The following is a reaction paper to Animal Spaces, Beastly Places, edited by Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert.
Does the apartment that I rent belong to me, or to the mice and rats that frequent the space behind my oven? A wire leading to the oven’s ignitor had broken. A repair person fixed it, and pointed out that we had a lot of rodent feces behind the oven. A day later, the oven stopped working, and when the repair person returned, he observed that the animals had chewed through the new wire. I asked him if there was a way to reinforce the wire, to which he replied, “You need an exterminator to come and kill ‘em.” I don’t want to kill them, but if I don’t address the fact that there are mice and rats living behind my oven, chewing through ignitor wires, I will not be able to cook, and will be forced to pay hefty appliance repair fees. But do they have to die?
In Animal Spaces, Beastly Places, editors Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert explore the sociological, anthropological, and historical underpinnings of my dilemma. They expound on the notion of “imaginative geographies of animals,” which alludes to the ways in which human beings come to “place” animals and define them in terms of the spaces they inhabit, and the ways in which those spaces interact with those that we humans inhabit. “Humans are always… enmeshed in social relations with animals…” they write (2), in a manner most often defined by “an oppressive, dominating power by humans over animals” (4). Their investigation is, broadly, a study of “where and how… the lines get drawn… between human and non-human animals” (7).
The “eco” exterminator that came to the apartment recommended some structural fixes and a round of poison traps, which kill the animals through severe dehydration. In my house growing up, we used “Havahart” traps and released any mice that we caught into the woods several miles away. Naturally, I asked the exterminator to use his humane, catch-and-release traps. These would, he noted, be more costly and require additional visits.
While no animals will be killed in this process, it remains difficult for me to justify removing them from a place that, presumably, they have inhabited longer than I, who only moved in two months ago. Philo and Wilbert touch upon this notion of agency, too, assessing whether animals have any say, any role to play, in the spaces that we delineate as “theirs” or “ours.” Indeed, my relationship with the animals behind my oven “raises broader concerns about non-human agency… and the extent to which we can say that animals destabilise [sic], transgress or even resist our human orderings, including spatial ones” (5). Out of disorder behind my oven, these animals made order.The authors suggest that we extend human “courtesies” to animals, “allowing them the decencies of life, space, and place that we humans would expect and want for ourselves and others” (25). I agree, and I suppose I’m doing the best that I can with my furry roommates. Maybe these “in-between animals” who inhabit “in-between spaces” (21) are unique in that they have the agency to find a new place to live. Still, I can’t help wondering, is this apartment really my home? What is it about humanity that gives us the right to claim a place, but not a mouse or rat? I’ll think about it over dinner tonight in this apartment, this place that is mine but not really mine, and go to sleep with the humble hope that the universe lets me stay the night.