We, the Hunted: Dogs, Resistance, and Survival
“The emotional trauma of being hunted by a vicious animal can last for generations.”
I stood upon the fence until the dogs had reached the cotton press. In an instant more, their long, savage yells announced they were on my track . . . Every few moments I could hear the yelping of the dogs. They were gaining on me. Every howl was nearer and nearer. Each moment I expected they would spring upon my backexpected to feel their long teeth sinking into my flesh. There were so many of them, I knew they would tear me to pieces.
Twelve Years a Slave
The dog ward is quiet in the early afternoons, its charges stunned into silence after four chaotic hours of morning kennel cleaning. In the animal shelter, which is housed in a windowless former bread factory, time is marked by sound and smell. As the sun rises and sets over New Lots, a half-neighborhood, half-wasteland nestled in the outer reaches of eastern Brooklyn, the acrid chemicals of early morning give way to the smell of ripe excrement. The fluorescent lights flicker and eventually dim, and the cavernous halls fill with the staccato cries of dogs realizing they won’t leave their kennels until the following morning.
I know what I’m doing
The North Star
teeth sinking into bone, I feel as if the genetic memories embedded within me are also unleashed: I’m flooded with the sense of being hunted down by vicious bloodhounds while fleeing slavery, attacked by German Shepherds for demanding civil rights. It all seems related: my desire to get back up and drag myself to safety, my fierce will to live, my compulsion to try and problem-solve my near-death experience, my fixation with the natural world. I am part of a legacy of suffering and resistance, a path that could never have been forged without attempts to understand the behavior of nonhuman animals.
—if any dog gets within three feet of my leg, my scar begins to throb, my body tenses up, and I involuntarily jump to safety, sometimes bursting into tears. After centuries of control over our surrounding flora and fauna, people have drifted from the kind of hyper-vigilance that characterized our days as prey. But once you’ve faced the trauma of being eaten alive, it does something to reignite that ancestral fear, the impulse to constantly check over your shoulder.
—in a surveillance state, in the wake of mass incarceration, and in the military-style police occupations of Black neighborhoods.
Kelly is a former dog wrangler who writes on our society's complicated relationship with animals, and its inexorable connections to race and class. Her work has appeared in The Awl, The Toast, Motherboard, and elsewhere.
She loves all dogs unconditionally (and some cats, too).
More in this series
“Names bind us to people, places, and histories. As the descendant of enslaved people, my name only goes so far.”
“I once believed that I had creative talent, but I have given up this idea,” Clara Schumann wrote in her diary in 1839.