Citizen Canine

David Grimm / PublicAffairs / 352 pages

Given that more than 90 percent of Americans believe that their dog or cat is a family member, is it time for the law to recognize companion animals as people under the law? In this provocative and meticulously well-researched book, author David Grimm, a deputy news editor at Science and a journalism instructor at Johns Hopkins University, explores that question as he delves into our long history with domestic dogs and cats.

Until recently legal protections for companion animals have been sparse. Even today, the law’s treatment of the intrinsic value of an animal’s life is unclear: “As the law now stands in Texas,” Grimm notes, “you can recover more money if someone destroys a picture of your dog than if they destroy your dog itself.”

In one of the book’s most poignant chapters, Grimm visits New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a disaster that killed more than 1,800 people and 150,000 pets. Katrina was a catalyst for enormous change, including enactment of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Safety (PETS) Act, which incorporates pets into federal disaster plans and treats them as people when it comes to such things as evacuation and sheltering.

While many see the granting of personhood to animals as a natural evolution of social justice that began with race and gender equality, the legal issues are complex. In any case, Canine Citizen is a fascinating read that will make you think about our evolving relationship with dogs and cats like no other book.

—Caroline Griffin, Esq.