Water, Food & Dog Toys

My old friend Michael Schaffer has a delightful new book out called, One Nation Under Dog: Adventures in the New World of Prozac-Popping Puppies, Dog-Park Politics, and Organic Pet Food. It’s about the strange and central new place that animals have taken in our lives, homes and markets. He makes the point that modern-day pets even influence life-or-death decisions about where we live and when we decide to flee.

We know that before Hurricane Katrina, many people decided to stay because they couldn’t take their dogs to shelters (a situation that has actually improved in some places). Well, the same calculus occurs in the everyday disasters you don’t read about. As Schaffer points out, research has shown that one reason women do not leave abusive households is that they can’t take their animals with them. In 2008, the American Humane Association started a new initiative to open women’s shelters to pets. At one pet-friendly shelter in Naples, Florida, 100 pets cycle through every year. In Maine, judges can now include pets in domestic-protection restraining orders, Schaffer writes.

Through most of human history, it would have been inconceivable that pets would play such a powerful role in people’s survival decisions. Animals were beloved, but they were servants above all else. Now the federal government advises people building emergency kits to include their pets’ favorite toys, treats and bedding. “Familiar items can help reduce stress for your pet.”

Listen to Schaffer talk about how we got here on NPR’s Fresh Air.