What we call "home": dog-human collaborative space

A paper presented at the Animals and Their People: Fall of the Anthropocentric Paradigm? Internatonal Conference, University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland, March 2014


While animal refuges and preserves seek to re-create animals’ natural habitats, what constitutes the natural habitat of the domestic dog? As a companion to humans for over 12,000 years, has the domestic dog adapted to human living spaces as its natural environment? And what of dogs in a sanctuary or rescue environment, how do caregivers provide a “natural” environment for them? I confront this question as an artist running a dog sanctuary, Free to Be Dog Haven (www.freetobedogs.com). The sanctuary is an extension of my studio practice as I explore human-canine inter-subjectivity and ask how human-canine collaborative space serves as a site for ontological revision.

My sanctuary owes much to Haraway’s notion of “significant otherness,” acknowledging both human and canine subjectivity in constructing a space we call home. The sanctuary is, in fact, my house that I share with multiple dogs whose perspectives I strive to consider as our space constantly evolves. While much shelter design today defines “home” from a human perspective, I often wonder what home would like to a dog if he or she had the opportunity to design it?

Not that I dare presume to design from a canine perspective. We can only design from a human perspective, informed by research on canine behavior, health, enrichment, and the history of dog-human relationships. Additionally, however, we can design with the awareness that the human perspective is not the central, governing focus, simply one privileged by resources.

Ultimately, using Steve Baker’s words, the sanctuary’s work is to “operate other-than-in identity.” Our space evolves with the recognition that identities evolve in relation to one another. Our sanctuary is a space of collaborative being: identities of “human” and “animal” are superseded by a constantly evolving collective identity that defies presumed knowledge and, ultimately, re-imagines human and non-human animal relations.