by R. Scott Seabrook, UNC Charlotte
Let me preface this piece by stating firmly: I am a proponent of pet ownership. I grew up with cats, dogs, parakeets, gerbils, guinea pigs and hamsters. I have always loved having pets and the companionship they offer. However, I have been looking at the amount of natural land that is being annexed to provide parks for dogs. I have been looking at the areas where there is a real need for these parks; overpopulated areas like New York City or Chicago that lack green space, apartment dwellers and the like. I have been looking at my neighbor who chains his dog up in the front yard to be ignored and barks at every passing car. While I am looking at my neighbor’s dog, I am looking, too, at the many species of birds that fly through the trees in my front yard, the squirrels that play and forage in the bushes and the bees that pollenate the flowers in the garden.
Gervaise Markham in his “Farewell to Husbandry” claimed that bees “are exceedingly industrious and much given to labor, they have a kind of government among themselves, as it were a well-ordered Commonwealth” (Book 2, 168). Jane Bennet states in her paper “The Agency of Assemblages and The North American Blackout”, “Earth is the whole in which the parts now circulate” (445) and she describes assemblages as the “whole and its style of structuration” (445). Further, she argues agency within assemblages as “the abilities of bodies to become otherwise than they are, to press out of their current configuration and enter into new compositions of self as well as into new alliances and rivalries with others” (447). When we combine the thinking of these writers, though they wrote more than 300 years apart, there is a connection to the respect they see for that which exists within a group of actants interacting with and without one another.
If we stretch this amalgamized notion of the industriousness of bees, their given habitat being nature, their individual and group agency within the assemblage of a hive and we stretch this notion further to include all the creatures and growing things in ‘natural nature’, and we stand this against human’s domestication of not only cows, horses and other livestock that Markham espoused in his work but against dog’s as pets, as substitute spouses, children and partners that humans invade upon the naturally occurring assemblages already in place and conducting their natural routines, destroy their environment, alter their nature, their matter in pursuit of providing places for dogs to exercise and socialize and their human ‘owners’ to enjoy the same, where do we draw a line to recognize the intrinsic value of those beings, animal and vegetable, being evicted in the name of dog parks?
I realize this may seem a harsh line to take currently in an age of doggie daycares, doggie day spas, boutique inter-mingling of breeds, dog walkers and dog care givers, and again, I am a proponent of pet ownership, but when statistics such “5.4 dog parks per 100,000 residents” (1) in Portland, Oregon (https://www.tpl.org/media-room/dog-parks-lead-growth-us-city-parks#sm.00011kpuos192od5apns7ukxdfxlf) show that nature is being forced out to make way for dogs, it begs the question: To what end do human’s refuse to recognize the benefit of nature and its contributions to environment to make way for an elevated stewardship or dominion over all creatures, to elevate dogs to the level of priority need over nature?
The need for dog parks has many virtues: they allow socialization, exercise and bonding time. As previously stated there are places like New York City that need dedicated land for pet owners to walk, exercise and generally allow their dogs time out of doors. Yet, at the same time, I ponder the invasion of humans on the animals that call nature their home. What of these indigenous denizens whose homes are eliminated in the name of dog socialization, human socialization and the other benefits of dog parks?
To look at a section of a natural assemblage, for argument’s sake let us say 90 acres in Upper Saucon, NY. (here is a link to the article: https://www.mcall.com/news/local/sauconvalley/mc-nws-upper-saucon-20170809-story.html) that “has been undisturbed for more than a decade” (1). The article states that the city council voted unanimously to turn the natural area into a ‘nature park’ with “parking lots, bridges, a dog park, educational staging areas and a series of walking trails” (1). This, again, brings up the question of human, and/or dogs’, intrusion on natural assemblages, on nature, becomes one of decision between allowing nature to remain undisturbed or to allow human encroachment on it.
Markham may not have understood the connection humans have developed to dogs, Bennett may argue that the dog park acts as a created assemblage that serves its purpose, but what would Alaimo, who refused to ruin her tilled soil with a Dorito, or Bennett or Markham say of the matter that is being destroyed in the name of dog parks? How would each of them see how the matter of nature and all its beings and plants and trees are held in disregard to the plight of the apartment-bound hound?