Pets in America

A History

By Katherine C. Grier

Pets in America

392 pp., 6 x 9, 100 illus., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1472-4
    Published: January 2015
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7714-2
    Published: November 2010
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7818-2
    Published: November 2010

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Awards & distinctions

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

Entertaining and informative, Pets in America is a portrait of Americans' relationships with the cats, dogs, birds, fishes, rodents, and other animals we call our own. More than 60 percent of U.S. households have pets, and America grows more pet-friendly every day. But as Katherine C. Grier demonstrates, the ways we talk about and treat our pets--as companions, as children, and as objects of beauty, status, or pleasure--have their origins long ago.

Grier begins with a natural history of animals as pets, then discusses the changing role of pets in family life, new standards of animal welfare, the problems presented by borderline cases such as livestock pets, and the marketing of both animals and pet products. She focuses particularly on the period between 1840 and 1940, when the emotional, behavioral, and commercial characteristics of contemporary pet keeping were established. The story is filled with the warmth and humor of anecdotes from period diaries, letters, catalogs, and newspapers.

Filled with illustrations reflecting the whimsy, the devotion, and the commerce that have shaped centuries of American pet keeping, Pets in America ultimately shows how the history of pets has evolved alongside changing ideas about human nature, child development, and community life.

This book accompanies a museum exhibit, "Pets in America," which opens at the McKissick Museum in Columbia, South Carolina, in December 2005 and will travel to five other cities from May 2006 through May 2008.

About the Author

Katherine C. Grier is professor of material culture studies, Winterthur Program in Early American Culture, Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library and the University of Delaware. She lives in Wilmington, Delaware, and Onancock, Virginia, with her husband, two cats, and two dogs.
For more information about Katherine C. Grier, visit the Author Page.


"Although [Pets in America’s] six chapters can be read independently, they function best together as a sustained narrative that uses broad subjects . . . to probe not just our changing notions about animals but our changing definition of a good society. And because Grier, as she modestly puts it, is ‘interested in stories,’ her inquiries can be very entertaining. . . . Grier has a nice habit of tweaking a detail to make a larger point. . . . With her characteristic blend of seriousness and whimsy, Grier confesses to an interest in 'the tension between the apparent desire of American pet owners to experience the 'animal' in our pets . . . and our simultaneous and increasing desire to regulate and control our pets."--New York Times Book Review

"An encyclopedic history. . . . [Pets in America is] scholarly, thorough, informative and animal friendly."--Publishers Weekly

"A fascinating look at the development, roles, and effects of pets in American society. . . . Provide[s] a wealth of . . . dependable information that any pet lover would appreciate."--Choice

"This work explores the history of animal-human bonding in the context of a growing country with a diverse population. The narrative is entwined with the development of veterinary medicine, animal humane movements, and pet products. If the well-written prose is not enough, the illustrations provide a telling accent. . . . Although grounded in material evidence, the book introduces larger issues--philosophies of caring and belief that, despite enormous social and technological change, span centuries."--Bloomsbury Review

"A welcome addition to the field."--American Historical Review

"Scholars of the history of human-animal relations have eagerly anticipated this book, and the result exceeds expectations."--Journal of American History