Monthly Archives: May 2015

What’s in a name? A lot


Bill Hutchison/Animal Matters

We all know it’s true, but it’s something we rarely think about – words mean things, and the particular words we use affect the way we think. If we zoom in on those words and look at how they change over time, it can reveal the ways we’re making progress, as well as the places we still need to work on. The words we use when we talk about animals mean things to us, and even if animals don’t speak our language, words mean things to them, too.

There has been a notable trend in recent years in referring to the ways animals live alongside us. For many years, when people wrote about animal-living quarters, it was frequently in terms of “kenneling” or “caging” animals. Now, we see a turn toward using terms like “housing” instead of “caging.” Do these word changes really mean something? If we imagine that the march of time brings with it a march of progress, then perhaps these word changes do reflect a shift in attitudes toward animals. One of the ways we can examine these changes is by looking at how frequently certain phrases appear in print. Thanks to advances in the digital humanities, we can examine these phrases in more historical detail.

Starting in 1780 and continuing for about a century, “kenneling” was what one did to keep an animal. While the term has significantly decreased in popularity since then, it still remains in use. The notion of the “animal cage” starts showing up in earnest around 1900, and peaks in popularity around 1945. Right around the same time, the idea of “animal housing” shows up, and from the late 1950s onward increases in popularity, peaking in the 90s. The phrase “animal house” surges in popularity between 1920 and 1970, (dropping off considerably as a term for animals after the movie Animal House is released in 1978). The idea of “caging animals” appears sporadically between 1890 and 1950, when it begins to increase in use, peaking in the 1990s and then dropping off. Compare that to the phrase “housing animals,” which steadily increases in popularity from the early 1890s until it peaks in the mid-1980s. (It has seen a decline in use since then.)

We can see some of the same indicators when we look at individual species – “dog kennel,” which is heavily in use from about 1730 on, is suddenly eclipsed around 1930 by “dog house,” which begins to decrease in use around the early 1990s. References to the places cats live with humans show up relatively late – it is not until around the turn of the twentieth century that the term “cat house” appears, and even if we correct for the other meaning of the term (a brothel or other “house of ill repute”), it skyrockets in popularity until around 1979, with a brief and radical resurgence in the early 2000s. “Cat tree” is virtually nonexistent until the late 1970s, but it has been climbing (no pun intended) in popularity ever since.

While these changes in the words we use are interesting, what do they actually tell us? First and most obviously, they reveal changes in the ways we write about the spaces in which animals live. We have replaced words like “cage” and “kennel” with words like “house.” As human relationships with animals become closer and more interrelated, so too have our words for the places we all live. But the second question that arises is why certain terms – like “dog house” or “cat house” – have decreased in recent years. Does this mean that we are no longer thinking on terms of providing animals with comfortable living arrangements? I would suggest that it indicates the opposite. More and more, the places our animals live are indistinguishable from the places we ourselves live. What use is a term like “dog house” if the dog house is also the human house? Now, more and more, human and animal family members all live together in the “house,” one word, plain and simple. This is borne out by the rise of terms like “dog bed” and “cat bed,” both of which start being used widely in the mid-1970s and continuing to climb to this day. Prior to the 1970s, we didn’t think much of “dog beds” because that’s not how we thought of the places dogs sleep. Our world changes, our thinking changes, and our language changes with it.

While the idea of caging versus housing is one of the most obvious ways we can track a real change in our attitudes and perceptions about animals, it calls to our attention the fact that we might want to pay more attention to the words we use. Do we refer to a dog or a cat as an “it” or as a “she”? Do we refer to them as “dumb animals” without realizing the complicated sets of feelings and communication skills each animal has? When we refer to our animals as our “children,” how does that affect our thinking?

Looking closely at the words we use helps us understand our own views better, and gives us an insight into what other people mean or know based on the words they use. It lets us choose better words when we realize the ones we’re using may in fact reflect outdated or even harmful ways of thinking. Most of all, it lets us think a little more about what we’re really talking about when we talk about animals.

In our next column, we’ll look at more ways we use language to talk about animals, this time in regard to pit bulls, who may be more caught up in human rhetoric than any other domesticated animal.

Note: Usage frequency determined using Google’s Ngram Viewer, a resource for searching words and phrases in millions of digitized volumes in English. The words and phrases examined in this article were studied across approximately 300 years.

Bill Hutchison, the shelter's former communications director, is currently working on a doctorate in English at the University of Chicago, specializing in animal studies.

Adoptable pets join youth symphony event

The Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association hosts its second Paws Pageant on Saturday, featuring adoptable animals, a host of vendors, free demonstrations, live music and a dog show.

The event, dubbed The Dog Show For Every Dog, runs from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Santa Fe Railyard District. pawspageant2015Several family-fun activities are planned, including “competitive” events to show off the beauty and talent of dogs. Categories include Best Dressed Dog, Best Talent, Musical Paws, Best Biscuit Catcher, Dog that Looks Most Like its Owner and Dog That Looks Most Like its Owner. A senior stroll is scheduled for 10:45 a.m.

The youth association will perform a variety of music during the event, which also features vendor booths, entertainment and fun activities. The Santa Fe animal shelter’s mobile adoption team plans to bring in a number of adoptable dogs and cats.

Assistance Dogs of the West and Sue McKelvey of Bounce Back Integrative Veterinary Rehabilitation will offer free demonstrations, along with certified dog trainer Mary Leatherberry, who will be administering the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test. The AKC test is recognized as a gold standard for dog behavior; local dogs can earn an AKC CGC certificate for passing the 10-step test.

For more information about the pageant’s categories and to enter your dog, visit the group’s website at Cost is $5 per entry.

Sponsored animals for May

Many of our supporters fall in love with our animals but can’t bring them home for one reason or another. Some choose to sponsor an animal’s stay at our shelter in hopes the extra attention will draw in the right family.

This month, our friends at Back Road Pizza and a longtime Shelter supporter are sponsoring Teddy:

Teddy-B is smart and strong 4-yearold male Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix.  He is full grown at about 70 pounds.  teddy100426And he is very playful and loves his walks and playgroups and is ready for a new home where he can thrive and just be himself.

Teddy-B came in with muscle issue in his left rear leg.  Upon taking x-rays, we discovered that he had pins in both his left femur and tibia where old fractures had been repaired.  The bones are healed and the pins do not need to be removed.

Teddy-B has been here since February and is ready to find his new home and family.

Another Shelter supporter, who asks to remain anonymous is sponsoring one of our fabulous felines, Chela!

Chela is a 13-year-old brown-and-tan Siamese mix kitty. Her coat is the color of your favorite mocha latte and she Chela A082075has piercing blue eyes.  Her previous owner could not care for her anymore due to allergies and now she is looking for a home she can stay in.  She's lived with dogs before, but seems to be more choosy with other cats.  She is a beautiful and gentle mature cat who loves attention, but not too much ruckus.

Tour For Life stops in Santa Fe

The Santa Fe animal shelter is partnering with North Shore Animal League America for the world’s largest mobile tourforlifeADadoption event, the 2015 Tour for Life.

Tour for Life, which travels throughout the nation from March to mid-May, will make a stop in Santa Fe today. Adoptable dogs, cats, puppies and kittens will be available to meet from 1 to 4 p.m. that Friday at PetSmart Santa Fe, 3561 Zafarano Drive. The event features half-off adoption fees, Purina giveaways and information on the benefits of adopting shelter pets, behavioral education and special services to pet owners.

The North Shore League’s “Shelter on Wheels” brings mobile adoption units helping shelter and rescue groups in 37 cities and 26 states, bringing awareness to their organizations and finding homes for the homeless animals in their care.