Placing Animals (Urbanik) pt. 1

“Geography is central to both our everyday interactions with animals and to academic interest in understanding the variety of human-animal relationships around the world” (3). For me, that quote could not sum up the premise of this book, Placing Animals, any more than it already has. The increasing relevance of this topic astounds me. The consumption patterns and economic system our society thrives on is causing more and more environmental concern. I feel like if our ancestors could see us now they would be really confused. Why do we export animals and their flesh so far and wide? Why has increased availability meant decreasing sustainability? I had a lot of questions when I began this book and I’m glad Urbanik approached the topic in such an academic and informative way.

Similar concepts arose in this book that have appeared in other works we have read. One recurring theme is the value or worth of animals. Some view them as equal to humans (Singer) while others view them as objects, or lesser than humans. Some see animals as being here only to serve humans. The diagram on pg. 77 I think illustrated that category perfectly. Working animals were broken down into three categories: Education, Service, and Entertainment. I’m fascinated by the notion that humans expect animals to be there for their use but most have no idea how they got there. One example would be how animals arrive at zoos. I work at The Toledo Zoo and I remember people always being amazed watching the video of our crocodile, Baru, arriving in the Toledo airport. It was as though they thought he just materialized in his cage one day.

Another chapter that interested me was Chapter Three, Geographies of More-than-Human Homes and Cultures. “Pet animals allure in part because they can be anything and anyone you want them to be” (57). My family has four pets (cat, dog, and two fish) and often I wonder how we accumulated so many. I risk sounding harsh but what is “the point”, exactly?  I once saw a documentary on how our society chooses to treat homeless individuals and something that was said really resonated with me. One of the homeless individuals said something like “People see me and turn away but if there is a puppy on the street there are families rushing to take it in.” Why do we, as a society, tend to categorize animals as having less worth than us but feel the need to rescue them over a human?

This book so far has helped me to better understand human-animal relations and animal geography as a whole. I’m excited to continue reading.

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