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Caring at the borders of the human: homeless people and their companion animals


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This presentation will focus on an aspect of a larger project looking at the treatment of the single homeless in England. In general our legal framework assumes that citizens are autonomous individuals who are free to live and provide for themselves in ways they think fit. It accepts however that certain individuals can legitimately be excepted from these assumptions, typically women, children and the vulnerable. Provision is made for these groups through legislation. The book will develop two strands of socio-legal thoughts or explorations around this basic framework. First it looks at how these legal exceptions work in contemporary times and second it looks at the consequences for those who are not considered legitimate exceptions. In particular how are the lives of those who are excluded from the statutory scheme also shaped by law? One aspect we will focus on is how care can be a challenge to the liberal paradigm.
The paper follows the homeless person’s pet through the ‘lawscape’ of homelessness to explore, through acts of translation and association, its spaces of care, dependency and control. The paper argues that the pet (usually, but not always a dog) provides a productive vantage point from which to explore care and homelessness because it highlights a close and perhaps unexpected juxtaposition of care and control as well as disrupting the normative asymmetry of care and dependency. The pet also opens the homeless person to a range of criminal interventions. A focus on the pets of the homeless therefore helps us rethink care, understanding the homeless as providers as well as recipients of care, entrepreneurs of the self as well as beggars, and that provision and receipt of care can simultaneously include and exclude the homeless in multiple and unexpected ways.

Helen Carr is a reader in law at Kent Law School, University of Kent. Helen's research interests lie primarily in the fields of Housing, Social Welfare and Public Law. She is interested in the regulation of the poor especially the homeless, the asylum seeker, the anti-social and those in need of care. Helen is particularly concerned with the gendered and racialised dimensions of regulation.
Caroline Hunter is professor of law at York Law School, University of Law. Caroline’s research interest lie in the boundaries between law, policy and practice, focusing on housing as a site of these interactions.

Together they are writing a book: Governing the homeless: law, governance and plurality at the margins to be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015.

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Caring at the borders of the human: homeless people and their companion animals

  1. 1. Caring at the borders of the human: homeless people and their companion animals Helen Carr and Caroline Hunter Talk at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law - Oñati • Date: 12th February 2014
  2. 2. Outline  Introduction  Themes of the book  methodologies  Human Animal studies  Companion animals in contemporary culture  The homeless and companion animals  Bringing the law back in – shifting jurisdictions and legal geographies  Progressive projects
  3. 3. Introduction  Exploration via homelessness of how we live our lives with law  What contribution can critical/feminist socio-legal scholarship make to social welfare debates?  What is missing from socio-legal scholarship which might prove productive?
  4. 4. Key themes  Working at the borders  Interface of the technical/doctrinal and the theoretical  Limits of the state  Inclusion/exclusion  Scale and jurisdiction  Citizenship  care
  5. 5. Starting points  Homelessness as liberal legal exceptionalism  Liberal autonomous man  Fluidity of categories of exception  Draconian consequences of exclusion  Leonard Feldman ‘Citizens without Shelter: Homelessness Democracy and political exclusion ‘  the homeless become ‘outlaws’ , non-citizens, who are ‘both outside of the law’s protection (exclusion) and subject to law’s punishment (inclusion) (Feldman 2004: 101). For Feldman it is not simply the punitive responses to homeless people that reduces them to a form of bare life, compassionate responses have the same effect.
  6. 6. Points of development and departure  Value  Understanding homelessness as a political problem  Need to avoid misrecognising the homeless  Acknowledgement of the important of legislative and judicial constructions of homelessness  Need for a pluralised understanding of home  Concern  Overemphasis on punitive role of state  Too easy dismissal of compassion and care in connection with the homeless ‘mainstream accounts of urban injustice – largely fixated on the punitive – are disconnected from the more ambiguous, if not supportive approaches to how vulnerable goups are managed ‘on the ground’ (DeVerteuil 2012:1)
  7. 7. Multiple methodologies
  8. 8. Why homeless people and their pets?  where humans live ‘very closely and purposefully with other species, …it goes without saying that (their) stories cannot properly be told without including the full cast of supporting actors’ (Franklin 2006:138).  May help    Avoid polarities of cultural representations of the homeless enable the re-imagination ‘categories of public, citizenship, home and justice in responding to the contemporary traps and blind alleys of homeless politics’ (Feldman 2004 :24). productive vantage point from which to explore care and homelessness because it    highlights a close and perhaps unexpected juxtaposition of care and control Challenges accounts of social provision as relentlessly punitive disrupts the normative asymmetry of care and dependency.
  9. 9. Human Animal studies  seeks to understand animals in the context of human society  ‘In times of liquid modernity, makeover culture and an experimental, playful and open-ended domesticity, we must begin to bring in perspectives that can cope with this complexity, with its relational materialism, its sociotechnical hybridity and semiotics’ (Franklin 2006:138).
  10. 10. Theoretical concerns  Animal rights  Challenging the boundary between the human and the animal  Feminists and lawyers have much to contribute and gain from the debate  Haraway, Seager, Sarat and Fox
  11. 11. Seagar 2003: 168 Elucidating the commonalities in structures of oppressions across gender, race, class, and species; developing feminist-informed theories of the basis for allocating ‘rights’ to animals; and exposing the gendered assumptions and perceptions that underlie human relationships to non-human animals. At the same time, the serious contemplation of animal rights makes a considerable contribution to destabilizing identity categories and adds new dimensions to theorizing the mutability of identity
  12. 12. Companion animals in contemporary society  Growth in pet ownership, and accompanying economy  Move from ownership and ornament to companionship and protection
  13. 13. Why?  Rooted in contemporary ontological insecurity  ‘humans began to build social and emotional ties with animals because it had become increasingly difficult for them to establish and maintain such ties among themselves’ (Franklin 1999:36)  Productive source  This ‘lived intersubjectivity’ of two beings sharing a messy, awkward, loving relationship provides an ideal opportunity for thinking practically about some of the real-life dilemmas presented in recent theoretical challenges to the animal – human divide and helps us go beyond theories of destabilized categories to the complex theorizations and practices of everyday life (Fox 2006: 535)
  14. 14. Homeless people and their companion animals
  15. 15. "Bob the cat rescued me from drugs": How sick stray inspired addict to sell one million  James had been a homeless heroin addict for more than a decade when he found stray, injured Bob.The inspiring tail (!) of their unlikely friendship has now sold 750,000 copies in the UK alone, and been translated into 27 languages.As James tells it: “Our story seemed to connect with people who were facing difficult times in their lives. Hundreds of them wrote to me or contacted us via social media. I was immensely proud.”
  16. 16. My Dog Always Eats First: Homeless People and their Animals Leslie Irvine 2013  Interviews with 75 homeless pet owners in California and Florida  Narratives of human-animal relationships  Friend and family  The pack of two  Protectors  Lifechangers and Lifesavers  Strategies for coping with stigma  Redefining ‘good’ pet ownership to cope with the realities of their everyday existence
  17. 17. Irvine’s conclusions  Caring and feeling cared for seem to improve people’s sense of self worth  Strategy for including silenced or marginalized voices  Includes – via acts of translation - animal’s voices – provides insights into how people construct the identities of animals and simultaneously construct identities for themselves.
  18. 18. Animals as home  We treat animals ‘as if’ they were friends or family, but we reserve these statuses for other humans. Homeless people challenge the ‘as if’ qualification because for many of them, their animals truly are their sole sources of affection and close companionship 159  ‘You know, when you have a home, your relationships with animals take place at home. But when you’re homeless, they are your home.’ 85  The narratives also serve as a reminder that we can only understand and meet the needs of the homeless if we take their relationships with their pets seriously. 85
  19. 19. Animals and the meanings of home  Parsell - Home refers to something that people do experience, and something, moreover, held in high regard. In this respect, home has meaning on social, emotional, spiritual and material levels. It is a complex and multi-dimensional concept, and any conceptualisation needs to be attuned to the dynamic meaning making process people attribute to it  Public places the antithesis of home  For Irvine, family and friends narratives provide a balm, stability and certainty in the midst of uncertainty and contingency  Because it exists in a realm apart from the street, the relationship provides a point of permanence in a shifting terrain of the self
  20. 20. reforming the public  Resistance to stigma enabled by pet food donations etc from the public  Income enhancement  Channel of communication
  21. 21. Jurisdictional forms and companion animals  What does it mean to own dogs responsibly in the UK?  The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991  Responsibility is to the public  Categorizes certain breeds as dangerous  Criminal offence to allow a dog to be out of control in a public place  The Animal Welfare Act 2006  Responsibility to the animal  Prevention of suffering
  22. 22. Index of Exempted dogs  Jamie and his dog Chucky live in a St Mungos hostel in London. Jamie became homeless after a relationship breakdown and spent months sofa surfing and rough sleeping before he was helped by the St Mungos outreach team. Chucky is legally registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs as an American Pit Bull Terrier after being seized by police. Due to his gentle nature and the fact that he poses no risk to the public, he was released back into Jamie’s care. The restrictions placed on Chucky by the DDA do make life difficult for Jamie and he sometimes finds it difficult to give Chucky the exercise he needs. But he wouldn’t be without him. As Jamie says “I’ve had Chucky since he was 8 weeks old. We’ve got such a strong bond. I’d never have him put to sleep because he was inconvenient to me. He really is a part of me”.
  23. 23. Contingent destruction order  Fee £92.40  Time limit 2 months  Index number for dog must be produced on demand  Third party liability insurance  dog must be neutered, tattooed and microchipped
  24. 24. The Dogs Trust Hope Project  Helps homeless people navigate the dangerous dogs act  provides free and subsidised veterinary treatment to dogs whose owners are homeless or in housing crisis  Advises hostels, shelters and day centres on accepting clients with dogs.
  25. 25. Oxford City Council dog warden service
  26. 26. Oxford City Council dog warden service  Chipping and tagging dogs for homeless owners  Providing collars and leashes