Animal Studies Bibliography

Hickrod, Lucy Jen Huang and Raymond L. Schmitt. 1982. A Naturalistic Study of Interaction and Frame: The Pet as Family Member. Urban Life 11(1): 55-77.

Hickrod and Schmitt studied pets (using interviews, a questionnaire, and media coverage) through the lens of Goffman's frame analysis. A primary frame answers the question what is it that's going on here? Primary frames can be altered into a keyed frame, which means something different to the participants than what the primary frame indicated. Pets are often keyed as family members--families treat a pet in many ways similar to how they would treat a human family member (e.g. naming it, spending a lot of money on its care, giving it special places in the house to sit, etc.). The keying process occurs through seven turning points. First, the pet enters the family life: because of the positive attitude toward pets in American culture, many people decide to take one in. The pet is interchangeable with other animals at this point. Second, the pet is named, making it an interactional object (61) because it now has an identity and can be discussed like a person or talked to like a person. Third, the pet must pass a probationary period in which the family tries to learn the animal's needs and the animal must learn the family's rules of conduct. Families often get rid of pets that are hard to housebreak or otherwise deal with. Fourth, engrossment or intense feelings about the pet develop, aided by interpretations of the pet's behavior as loyal or by perceiving a common heritage with the animal. Fifth, people suddenly realize what has been happening and that they consider the pet a family member. Sixth, people engage in mood-joining and routinization, during which procedures are developed for participating in the key within the family and with others (e.g. introducing the pet, treating it with great care). When the frame is broken by reminders that the animal really is just a pet/toy/animal, (e.g. seeing a no pets allowed sign, seeing it engage in animal behavior such as eating its feces), the key is kept from ritualization, which would limit its variability. Family members integrate the key with their behavior (e.g. planning where to live based on its pet policy; a deaf woman using her pet to tell when the phone was ringing). These interactions build up with memories, giving the key a history. Seventh, the pet is separated from the family, usually by death. When the pet dies, owners usually experience great distress which often has no acceptable outlet except to the veterinarian. Experiencing pets' deaths has also been shown to help people deal later with people's deaths. Sometimes people must give up their pets for other reasons (e.g. need a new seeing-eye dog, moving to a no-pet nursing home) and owners usually experience distress and plan for the animals' future is possible. After such a loss the people may rekey the lost pet by talking about it, passing its name on to a new pet, keeping pictures of the pet, or using a pet cemetery. Many animals are keyed as things other than pets or are left in an unkeyed state as nonhumans (e.g. the watchdog, animals used in experiments). People may participate in both kinds of frames or may change frames--for example, having a beloved pet as family member as well as doing dissections, or coming to view a beloved pet as a nuisance after a child was born. Frames are important for the organization of animal-human activity (71), and we identify the relevant frame for an animal by the signs around them (language, behavior, and place). To truly understand someone else's keyed pet, a person must have participated in the keying of a pet previously. There is a general American support for pets, which comes out of animal domestication history, 18th and 19th century changes in American life, and an equalitarian view of pets and humans and is supported by the marketplace, the media, pet heroes, and the like. This support provides the basis through which animals gain entry to families and begin the path to family member status.


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