The Washington Post

‘Citizen Canine’ tracks the social status of dogs and cats from property to person

David Grimm makes nice with Dharma the wolf at Wolf Park in Battle Ground, Ind. (Monty Sloan/Wolf Park)

Something was wrong with Jasper. The gray-striped kitten, usually a whirl of motion, sat listlessly at the edge of the bed, his oversized head drooping onto his fuzzy white tummy. Jasper’s panicked owner, David Grimm, cradled the kitten in his arms and rushed to the vet.

The diagnosis: acute renal failure. One of Jasper’s kidneys had stopped working, and the other one was sputtering out. The prognosis was not good at first, but thanks to a small army of veterinary specialists, Jasper pulled through.

“It cost us $3,000, but it was totally worth it,” Grimm says. “My wife and I couldn’t afford to give each other presents at Christmas that year, so we just passed Jasper back and forth.”

That experience, back in 2005, inspired Grimm to write “Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs,” which he’ll be discussing Tuesday at Politics and Prose.

“Twenty years ago, you couldn’t have spent that much money. There weren’t the veterinary nephrologists, the CT machines,” he says.

It wasn’t long ago that Americans considered cats and dogs too stinky and unsanitary to let inside, Grimm says. Now pets are considered members of the family.

“The invention of flea shampoo and kitty litter made a huge difference,” he says.

Here are more milestones in the history of pet-human relations.

Circa 30,000 B.C.  Wolves trailed hunter-gatherers and ate the scraps the humans left behind. Over generations, the least-skittish ventured closer to camps, eating better, living longer and having more pups.
These wolves evolved into dogs.

7,500 B.C.  Ancient people on the island of Cyprus imported wildcats from the mainland to control their rodent population. As with wolves, the felines least fearful of people flourished, interbreeding until they became domesticated cats.

(Guillaume Blanchard /Wikimedia Commons) (Guillaume Blanchard /Wikimedia Commons)

4,000 B.C.  Cats began showing up in ancient Egyptian art. Felines were revered, and some were given elaborate burials.

500 B.C. to 500 A.D.  White and black cats appeared, perhaps due to rampant breeding in Egyptian temples. Previously, all cats were brown, with the stripes of their wild ancestors.

146 B.C.  The Romans conquered Greece, and they were dog people. They bred large, mastiff-sized dogs for hunting, fast whippet-like hounds for tracking prey and lapdogs for companionship.

1233 A.D. Pope Gregory IX proclaimed that cats were incarnations of Satan. Europeans slaughtered them by the millions. Without cats to kill rats ridden with bubonic-plague-carrying fleas, the Black Death swept Europe unchecked.

1822 The first meaningful animal welfare law was passed in the United Kingdom.

1880s More people invite dogs indoors, thanks in part to the invention of medicated soap.

1893 “Beautiful Joe,” a book written from the point of view of an abused dog, is published and soon becomes an international best-seller.

1947 Kitty litter was invented, boosting the popularity of house cats.

2000 Boulder, Colo., began using “guardian” instead of or in addition to “owner” in its pet-related legislation.

2013 Americans spent $55.7 billion on their pets, including $14.4 billion on veterinary care.

2014 South Dakota became the final U.S. state to pass a felony-level anticruelty law.

Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; Tue., 7 p.m., free; 202-364-1919. (Van Ness)

More stories about animals:

Coywolves, coyote-wolf hybrids, are prowling Rock Creek Park and D.C. suburbs

Extinct birds land at ‘Once There Were Billions’ at the National Museum of Natural History

There’s more to wildlife in D.C. than street rats

Sadie Dingfelder will write about anything, but she especially loves art, science, wildlife and quirky people.



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