Dogs, political participation, socialization, cliques, park usage, social capital


Dogs play a distinct role in their impact on human relationships and processes because of the unique role they play in American society, existing in a liminal space of "almost" human. Both the level of emotional attachment and the requisite daily care make dogs important players in bringing humans in contact with one another and mediating human relationships. This study examines the role that dogs play in mediating relationships between and among humans. By analyzing 24 in-depth interviews, as well as Letters to the Editor, editorials, and other items in a local newspaper, and observing public meetings around dog usage at a local park, I identify a range of ways that dogs influence social relationships and processes, even for those who do not have dogs in their homes. On the positive side, Ifind that dogs act as "tickets" for people to socialize and develop relationships, they facilitate the diversification of social networks, and they act as an avenue to political participation. On the negative side, dog ownership and dog breeds can become the basis for clique formation, stereotypes, and boundary formation, serving as grounds for exclusion.

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