using the notability app. I welcome feedback, questions, discussion, corrections. Some of these notes may be reworked into infographics in the future.

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Reading BAD DOG

Reading BAD DOG: Pit Bull Politics and Multispecies Justice, by Harlan Weaver.


Interspecies Intersectionality (what Harlan Weaver calls multispecies transformative justice) is something I have been interested in since reading AFRO-DOG. How can we think and talk about justice for humans and non-human animals TOGETHER without stumbling into problematic analogies - eg, the way that dog breeds like Pit Bulls are racialized, and the way Black people/POCs are animalized.


These analogies are in themselves racist.


How do we KNOW what we know and how can we change the WAY WE KNOW what we know?


The lines that are drawn between how we perceive good vs bad humans, and good vs bad dogs are never neutral or objective. Our biases are always shaped by our race, class, gender, citizenship, and the omnipresent white settler-colonial "saviorism" narratives which drive the privately-funded rescue industry.


The NO KILL/Save them from Death Row type of rescue narrative - is deeply shaped by settler colonialist saviorism - drawing the lines between good vs bad people and good vs bad dogs, where "Good people are the ones who save dogs from bad people".


Examples of white savior narratives:

POC/ houseless people ---> bad (irresponsible dog owners, animal abusers)

white nuclear family with house and fenced yard ---> good

Poor/houseless person who surrenders dog to shelter ---> bad Rescue that pulls dog from shelter and "flips" them, where rescue = "transitioning dogs (not their humans) to a more affluent class" ---> good


pit bull type dog with houseless person ---> bad person, "dangerous off-leash dog" *I am guilty of having had this knee-jerk reaction pit bull type dog rescued by white family with nice instagram ---> saviors, good dog


Michael Vick ---> target of media vitriol, animalized ("euthanize him!" outrage)

Communities of white men who fight dogs ---> nobody takes their dogs away


Fighting dogs, stray dogs, meat dogs ---> must be saved from their (non-white) situations and adopted by affluent families


How the No-Kill movement works:

  • This stigma around euthanasia is used to drive adoptions. Shelter dogs who are about to be killed - "death row dogs" (note: race analogy used to save dogs, but not the humans) get pushed out first because they have a good sob story. Which means that the dogs who are doing fine/not yet fucked up - instead of getting adopted faster - in fact, experience a longer slower death or are at risk of developing behavioral health issues by the time they are adopted. This No-Kill marketing is in fact fucking up shelter dogs.

  • The stigma around euthanasia also means that dogs with seriously dangerous behavioral issues will still get adopted out and pose a public safety issue. And if not adopted - they spend the rest of their lives behind bars. What sort of life is it to wait for a natural death in solitary confinement? Is euthanasia not the kinder path?

Harlan Weaver: how can we find justice to help marginalized humans and dogs stay together in the first place? How can we stop dogs from entering shelters in the first place, or how can we change the shelter environment to support humans and dogs?


In the shelter/rescue world, we too often project our human feelings and stories onto dogs.

  • "Bad" behaviors are blamed on breed labels. There are biases about breeds. Are Animal Control Officers even qualified enough to make temperament assessments? Most ACOs don't have any training in reading dog body language.

  • The "he was abused in the past" or "his previous owners were bad people" types of stories which reinforce the feelgood feelings of adopting a stressed dog. This saviorism - in the form of stories and labels - is really the human's story about the dog.

  • All these labels and stories erase what the dog is actually feeling, saying NOW.... This is why reading dog body language is so important.

The focus could instead be on helping people (with or without houses, all levels of income) keep their pets, care for their pets, and not have their dogs live in shelters in the first place. Harlan is also in favor of free/open adoptions.


Ideally, shelters should help people stay with their dogs - eg, provide free vet services and R+ training resources. Actively search for missing dogs and reunite people with their dogs (instead of penalizing them for losing their dogs and trying to get them back). Shelters should be places of CARE for both humans and their dogs, providing true *shelter* or free pet sitting services. Instead, current shelters are run by the police who misread dog body language.


Seeing my name printed more than once in this book makes me feel so much gratitude to all the people I have worked with/for over the past 10 years. And I am proud to see my work channeled into this area of discussion and change.


Chapter 2. Thinking with BODY LANGUAGE / BODILY SENSIBILITIES -- to be continued in a future blog post


**I get a lot of requests from authors wanting my Doggie Language illustration in their book. I want to make it clear that due to copyright reasons, my Doggie Language is not available for licensing/publishing in any books. I made an exception for BAD DOG because it is a academic critical theory book and not affiliated with any commercial brands/dog training businesses.

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