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Book Review

Brute Force: Animal Police and the Challenge of Cruelty

by Arnold Arluke
West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2004.

Ethnographies take the reader on a journey that is meant to provide understanding of meaningful social action within a given context. In this case, Arluke (2004) brings the daily routines of animal control workers, with their joys, triumphs, and frustrations, to life within a socio-psychological analysis. Drawing attention to the decision-making and procedural processes of bringing individuals to justice who are physically and/or emotionally cruel to animals is an important contribution to the literature that examines the use of force against non-humans.

Arluke (2004) collected participant observation and interview data from 30 animal police officers who worked for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) in Boston and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in New York over the period of a year. It became very clear to me as I read this book that the author completely immersed himself in the lives of his subjects (e.g., ride-alongs, calls at home to the author with additional information on that day’s cases, etc.). As with all ethnographic work, this lends authority to the conclusions drawn and a sense of security to the reader that contradictory data were not excluded. Arluke cites Prus (1997) to demonstrate the analytical framework he adopted during data collection and analysis: “I am always drawn to looking at how people make sense of and manage new experiences and problems, a universal social process regardless of particular group membership” (2004: 7). This highlights what I feel is one of the strengths of this book whereby the author takes the observations and findings and compares and contrasts them to individuals who work in related professions (in this case police officers and child protection workers).

An important distinction for Canadian readers is that animal police officers in the United States have received basic training as police officers but handle only cases that involve violence towards non-humans (e.g., dogs, cats, horses, reptiles) (see Chapters 1, 2, and 4). In contrast, my research with the police suggests that Canadian animal control workers forward files to the police when the case requires charges to be laid. This creates a unique situation that is clearly expanded on and analysed by Arluke (2004) where animal police officers can experience job related stress that is very similar to that which is experienced by police officers and, in some cases, social workers. This may or may not be the case in Canada, suggesting that the contribution of this work is as much the questions which it raises as the answers which it provides.

On the other hand, there are many substantive conclusions that are not only applicable to those in other professions but are also generalizable to enforcement agents in other nations. These generic processes surround the ambiguity of law and the role conflict an individual can experience when there is a disjuncture between organizational expectations and everyday experiences on the job. For example, Arluke’s (2004) research suggests that animal officers see their professional identity as problematic in that they are expected to be both “professional law enforcers” and protectors of animals who are not able to communicate their “distress”. Similarly, the applicable laws that govern cruelty to animals require subjective interpretations by animal police officers, prosecutors, and judges regarding what constitutes “neglect”, “abuse”, and “proper care” (see in particular pp. 131-155). Complicating matters, these animal control officers appear to face a very indifferent judicial system where evidentiary criteria are difficult to satisfy but effectiveness can arguably be measured by success in court.

Arluke (2004) draws on Hochschild’s (1983) theoretical concept of emotional labour throughout his analyses. Not only was reading this ethnography a personal form of emotional labour for this reviewer, it was also illuminating as the emotional labour these officers engaged in on a daily basis can be seen as a generic process across professional and geographic boundaries. The adaptive strategies adopted by animal police officers are quite similar to those I found in my research with Canadian police officers who work with or interact with juveniles.

I recommend this book to sociologists and criminologists who conduct research in areas that involve the exercise of social control, the interaction between law and society, as well as those investigating the process of dealing with special populations (e.g., homeless, children, those with a mental illness, etc.). When I initially began reading Brute Force I was under the mistaken assumption that it would be applicable only to those who study and research relations between humans and animals. However, I found myself not only questioning this assumption, but also some of the prevalent ideas about decision-making processes in other professions. For that reason, I feel it is a worthwhile and important contribution towards scientific knowledge and a welcome addition to my personal library.

University of Toronto


Prus, Robert. 1997. Subcultural Mosaics and Intersubjective Realities. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

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