Happy 10th Birthday, Citizen Canine!

41Zkk3pnV1L._SY522_It’s hard to believe, but it’s been almost exactly 10 years since my book, Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs, was published. It was a long journey to get there–marking one of the most stressful and transformative periods of my life–and it changed me both as a writer and as a person.

The idea to write the book first struck me in early 2010. I was young in my career as a journalist, and though I always hoped I’d write a book someday, I assumed “someday” would be decades in the future. But an itch formed. I began to feel, ever more persistently, that I had something unique to say about the strikingly elevated status of pets in modern society–how we got there, how it’s changing both us and them–and no single article could scratch it. So I decided to go all-in.

I spent months reading as much as I could about the domestication and cognition of cats and dogs, their current status and impact on society, and their remarkably evolving legal status. I probably read more law articles than the average first-year law student. The endeavor–which continued through finding an agent, drafting a proposal, and writing the book itself–consumed my nights and weekends. Shouldering the project on top of a full-time job, a new teaching position, and the birth of my twin girls nearly broke me. As did my frequent traveling for the book; my reporting took me from the hidden enclaves of my adopted city, Baltimore, to the farmlands of Indiana, to an air force base in Texas.

The reporting–and especially my travels–didn’t just enrich the book, they enriched me. Over the course of four years, I’d come face-to-face with majestic gray wolves, explore the postdiluvian ruins of New Orleans (and the pets that still inhabit them), tag along with police officers investigating animal abuse on the rough streets of South Central Los Angeles, and meet a dog on death row in Georgia who became one of the only animals in the country to get his own lawyer.

The effort paid off. Citizen Canine is one of my proudest achievements–an intimate, probing book about pets that contains stories no one else has told. Its pages reveal not only how dogs and cats became the most cherished animals on the planet, but how their evolving status in society reveals truths about our own place in this world. For we have not only changed our pets–they have changed us. As I write towards the end of the book:

As much as pets have civilized us, I think they’ve also kept us wild. Of all the roles they play, the most important may be that of shamans. Instead of bridging the gap between our world and the spirit world, they serve as mediators between our asphalt jungle and the real one. All pets are a bit like feral cats, straddling the line between wild and domestic, person and beast. And because they can cross this boundary, they serve as a lifeline—perhaps the last lifeline—to our animal past. We don’t just need them to comfort us and play with us. We need them to remind us of who we are and where we came from.

My high school history teacher once told me that everyone has one great book in them–something that only they could write, something they were put on this world to write. For me, that book is Citizen Canine. It has changed my life. I hope you’ll give it a chance to change yours.

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