Dog Sweaters and Bees
People and their pets. There is definitely a fascination there that ventures into the bizarre. I’ve heard of pets as companions, but never thought of them as social distinctions. I suppose that it shouldn’t strike me as odd—if people can distinguish themselves with an expensive car, they should be able to do so with different dogs, too. I always thought of dog clothing as being something that our modern, American, individualistic culture invented. I had no idea that animals were forced to suffer in embarrassing Christmas sweaters long before my time and in France. I wonder how animals feel about that? If it were me, I’d be mortified, but maybe somewhere in the dog’s pack mentality it sees clothes as an identifying characteristic of its pack, in which case the clothes might translate into a sense of belonging. I don’t know, maybe I overestimate the dog and it really is just an ugly sweater.
Societies that advocate for animal protection, which Bulliet would likely label as a direct result of a postdomestic society, are described as a part of the “Civilizing process” in this text. Of course, that protection extends only to certain animals. This is the line I found most intriguing:
“Stray cats and dogs quickly lost their standing as pets and became recategorized as “wild” animals, which in many instances also meant that their status shifted from that of an animal worthy of protection to one of an animal that had to be eliminated.”
This rings especially true to me—I thought of the ASPCA commercials with that sad Sarah McLachlan song. How many of those poor, mistreated animals would be seen as vermin outside the homes of their abusers? There does seem to be a certain hypocrisy here.
Also interesting to me is this different categorization—acclimatization, or the adaptation of a species to a foreign environment. If we think about things in terms of wild, domesticated, and acclimatized, then certainly it can also be said that these stages represent a varying degree of human intervention, with wild being none at all and acclimatization being complete intervention (It wouldn’t be there at all without people). There is also the implication that acclimatization involves simply bringing a species somewhere and letting it adapt. How does this idea mix with genetics and the idea that we can influence the genetic level to get desirable traits? Does that make acclimatization a somewhat archaic idea, made obsolete by the study of the genome?
Because my domesticate is the bee, I thought it would be a good way to multitask by ending on it. I found it interesting, though not surprising, that Darwin describes the Bee as being immune to selection attempts by humans. He says this because it is too hard to keep one species of bee from mingling with others. This isn’t something true of insects in general—we know from the silkworm that insects can indeed be changed by human intervention. My question is this—does that make the bee the ultimate exception in the history of domestication? People live with bees, we consider them a domesticate, and yet the bee exhibits no change as a result of this relationship. Before, we agreed that this change in the species as a result of human contact was a requirement to be considered a domesticate, in much the same way that dogs got floppy ears and silkworms lost their flight. If bees aren’t altered by human contact, are they really a domesticate at all? I’m finding myself asking the question again—what is domestication? Is there such a thing as an all-inclusive definition or, as is often the case in other fields, are there just exceptions?
Week after week your posts really get me thinking. I had a similar thought in regards to animals and clothing and I’m glad I wasn’t alone in having it. If an animal spends its life being babied and dressed up and for all intensive purposes, does it become different at heart than its wolf ancestors? I know we don’t really know a whole lot about animal emotion and tend to just assign human emotions to certain noises or actions that a dog makes or does, but is it possible that they really do feel shame in one of those awful sweaters? Or maybe they feel dominant because they have something that others dogs don’t. I really have no idea but it is interesting to me that we often have the biggest problem with feral animals and not as much with wild animals and I wonder if this could be due to all of the special treatment our pets get. Do they get a feeling of entitlement or superiority from living with us that causes them to behave differently than they normally would in the wild?
Sorry typo. I meant to say “…and for all intensive purposes treated like a human, does it become different at heart than its wolf ancestors.”
all intents and purposes? 😉
That quote about stray dogs and cats had me thinking as soon as I read it in your blog post, I must’ve skimmed over that quickly in the readings. It’s true, however, because today’s society is more interested in the “animal rights” of animals that mean something, or have value to humans. In short, “pets” would be an appropriate term. Thus, when someone see’s a wild (or feral, of course) dog, surveying the dumpster for a tasty treat just because it probably hasn’t eaten in days, and may be a little hostile towards humans approaching them, is that when society says to ignore animal rights? Do we then ignore all of our past ties with any dog we might have had connections with, and end this lonely, hungry, scared dog’s life? We all say we love animal rights, and we fight for them daily, yet this society still euthanize or kills so many dogs, cats, etc. that haven’t even been given a chance at life.
This is unnatural “natural selection,” if that makes ANY sense. (see my blog post)
I also found the animal protection societies of the 19th Century interesting because they seem to defy Bulliet’s stages. As you pointed out, the societies are clearly postdomestic in Bulliet’s mind, but they existed in a time that I think he would consider domestic. I suppose there’s regional variability in the idea of domestic and postdomestic society, by that I mean a city can have elements of postdomesticity while the countryside of the same time can be solidly domestic. The animal protection societies in the 19th century just seemed a little more widespread than Bulliet implied in his book.
If you never thought of pets as social distinctions then I consider you lucky. All it takes for me to realize this sad truth is an image of Paris Hilton walking around with a tiny dog in her hand in some place a dog shouldn’t even be like a shopping mall. I think people like this just consider the dog a fashion accessory, and the fact that they are able to afford the costs of a dog simply for appearances sake shows a social distinction. I was also interested in acclimatization, but I was confused on exactly what it was until I read your post. This technique does seem obsolete because of our ability to influence genome. I n the reading acclimatization is discussed in regards to zoo animals. Perhaps it still exists because it is a more natural way of keeping wild animals wild.
It seems that the definition of domestication will always vary because of vast different species it is applied to. If the bee truly is not influenced by humans then this would debunk our theory that domestication affects both parties involved. But aren’t bees mysteriously dying or disappearing? Could this be an effect of domestication, although it is obviously not beneficial to the bees?
I’m confused as to our transition out of being wild. Does acclimatization really trump domestication? I would contend that domestication presents more human tampering than acclimatization; the manipulation of genetic variables is greater. Unless is the entire environment is synthesized and controlled, I don’t see how we can alter genetic makeup more than domestication can.
I love the linkage between dressing up dogs and thinking about what makes bees a domesticate! Clothing dogs in sweaters further commodifies them, of course. The Paris Hilton-(speaking of commercial spaces)-petite-bejeweled-dog-as-accessory could just be a contemporary example of the trend toward using dogs as status symbols and commodities that Brantz noted in the nineteenth-century. Or clothes could make the dog — lots of working dogs wear “clothing” such as protective booties (for sled dogs), bullet-proof vests (for police and military dogs), or winter “coats” (for greyhounds, dobermans, and other thin-skinned breeds). Horses have been “blanketed” and adorned for thousands of years. Could clothing also be a side effect or marker of domestication for some species?
And how dogs feel about the clothing we offer them and sometimes inflict on them is an entirely separate matter….
We’ll definitely be talking more / still about what domestication means. I think Darwin’s reference to the bee reflected his focus on artificial selection. When we think about cultural relationships and the connections between bees and humans, it seems pretty clear that both parties are domesticated.