A Home of Their Own, by Garry Jenkins

Article published on October 11, 2011.

A home of their own is in its own subtitle “the heart warming 150 year history of the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home”. It should be said that I approached this book with some cynicism and not a lot of glee – being a lean month for non-fiction in the Bookgeeks vaults. But I like this book. Like any good history it is as much about the general population and their attitude to dogs and cats, rather than the actual building. Sure there are many “heartwarming” anecdotes and much made of the documentary evidence surrounding the institution itself – Battersea Dogs Home is a big fan of verbose annual reports, but largely this is a history of dogs and cats, both stray and domestic, in the city of London.

What I find difficult about this book is who they are aiming at. It is a well written, decent book of just the right length that informs in ways that are surprising. Is this a book destined for the gift shop of Battersea only (is there even a gift shop?). Is it a book for animal lovers or history nuts? Is it a book handed out to patrons or is the chosen audience the many owners of Battersea creatures? All profits go to the home so is this simply a fund-raising exercise? It doesn’t feel like a best seller from Waterstones – perhaps this reviewer is missing something.

The front cover continues this issue. The cute puppy in a hat from the archive is, well, cute, but again this marks it down for me as an in-joke for patrons and customers. Inside the book is liberally interspersed with pictures from the archives, which for me definitely veer towards the cheesy – they don’t really link with the text.

Battersea Dogs Home is a fantastic institution, the first Dogs’ home in the world and certainly the longest running. As such it’s history makes for an interesting and entertaining tale as recounted by Jenkins, which you will like no matter if you have or even like pets. For me it opened my eyes to some of the fierce debates of the past into the worth of animals and their place in our world.

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