Researching Contested Companionship
Responsibility and Care Work in the Field
Keywords:Animal geography, breed specific legislation, care ethics, multispecies research, panic policies
June 8th, 2016 ended the lives of both Christiane Vadnais and Lucifer, but it also unraveled many other relations between humans and pitbull-type dogs. In this paper, I explore what it meant to conduct multispecies ethnography in the context of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) in the city of Montréal between 2016-2018. I detail how methodologies of participant observation, walking interviews, and auto-ethnography explored themes of care, ethics, solidarity, and intervention. In the first section, I describe who I am engaging with when I say ‘pitbull-type dog’. It is here I define what I call contested companionship. Next, I turn to my fieldwork detailing three research methods. I first describe participant observation and rapport building at Tails and Paws Montréal, a dog care facility, and introduce Rocky, a pitbull-type dog that had to evacuate the province of Québec. Next, I outline the benefit of walking interviews for multispecies research. I conclude my reflection on methodological practices by drawing from auto-ethnographic data outlining my shared life with Clementine and Eleanor. In the third section, I consider questions of intervention in the field that were deeply tethered to matters of life and death for both human and nonhuman participants, in particular for Fred and his companions Marilyn and Samson. Scaffolded together, I provide an example of what an ethically informed multispecies research design looked like that additionally had to navigate contested companionship –illegal or precarious—that shaped methodological practices into politically productive strategies that safeguarded not only individuals but relationships.
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