a shady re-imagination of world(s)

I have been left uncomfortably, with a lingering pit in my stomach, after attending a panel at McGill on “Social and the Environment: Multidisciplinary Perspectives”. The panel was asked to talk about growth/ degrowth/ sustainability/ change/ activism/ society and the environment and more, so the panelists had a range of interesting points, concerns and perspectives on working in the margins of society and the environment. What united them was the commitment to thinking about building more hospitable, prosperous, caring, relational worlds because. Throughout the conversations, nonhuman animals were reduced to their commodified forms yet the united theme was more livable worlds for humans + nature. Okay, so something to go off. I asked a question near the end, that was something around the idea of: recognizing the only nonhuman animal mentioned through the course of the conversations were fish in their commodified, roles-as-edibles and if the panelists have made any gestures in their own research, their own re-imaginings how non-human animal roles would be re-made, and if they would also be invited into living more beautiful, intimate lives? The answers were pretty disappointing. The first came from an engimatic character, that reminded us: anthropocentrism is bad, we cannot “think like animals” and the impossibility of knowing if they do have intrinsic value and also something about, not just animal life but look what we do to our crops! The second response was from a seasoned activist, very brilliant women who conjured up indigenous consumption of nonhuman animals whilst being in kinship, in loving and respectful relationships with the nonhuman world. And the third reminded me of the a creative performance that I will have to crawl into the depths of google to find again, but something I want to do for my thesis!

My thoughts as I walked home:
-why can’t we re-work our value systems to be more life-promoting? instead of dismissive because “we cannot think like them”. would it really be so out-of-this world just to hold nonhuman animal life in that regard?
-why do white folks call-upon indigenous stories of relationality when addressing consuming non-human animals? I know it is radically important to centre indigenous stories and worldviews, but is this a strategy to derail or somehow give them permission to keep casting nonhuman animals in edible-roles? it can’t be that being in solidarity with the first peoples, allows you to absorb yourself and forget your social location?

Being an animal person, I asked an animal question to a panel dedicated to more livable, and breathable worlds. Why are we pressing on however, while not questioning the roles in which nonhuman animals are subjected to. Do these roles not get questioned in our re-imagined world-ings? If so, how radical are a lot of these conversations if we uncritically keep a pool of living, breathing life to a category of exploitation, oppression and consumption?

a murmur

I want to start blogging again. Not only that, I want to start feeling myself. I feel myself moving out of a two-year mourning period. Indications are: I am asking questions, I am excitable!?, I am being more open and receptive to the world around me, and I am ultimately not drinking everyday/too much; I have began to make food for myself and I have begun to make commitments to relationships, and feel a sense of sustainment and desire to nourish the life around me. I have missed the capacity in which you see beautiful, sweet life. January 19th marks the day my mum died and left me on my own two-feet, and it has been almost too much for me, shaky and lonely and blurry.  But here I am, so I am going to celebrate this and not be mad at myself.

But most importantly for this blog, it means I am going to start posting more, which means writing…and thinking…and feeling myself.

Kim Tallbear on an indigenous logic of relationality

I just walked home from a talk at ConcordiaU entitled Distrupting settlement, sex, and nature: An indigenous logic of relationality by Kim Tallbear (PhD). This was a talk where your heart explodes exponentially and you cannot stop nodding your head and jotting down the messiest, but most connected notes of your life. This talk invigorated me in the best and worst of ways, having me face some of my own contemptuous thoughts, mostly in regards to nonhuman animal ethics. It was a special talk in that Tallbear is in the crux of playing around and thinking about what she spoke about tonight so the question period was as enlightening to us as it was to her. It is notable that she sat uncomfortable with a lot of the key words on her poster-ad such as “sustainable”, ‘are we going back or forth’ and also her taking up sci-fi. As someone who is really into relationality, she was surely supportive of collaborating on thoughts with her audience (there must be a better word).

 

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Where do I begin, to boil down her talk into a few key words which by no means, intend to be deflating, circling conversations around intimacy and the erotic (in a good Audre Lord fashion). Tallbear touched on the most prominent themes in my life: intimacy and the question of kin. She takes both of these concepts and throws them into the realm of contemplating relationality, meaning, to see oneself as partial and always co-constituted by other(s). To see the world in terms of this, as I am learning more and more, is to ‘not have faith in scarcity’ but to not hoard to paraphrase Tallbear.

That is it- that hits the point. Most of our relationships with the world are enclosed by some sort of normative and acceptable politics of how to orient and operate oneself in the world. A deep seated fear is to blur what is ‘reality’. But many of us cannot handle this reality that the status quo report on time and time again. It is exhausting, it is restrictive, it is full of shame and it is constantly asking us to ‘take-away’ from ourselves in order to behave accordingly. This singular reality that is asked of us is one that is stressed and created continuously resulting in the naturalized settler  heteropatriarchal monogamy that both Tallbear and David Delgado Shorter speak to. Tallbear offered the term ethical non-monogamy as the best place holder she had at this time to counter the master narratives of heteropatriachal monogamy. I cannot exclaim how beautiful it was to encounter these words. Heterosexual monogamy has made no sense in my life, and it has been about promiscuity but in line with her definition that speaks to plurality, not excess, not randomness, but openness to multiple, partial connections. This carries throughout my relationships with a point to demystify the spaces and scripts we create that differentiate lovers and friends, to create hierarchies were you dispense love and care.

Moving a few steps in a different, but relatable direction, I was particularly struck and excited about conversations of kinship. As somebody whose biological family has become non-existent, and incredibly minute where it remains, defining my understanding of kinship has been incredulous to remaining a capacious person. Tallbear speaks to this language we lack, that we are slowly developing… This feeds into us appointing particular arrangements in order to define what we are experiencing, however, from a simple understanding of performativity- this is followed by an effect- and when/where does this effect be decided up? The heteropatriarchal capitalist white settler society has been defining these effects for far too long.

Leaving us with no choice to move towards creating new languages, new arrangements that do not have embedded obligations but prioritize responsibilities that surpass the nuclear family. We need to collect our communities and that includes nonhuman lives.

This brings me to the most impactful aspect of Tallbear’s talk, my nonhuman animal ethics. What are my nonhuman animal ethics based on? An inclusion into the human? Is this why I study hated nonhuman animals, to further amend the inclusion? Is this the right pathway? Is inclusion the right framework? Inclusion seems mighty different than thinking in relationality terms. The more and more I think on this, and relocate moments were my position was challenged (ie. a rereading of kinship with monkeys: the guaja foragers of easter amazonia by loretta a cormier and some eduardo kuhn are necessary) I find myself embace a relational position towards nonhman animal life. However, as both Tallbear’s talk and even Val Plumwood’s work on troubling the edibleness of humans suggest, there is the potential for consumption of each other, in some sort of endocannibalistic act. I am arriving at this point but require more, something to build upon this relational ethic with nonhuman animals that in an attempt to create a multispecies worldview, still renders them as consumable. I am more than excited over Val Plumwood’s attempt at designating humans as also consumable, but the conditions of today would never, ever permit that (however, human cheese and breast milk tasting parties are indespensible in challenging these designations).

I will continue from these thoughts shortly in upcoming posts, especially after having some needed conversations with radicals in my life about troubling our animal ethics as nonhuman animal scholars and because as I am learning to be a geographer spatial emancipation is becoming my compass in understanding what tools I want to pick from this discipline and Tallbear’s words fit into the world I am striving for.

Public declarations of pitbull love

Clementine and myself attended a march yesterday organized by “Protection Pitbull” in Montreal, a gathering to recognize the importance of coming together, nonhuman and human animals, to publicly demonstrate the love and solidarity shared between pitbull-tytpe dog’s and humans.

The next gathering is set for September 26th, the same day that the mayor of Montreal, Denis Coderre a true maverick in his thinking, will inform us about the “dangerous dog” legislation that is in fact coded for pitbull-type dogs, breed specific legislation.

The more and more we learn about this legislation it becomes painfully obvious that this is as much about proliferating the stereotype of pitbull-type/looking dogs as it is about “cleansing” the image of those who own pitbull’s. A lot of people are questioning why Quebec is mirroring Ontario’s BSL law’s, however, there are important distinctions that are being hushed. Through all of this I am being made incredibly conscious of my social location as a companion and as a lover to “pitbull-type” dogs.

The proposed legislation is a classist and racist in that it is making it incredibly challenging for people of lower economical status, for folks with criminal records (significantly people of colour are criminalized for literally commonplace ‘crimes’ white folks get away with all the time…), for folks who rent who will have to face: move or get rid of their companion animal, for folks who cannot have their mobility restricted to the extent that they are about to impose. For street folks who will have their companions ripped from their arms, regardless of how much love and care they provide. There is so much going on here.

The state protecting it’s citizens may be one of the funniest things they try to uphold, but anyone with a political bone in their body should see how this legislation is MUCH MORE than “just the dogs”. Everything is intwined and feeds into eachother.

I have been trying to focus on all of these other angle’s to get people’s interests and to distract myself from all of the death sentences. Ultimately it is the dogs lives that are on the table – and their lives are based on their associations, whether belonging to families with the ability to spend this money and fit the “proper owner code”; belonging to families who desperately want to, but cannot “meet the requirements” or those who are in shelters. These dogs already have so many forces against them, deemed “trash” by many shelters and people, and now they are going to face even more challenges to the point where FEW will make it out alive. And that is what this legislation is about. Annihilating a “type-looking” dog, not even breed.

Yesterday by coming together in this march we “proudly procmaim[ed] [our] ownership and appearing with their dogs, these owners actively work to promote a different view of both ends of the leash”. This little tidbit comes from a MA thesis completed by Sarah Goss entitled Both ends of the leash: Pitbull ownership and activism in Atlanta, Georgia (2015). Yet I still feel uncomfortable about cleaning up the image of these dogs leash holders to somehow secure their lives. And propagating “acceptable” representations of animal companions; to love and care for them is all one needs to ask. It reminds me of the argument going around of how we need to get pitbull-type dogs into police canine programs. It seems antithetical in the long run. Their reputation’s are not as bad as we think, it is the media that holds the greatest leash in in driving this human-made hysteria. IMG_6244

A children’s book, Free / Not Free

I am not entirely convinced this book should be categorized as a children’s book. Yes, it follows a simple text blurb + picture outline, but the depths it goes can be hard for older generations to grasp. The book is two-in-one, two perspectives on the same concept of “gift economies” or of a Kropotkin mutual aid. Geneviee Vaughan states “People need to learn from nature where everything is given free”. I believe it to be a bit more complicated than the environment and all the creatures constantly handing out their resources and affections without some sort of exchange, but that exchange can certainly take on different faces – one not defined by capital exchange.

Side Free: Trilly, the canary in a music store sings, sings, sings and influences the store owners granddaughter Sophie to recognize that within the store where music is being sold, exists a creature, singing for ‘no cost’. She carries ethic over and passes out free music to poor, young children. She thanks Trilly for this. She entertains the idea of ‘free’ to carry over to the very mobility of Trilly, asking her grandmother if they can open the cage and let Trilly “go where he is needed”, and he does just that. On his travels he spreads the sentiment of ‘free-ness’, to only use what you need, to share the rest, to redistribute the goods like the local shop owner does.

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Side Not Free: Trilly, the canary in a music store sings, sings, sings, until the day he recognizes the women whom owns the music store he is caged in exchanges music records for shiny, clattering coinage. He then withholds the songs he previously filled the store with until they ‘pay up’. This is where interspecies communications fails both parties, and Trilly is brought to the vet over night. That evening, Trilly joins in conversation with the other animals like the cat’s who just aren’t cuddling, and the parrot who just is not being a parrot. They all rejoice together they won’t perform their expectations unless shiny, clattering coinage is sent their way. This second half or beginning, depends how you read it, concludes that animals and the natural elements like sunshine and rain cease doing what we find most resourceful of them. The world is dark. The sun has the final word, “I won’t shine unless you pay me”.

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This book troubles the idea for young readers of how to get things, and offers a re-imaging of how to get these things, share resources and be in this world. I am going to take a step back however, and trouble the idea that nature just “gives for free”. I think it is worthwhile to see nature’s exchange systems, where the holistic gears run the scene. Bodies decompose, animals defecate, animals and elements disperse seedlings, and sometimes it really is not all that fair.

I will make sure whenever a friend come’s over, to sit with them for a few minutes and read this together. It offers so many points to talk about different issues, like animal liberation, human-animal communication, exchange, poverty, capitalism, and even how important this type of literature is in young readers purview. I am also thrilled to see animal’s making their way into a children’s book in such a way that grants them agency and wiggle-room outside of the confines we bind them to!

The Companion Species Manifesto

Donna Haraway is a hurricane in my life, and most likely is for anybody who encounters her words. She exists as a force to take ‘life’ and twist, turn, topple, shake it until it resuscitates itself in some new manner. I first encountered Haraway in my days of wanting to be a radical feminist ethno-primatologist (thank you agustin fuentes  for existing).  I picked up Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (1989) marking that as my first time reading Haraway. I will confess I have not read the text in whole, but do return to it time and time again.. to be fair, it is some 500 pages of her celeritous writing.  And I most pause to state reading Primate Visions has been instrumental in challenging my own gaze and what nonhuman animal’s were ‘important’. I am uncomfortable with abusing this word, but to she showed me how to decolonize my studies of nonhuman animals.

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“Please do not use this area if you can’t control your dog’s barking.”

Something that has been on my mind for the past few days is the noises that come deep from within Clementine. When we enter into “green spaces” I rile her up and encourage the smokey barks that she possess to flee her mouth. Just the other day during one of our outing’s we were approached by 3 separate people/couplings to “hush”, “keep your dog quiet” and asked to physically move away from a recreational tennis court within the park due to her barks causing a distraction (perhaps their game just wasn’t that strong and they were looking for an excuse).

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Dartmouth Park Halifax: “Please do not use this area if you can’t control your dog’s barking”.

 

But the thing is- we were in a public park that welcomes dogs. In fact, the park welcomes all sorts of folks, creatures and has the infrastructure to support all sorts of activities including baseball diamonds, tennis courts, water fountains, climbers, benches, picnic tables, bathroom facilities and much more. The park is very alive, that is until 11pm when the park “closes” and the park police drive around ‘clearing’ out the looming delinquents.

 

This brings me back to think about Jane Jacob’s tale of the “intricate side walk ballet” in The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). Jacob’s focus was to talk about the vibrancy and liveliness of urban cities before the modernization and building up that was in the process in the 1960’s. This process removed fundamental principles of city living, from the favours you could ask of shop owners to the very sounds you would encounter. During this time there was also a need for urban planners to keep up with the encroaching industrial noises especially in prime green spaces. For example, installing grand water foundations in parks significantly masked the sounds of street cars and construction to create an escapist illusion.

The concern at the time was to provide some sort of sonic insulation to preserve the park’s natural soundscape. However, this can also be ‘infringed’ on from within, by unsavoury dog noises, soap box activists, musicians, and other noises generated from park activities. All of these acceptance levels depend on tolerance of an individual and are sutured with very ambiguous by-laws. I searched around a few to pull some examples up of what cities do pertaining public generated animal noises, specifically of the dog-kind.

You have a right to alert and make a complaint to the ‘authorities’:

>Saint Johns: after 20 minutes of continuous barking
>Brampton, Ontario: after 10 days of consecutive barking noticed
>Toronto: no excessive barking, but tolerance based

There are these mitigations such as these listed above in place to maintain a serene park free of excessive, ‘physiologically distorting (dramatic, yes but do recall the usage of animal distress cries during the Waco siege, or Manual Noriego in Panama)’ barking noises, that are informed by a by-law officer first-hand witnessing it, or a citizen filing a compliant and following through with it. Very rarely is all the information collected in order to put forward these by-laws, but they exist, carrying heafty fines and court orders to silence your dog. A crafty term I stumbled upon is “hu/dog” to capture the embodiment of the human-dog relationship. This term captures the tri-governing forces: to govern the ‘owner’; to govern the ‘dog’; and to govern collectively, the hu/dog (Instone & Sweeney 2014).

The Animal Industrial Complex found themselves taking advantage of this discernment towards dog barking by founding and introducing dog-silencing devices into the mainstream doggie culture. On the shelves you will find e-collars, citronella collars, ultra-sonic/vibrating collars, or on a larger scale high-frequency devices that produce noises lost on human ears but climb to such high frequencies, any dog will stop once the piercing noise is administered throughout the soundscape. The mechanisms governing it are that if a ‘bark’ is detected within the 75 foot radius, a high frequency zap will resonate over 300 feet. This can be quite the dangerous tool, especially in a dog/park as it could pick up a bark 75 feet away, yet impact the dogs in the initial area creating bad associations, and zapping already-compliant dogs. The greatest danger is it disrupts dog communication.

I read on an anti-dog barking opinion blog that wolfs, the ‘original’ dog do not bark excessively, and when they do it is always monosyllabic, and “purposeful”. Following this, it is thus “truth” to state that contemporary dog barking is “not an abomination of nature. it is an abomination of man”. I thought this little piece was quite ridiculous considering the plethura of dog breeds, context-specific reasons for barking, and the failure to acutely acknowledge that the situations we put dogs in today, still having similar olfactory mechanisms as wolves,  would require them to be registering all sorts of noises their evolutionary ancestors do not experience.

Taking a few steps back: I want to explore the geographies overarching the lives of dogs. For 14,000 years we have been keeping labouring/companion dogs in our presence resulting in western countries to eagerly opening up their homes to dogs. In the USA alone, 39% of households have dogs (Gauret, Perrin, Bernandin 2014). This is most likely only a guestimation as class/race/geography impact official dog registration. It is reasonable to suppose that most of these dogs find their way into public spaces via walking, escaping, or other means of transportation. Are the sidewalks so quiet now? Take this with the urban planning of keeping green spaces as healthy and aesthetically pleasing poses a conflict. Is it seems impossible to claim we are “envisioning a city as a world of relationships that includes animals”  yet has to “make peace with animal hygiene and nuisances” (Gauret, Perrin, Bernandin 2014).

Julia Urbanik and Mary Morgan asks important question’s in A tale of tails: The Place of dog parks in the urban imaginary such as: “how urban areas are trying to address the confounding urban issue of whether a dog is still a dog if it has no place to be a dog”? I think a sufficient window into this question is of permissibility surrounding barking. It is apparent that doggy culture is on the rise, however it seems capitalistic tentacles have had their say. As doggy culture industries pop up, dogs have never been more present but it seems their presence lines the pockets of business owners rather than building new urban cultures that encapsulate and make room for the dogs and all their doggie-ness.

Urbanik ends her article with a dampering tone, asking if not even human’s “best friend” can rightfully wiggle their way in, what hope is their for the rest of the multi-species kingdom.

Work Cited

Gaunet, Pari-Perrin & Bernardin. 2014. “Description of dogs and owners in outdoor built-up areas and their more-than-human issues”. Environmental Management 54(3): 383-401.

Instone, L & J. Sweeney. 2014. “The trouble with dogs: Animaling public space in the Australian City”. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies Vol. 28, Issue 6, p. 774-786.

Urbanik, J & M. Morgan. 2013. “A tale of tails: The place of dog parks in the urban imaginary”. Geoform 44:292-302.

The Grid’s “animal, all too human”

I wanted to share my contribution to The Grid’s issue on “Animal, All too Human“. The original posting can be: http://www.readthegrid.com/3-animal-all-too-human/
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A Brief Stroll into the Urbanscape: Pest Animalsthegrid_photo.jpg

Rats, mice, raccoons, squirrels, opposums, ants, snails, skunks, slugs, pigeons, geese… the list is endless. What unites this list of nonhuman animals is their urban North American geographies and the common moniker of pests, vermin, trash, and most eloquently said, “matter out of place”.

On a typical day we encounter these nonhuman animals in more places than we are made aware of, but for the purpose of this article I am zooming in on the streets, shops and homes that display urban animals, particularly as decor. This distinction is interesting because the permissibility of these urban creatures depends on their liveliness, or lack thereof. I am guided by one of the main declarations inTrash Animals: How we live with nature’s filthy, feral, invasive and unwanted species that identifies our problems resting in how little we know about urban nonhuman animals that contributes to the paradigm of the urban nonhuman animal pest category. There is very little effort in the city to challenge geographies of human imaginations that posit these nonhuman animals as unwelcome.

The category of pest animals is an unfixed and constructed class of nonhuman animals. It has been subjected to political agendas, misunderstandings and an industrial fear of the uncontrollable and unboundable being (Snæbjörnsdóttir & Wilson 2011, 6, Fissel 1999).  The categorization rests in their animality this prevents pest animals from entering into civilized, anthropocentric scripts concerned with instances of hygiene, proper codes of conduct, and other expectations for humans and domesticated nonhuman urban dwellers.

Urban settings are built in contrast to the rural; the concepts rest in negation to the other. This poorly hinged dichotomy relies on the development of the industrialized city. Matthew Gandy articulates this transformation of cities through the concept of “bacteriological cities” (Gandy 2006). This insightful work, redresses the ‘hows’ of capitalist industrialism, exposing how the success of the contemporary cityscapes necessitated new ways of governance – a new kind of control couched in promoting health and a ‘clean city’. This development involved redefining standards of the city that place individuality as one of the most important and desirable aspects (Gandy 2006, 17). Building on this, Jing Yi Huang comments that what makes us delighted or disgusted is made tangible by what we keep, or allow, to exist “interior or exterior to us” (Huang 2015, 67). In the city, non-domesticated nonhuman animals are denizens, unwelcomed. However, the imaginary lives and images of animals delight us. Huang declares that with the distancing of ourselves physically from unbounded nonhuman animals, we find places for them in fiction, in consumer-capitalistic culture and in the virtual realms (Huang 2015, 67).

Huang’s work encourages us to understand the shifting human imaginaries of nonhuman animals in the city. There is excessive force and resources used to eradicate or control urban animals, however, I am particularly interested in the imaginary spaces they are granted. I want to trouble two of the many encounters we have with urban nonhuman animals, that being on the streets in their corporeal ‘live’ states and their ‘dead’ states as décor. As of recent, there is a visible flux of ‘cute’ urban animals like foxes, squirrels, mice and other urban creatures finding their way onto statement plates, pillows, throw-overs, t-shirts and other fabricated items. We can take this in immediately as passive consumption but to give it a bit of political clout, it is arguably creating a space for these animals to exist without having to exist corporally. Seeing these urban nonhuman animals grace the store shelves should not be taken as a celebration of co-existence, rather, understood as an actively permissible destruction, to substitute real lives.

One of the compounding reasons why these particular animals are so readily disposable is their very demeanour that largely resists ownership, and thus escapes simple human efforts of control. One of the re-workings of these animals in consumer-capitalist culture that has been successful is the multitudes of caricaturized forms they have taken, fitting them into roles relational to us- perverse forms of anthropomorphism. John Berger commented on this phenomenon, observing that the more animals became withdrawn from daily life, the greater the diffusion of animalized, commercialized imagery dominates (Berger 1980, 26). A particularly heartbreaking example is the image of the mothering nonhuman animal. Take for example a plush toy of a mouse and her infant or a skunk and her kit. We will buy these figures up to warm our homes with, initiating endless  ‘awes’ and comments of how adorable the scenario may be. Yet, in actuality, the idea of parental care in the ‘wild’ (read: uncivilized, uncontrolled) brings red to our eyes. The idea that they will be producing, in such a fury, only creates fear and a capitalist-oppressive impulse to take care of the problem, legible only in poison and violence.

Shifting slightly, I want to address one of the places that fear for urban nonhuman animals is rooted in and the lack of fundamental knowledge about them that would promote an appreciation. There is increasing interest in the worlds of these common nonhuman animals in the city. Dr. Gow and her team at the University of British Columbia are dedicated to studying northern flickers and their nest sanitation. One of the observations was that male flickers spend about an hour a day tasking away at removing the continuous excrements from the chicks. Reasons for completing this task includes a need for general nest sanitation by removing microbes and odours that may draw predators (Gow et al., 2015). Research like this is very important to unlock a lapse of knowledge that urban dwellers have. Even more important is the fundamental tool of observation that we are all equipped with that can ‘access’ and contribute to this knowledge base.

These steps of learning and declaring the importance of the nonhuman animals in the city contribute to what is called an ‘urban sense of place’ which has been constructed out of ideas of living in an urban setting whilst feeling detached. When seeking nature, the typical response is to look to the exoticized, pristine landscapes, whether being national parks or distant and far locations requiring various degrees of transportation, citizenships and privileged visas to take you there. This form of nature seeking is embedded in colonial conquering narratives and ‘Columbusting’ effects of finding the new, un-encountered, null spaces.

In the pages of City Wilds: Essays and stories about urban nature, the reader finds a comparative discussion of seeking nature in the city compared to the far-away landscapes. I have found particular use of their contribution to urban nature discussions when considering urban nonhuman animals. These tenants speak to issues of accessibility, scale, understandings of mutuality, and an aesthetic veering. Rekindling an appreciation for urban nonhuman animals allows for the sense of co-existence with all species to be facilitated in the confines of a city without the imprisonment of a zoo. With accessibility also comes an appreciation for the normal, common found creatures whether it is birds or squirrels. Orienting one’s nature ethics internally permits a ground for contemplation of why one needs to consume the exotic animals that are tied into legacies of ‘othering’ couched in ecological tenants of colonialism. Encountering these common animals also brings them into ones daily lives. This establishes a sense of place, since you can walk through the same borough day after day witnessing similar animals in that place. Familiarity and appreciation on this scale is in contrast to the “American nature adventure narratives” (Dixon 2002, xiv).  The self becomes absolved into a contributor of a greater community of co-habitation hinged on ethics of interdependency. With all of this comes the grand celebration of the urban ecologies, an aesthetic response that requires one to question where they find beauty, and to question why the atypical is undeserving.

A worthwhile activity for an urban dweller is to keep a sort of urban bestiary. Lyanda Lynn Haupt does this in Encountering the Everyday Wild: The Urban Bestiary where they promote “the more we understand the wild animals that share our home places, the better we can coexist in safety, wisdom, conviviality, and delight” (Haupt 2013, 10). An activity like this could be a mere mental mapping all the way to a more comprehensive journaling. Regardless of the degree of commitment, the sentiment remains the same; and that is an interest in knowing and appreciating the nonhuman animals in the city that criss-cross our paths all day. There has been a lapse of interest in literature of critical animal studies regarding these ‘loathsome’ animals that may largely have to do with their placement on hierarchies of speciesism. Therefore, urban nonhuman animals require internal and external reconfigurations from everybody.

Once we begin conceptually figuring urban nonhuman animals into cityscapes, mentalities are cultivated that will profoundly shift city nature ethics. One that is based on forming bonds with ones surroundings in ways that recognize the colonial legacies, imaginative geographies, challenging commodification, all for the radical possibility of envisioning very rich entwinements of life in the city. Nonhuman animals shuffled into the category of pests are re-inscribed as more than the filthy quarters they inhabit or their unrelatable forms of hygiene, consumption and livelihoods. Challenging what we consider normative nature ethics in the city, offers real opportunities for more abundant, critical, and flourishing landscapes of co-existence.

Stephanie Eccles is an activist-scholar based in Montreal, Canada. She begins her MSs in the fall of 2016 at Concordia University in the Geography, Planning and Environmental Studies department, specifically focusing on critical animal geographies. Stephanie both studies and advocates for the undesired human and nonhuman animal’s of the world, whether by investigating the violent industries of wildlife management or in sharing her home with her pit bull Clementine.

Work Cited

Berger, John. About looking. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.

Dixon, Terrell F. City wilds: Essays and stories about urban nature. Georgia: University of                         Georgia Press, 2002.

Fissell, Mary. “Imagining vermin in Early Modern England”. History Workshop Journal 47(1999): 1-30.

Gandy, Matthew. “The bacteriological city and its discontents”. Historical Geography 34(2006) 14-25.

Gow ,Elizabeth, Karen Wiebe & Annessa Musgrove. “Nest sanitation in response to short-and  long-term manipulations of brood size: males clean more in a sex-role reversed           species”. Animal Behaviour 104 (2015): 137–143.

Haupt, Lyanda Lynn. Encountering the everyday wild: The urban bestiary. New York: Little, Brown Company, 2013.

Huang, Jing Yi. Animal cities: Post-human urban wildness. MA Thesis. Syracuse University, 2015.  Web. April 1st, 2016.

Nagy, Kelsi & David Johnson II. Trash Animals: How we live with nature’s filthy, feral, invasive, and unwanted species. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

Snæbjörnsdóttir, Bryndis & Mark Wilson. Uncertainty in the City. Berlin: The Green Box, 2011.

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Clementine, the elderbull.

 

I am making this post to announce a profound shift I have experienced at my current job in Montreal at “Bark Avenue”. I have been there since November, so not terribly long, however, I feel like there is this tectonic shaking taking place in my being that brought me to the Kitchener-Waterloo SPCA to meet an elderbull, Clementine, on April 4th.

I have joined lives together with this beautiful pit bull that was inconclusively surrendered or found as a stray in Ontario. Ontario in 2005 amended the Dog Owners’ Liability Act and Public Safety Related to Dogs Statue Law Amendment Act (DOLA) placing a ban on pit bull “type” dogs, only permitting grandfathered (born before 2005) pit bull’s to remain in province, with various stipulations like muzzling in public spaces, and when in private settings, to acquire “consent” from the owners of that space. Ridiculous little things, but missteps are lethal. Those who were birthed post-2005, if not transferred out of province or into one of the new fostering pit bull rescues is killed. I cannot dare entertain the proper term euthanasia because they are not good deaths.

The mappings of Clementine’s body allude to a life of breeding, neglect, and excessive steroid use for whatever reason. Her nipples sag, her vulva is prolapsed, various non-cancerous growths on her body, missing and spaced out teeth, questionable scars, and numerous skin conditions that leave her salt n’ pepper fur a mess.

Piecing some sort of story together through her body does not show any sort of deterrence for happiness in her spirit. Elderbull, sure, but the way she bogies makes me question her 12+ age! She is the most heart-breaking soul to have ventured into my life.

It is interesting navigating the political terrain surrounding pit bull’s. I can walk her here, but not there. Even though Montreal (Quebec) is a friendly place for these dogs there are still burroughs with bans in place and mentalities that spread. Just the other day the City of Montreal announced a greater city-onus for the animal population, dissolving some of the SPCA’s responsibilities. Of course one of the changes they plan to implement is regarding pit bull’s to catch up with the rest of North America’s stance.

Pit bull’s are politically charged nonhuman animals, in a way that few scholars and activists have truly comprehended. Heidi Nast and Harlan Weaver have begun to tackle these questions, which is exciting. You can gleam so much from the lives of pit bulls, including : stories of white labour workers, slavery, racism, boars, masculinity, politics of place, queerness, nonhuman animal oppression, reproductive exploitation, human-animal power dynamics, white saviour complexes, and implications of all of this = the deaths of hundred’s of thousands of pit bull-type dogs a year.

I will certainty be writing more about pit bull’s in the near future, but this post is dedicated to Clementine – I hope I can provide a lovely little life for this darling who has endured, who has seen and felt things unimaginable.

 

 

 

dogs(♂) vs cats(♀)

a little thought on a hazy Friday afternoon..

For the longest time I successfully played the dog vs. cat game, believing you could only love one species. I, being a feminist and the idea that cat’s were independent, sassy, love factories picked cats! Dogs, contrary, were dependent, loyal, honourable men’s best friends. Just think about the first image that a cat and dog conjure in your mind. A cat laying on the couch with their ladyfriend and a dog standing proudly beside their male master in plaid. Just as the category of pets is dictated by western colonial legacies, classism, racism it is also sexist. Even the way it comes down to interacting with cats and dogs.

I currently am working at a dog rehabilitation space, daycare, boarding and training centre that specializes in dogs that have faced discrimination elsewhere due to their histories or breeds (we LOVE pitbulls). At times, this space can seem very patriarchal fueled by needing to control/dominate these animals into positions of submission for us to gain control with e-collars if a dog is too yappy …. Other times, the same policies and actions equated with the above can seem super feministy, based in mutual respect and attention to each and every dogs unique story and areas that they do not necessarily do the best in.

I have made a few realizations. First, is that I disliked dogs because they personified patriarchy. The ways in which you interact with them, the roles you see them fulfilling (ie police service dogs) and more. Working with dogs in an environment where you can be patient and work with them without homogenizing them has reminded me that dogs have to be freed from the androcentric lens they are seen through.

I have learned and continue to learn so much at BarkAve. and am practicing what I think to be feminist care-ethics and actively having “dialogues with animals” as Josephine Donavan notes. This requires one to be tuned into their communication systems which rely on reading their body language, learning their histories to then base our ethics in this.