Challenging and Reinforcing the Ability/Disability System through Advocacy for Disabled Dogs
This paper illuminates how volunteers and animal rescuers who assist dogs from a high-intake public shelter in the Los Angeles metropolitan area simultaneously resist the devaluation of the lives of disabled dogs while sensationalizing and fetishizing disability through their discursive and representational practices. Drawing on observations from three years of ethnographic fieldwork in an animal shelter and with animal rescues, as well as from public media volunteers and rescuers post online, I adopt an intersectional analysis that attends to inequalities of species, ability/disability, and gender in the context of contemporary American capitalism. I show how members of the animal rescue community—who are all women, almost all white, and none of whom identified themselves as disabled—reject the shelter's practice of fast-tracking some types of disabled dogs for shelter killing and assert instead the right of disabled dogs to live. At the same time, rescuers talk about and represent disabled dogs as infantile, remarkable, and in need of saviors to help them. Ultimately, rescuers' representations of disabled dogs work to expand capitalist beliefs of companion animals as lively capital by showing that disabled dogs have value as companions, in large part through an assertion of dogs as family members.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Katja M. Guenther
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