Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Tips from a Professor of Dogs

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Tips from a Professor of Dogs

Article excerpt

Cats may have won the internet but dogs are finally having their day, as muses of a rather more profound nature. There is Laurie Anderson's film Heart of a Dog, as much about her late piano-playing rat terrier, Lolabelle, as her songwriting husband, Lou Reed. Dr Phil Hammond frequently, including in this publication, prescribes dogs as a primary treatment for depression. Now there is Colin Dayan, professor in the humanities at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, whose book With Dogs at the Edge of Life suggests that canines point the way to nothing less than a new form of politics.

When we speak on the phone, the fast-talking, 66-year-old Dayan is a little out of breath from a morning run with her dog, Stella, an American Staffordshire terrier. The book--an unusual blend of memoir, legal detail, film appreciation and philosophy--makes clear her devotion to these animals. She writes, not altogether facetiously, that she chose them over her ex-husband. "They came into my life at a time when I had no idea what it would actually mean," she says. "I grew up in a household with poodles and a Pekinese. I didn't have much of a sense of dog--these were more of a lap kind."

Stella is no lap dog. A larger version of our Staffie, she would be classified as a pit bull and illegal in the UK under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. It was what she saw as prejudice against pit bulls that led Dayan away from earlier work in literary criticism to the case law of breed bans in the rural South and eventually to her new book, which argues that the destruction or imprisonment of dogs, however "humane", shows "the ugly reality beneath the veneer of civilisation". …

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