Cover of The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals by Katja M. Guenther
The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals
Katja M. Guenther


August 2020
312 pages.
from $28.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503612037
Paperback ISBN: 9781503612853

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Unlocks the hidden world of a high-intake animal shelter, revealing the inequalities that lead to one million animal deaths each year.

Monster is an adult pit bull, muscular and grey, who is impounded in a large animal shelter in Los Angeles. Like many other dogs at the shelter, Monster is associated with marginalized humans and assumed to embody certain behaviors because of his breed. And like approximately one million shelter animals each year, Monster will be killed.

The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals takes us inside one of the country's highest intake animal shelters. Over the course of her ethnographic research, Katja M. Guenther met countless animals, including Monster, and saw the dramatic variance in the narratives assigned them and, ultimately, their chances for survival. She argues that these inequalities are powerfully linked to human ideas about race, class, gender, ability, and species. By deftly decoding the language and behaviors of shelter staff, she explores internal hierarchies, breed discrimination, and importantly, instances of resistance and agency.

Current efforts to help shelter animals largely fail to address the underlying causes of companion animal homelessness, such as poverty and precarity. Guenther offers a radical rethinking of the problem of shelter confinement and death, demanding a new way of seeing the relationship between humans and nonhuman companions. The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals forces us to reacquaint ourselves with the animals we claim as "best friends."

About the author

Katja M. Guenther is Associate Professor of Gender & Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Riverside. She is the author of Making Their Place: Feminism After Socialism in Eastern Germany (Stanford, 2010).

"In this powerful and timely book, you will meet Gemma, Kale, Monster, Pretty Girl, Jesse, Jake, and many other four-legged beings whose situations in an animal shelter expose overlapping forms of oppression involving race, gender, class, and species. Katja M. Guenther unlocks the shelter door and eloquently explains this complicated and contested multi-species space, as she reflects on issues such as witnessing, vulnerability, advocacy, grievability, compassion, and animal resistance."

—Carol J. Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat

"In this compassionate, incisive ethnography of an animal shelter, Katja M. Guenther illuminates the entangled injustices that shape human relationships with other animals. The emotional, practical, and political contradictions of killing our companions become important sites for understanding exercises of power over others and possibilties for resistance. In addition to providing a conceptional framework for making animal deaths grievable, this book provides important new insights for critical animal studies."

—Lori Gruen, author of Entangled Empathy

"Katja M. Guenther captures the intricate world of animal sheltering and shelter volunteerism in a brilliantly executed multispecies ethnographical work. With the perfect balance of intimacy and analytical depth, the author reminds us of how messy things can get when caring and killing become one, or when the value of the animal companion's life is measured by the race, gender, and zip code of the owner."

—Bénédicte Boisseron, author of Afro-Dog