cover image Pets in America: A History

Pets in America: A History

Katherine C. Grier, . . Univ. of North Carolina, $34.95 (377pp) ISBN 978-0-8078-2990-5

In an encyclopedic history, Grier describes the changing cultural sensibilities that have defined the experience of American pet owners from colonial times to the present. Grier, an expert on material culture at the Winterthur Museum (one of several museums that will display a traveling exhibition of the same title), draws on diaries, magazines, advice books, illustrations and photographs for this serious book reflecting the author's interest in the symbolic and metaphorical role pets play in our culture. Grier's definition of "pet" is broad and includes domestic animals like urban horses as well as chickens and pigs, which were routinely raised by children on farms as quasi-pets. Although she is primarily interested in human-animal relationships, Grier doesn't neglect the developing commercial multibillion-dollar pet industry (Ralston Purina, Grier relates, began as a livestock feed company, adding dog food only in 1926). Scholarly, thorough, informative and animal friendly as the book is, Grier would have made many readers even happier had she occasionally eschewed seriousness in favor of the rich satirical grounds the excesses of pet-ownership provide. B&w photos. (Feb.)