Cover of The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals by Katja M. Guenther
The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals
Katja M. Guenther


312 pages.
from $30.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503612037
Paperback ISBN: 9781503612853
Ebook ISBN: 9781503612860

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Winner of the 2021 Animals & Society Distinguished Book Award, sponsored by the American Sociological Association (ASA) Section on Animals & Society.

Monster is an adult pit bull, muscular and grey, who is impounded in a large animal shelter in Los Angeles. Like many other dogs at the shelter, Monster is associated with marginalized humans and assumed to embody certain behaviors because of his breed. And like approximately one million shelter animals each year, Monster will be killed. The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals takes us inside one of the country's highest-intake animal shelters. Katja M. Guenther witnesses the dramatic variance in the narratives assigned different animals, including Monster, which dictate their chances for survival. She argues that these inequalities are powerfully linked to human ideas about race, class, gender, ability, and species. Guenther deftly explores internal hierarchies, breed discrimination, and importantly, instances of resistance and agency.

About the author

Katja M. Guenther is Associate Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Riverside, and author of Making Their Place (Stanford, 2010).

"In this powerful and timely book, you will meet Gemma, Kali, Monster, Pretty Girl, Jesse, Jake, and many other four-legged beings whose situations in an animal shelter expose overlapping forms of oppression involving race, gender, class, and species. Katja M. Guenther unlocks the shelter door and eloquently explains this complicated and contested multispecies space, as she reflects on issues such as witnessing, vulnerability, advocacy, grievability, compassion, and animal resistance."

—Carol J. Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat

"In this compassionate, incisive ethnography of an animal shelter, Katja M. Guenther illuminates the entangled injustices that shape human relationships with other animals. The emotional, practical, and political contradictions of killing our companions become important sites for understanding exercises of power over others and possibilties for resistance. In addition to providing a conceptual framework for making animal deaths grievable, this book provides important new insights for critical animal studies."

—Lori Gruen, author of Entangled Empathy

"Katja M. Guenther captures the intricate world of animal sheltering and shelter volunteerism in a brilliantly executed multispecies ethnographical work. With the perfect balance of intimacy and analytical depth, the author reminds us of how messy things can get when caring and killing become one, or when the value of the animal companion's life is measured by the race, gender, and zip code of the owner."

—Bénédicte Boisseron, author of Afro-Dog

"Over the past eight years, I've been part of leading three, open-admission government shelters. This remarkable book addresses virtually every systematic issue I've experienced and accurately examines the complexities of the sheltering institution. Katja M. Guenther gets it right. This is a must-read for anyone working or volunteering in an animal shelter. I promise, it will change the way you see your job and make you ask yourself tough questions about where we go from here."

—Kristen Hassen, Director, American Pets Alive!

"The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals is an important read for anyone interested in the social world of animal shelters."

—Michał Piotr Pręgowski, Anthrozoös

"Dr. Guenther's book is an extremely important work that encourages us to be more compassionate and reminds us that the oppressive systems at work in society at large are also at work in the microcosm of the shelter. The book invites us to rethink the entire sheltering system to make it more equitable and humane."

Community Cats Podcast

"Guenther brings a humane perspective to human and animal behavior. In her skillful analysis of the animal shelter's practices and policies, the connections between the marginalization of minority human groups and the marginalization of animals become clear... By investigating the zoological connection between the animal shelter and the community it serves, she vastly expands current notions of intersectionality, democracy, and inclusivity."

—Leslie Irvine, American Journal of Sociology

"Katja Guenther is a radical researcher who wants to change the situation of animals through her research, which is an appeal for a radical transformation of the relationships between humans and animals; it is the call for a revolution."

—Krzysztof T. Konecki, Symbolic Interation