This is the first of my Photostories. Each week I’ll post a photo and tell the story behind it.

This photo was taken in 2012 in Utrecht, The Netherlands. I was there for the 2nd Minding Animals conference, the first being in Newcastle, Australia in 2009. The opening event was a lecture by author and essayist John Coetzee in the Dom Church, a stunning Gothic cathedral in the old city.

Like many medieval cities in Europe, the streets are cobbled and too narrow for cars. But there are many, many bicycles in Utrecht – it has the world’s largest bicycle parking station, which looks like a carpark, only full of thousands of bikes. Cyclists ride around these streets in amazing numbers. The man in the picture is sitting outside an antique shop in the centre of town. The dog and the man are not unlike each other in their appearance and attitude, but I love that the dog has the best chair!

A few doors down, a bookstore displays a large collection of Coetzee’s books in Dutch and English in its window. Since the early 2000s, Coetzee turned his attention to “how moral inequities play out in the realm of anthrozoological relations” (Malamud, 2010). In The Lives of Animals he examines animal rights and human dominance through the fictional voice of novelist and vegetarian, Elizabeth Costello and those who respond to her views. She appeals to an ethic of sympathy, not rationality, saying: “Sympathy has everything to do with the subject and little to do with the object . . . there are no bounds to the sympathetic imagination”.

And so, the dog sits in the most comfortable chair