Fleas and Other Itches — ‘Tis Still the Season (Part Two)

On 10 May 2014, I published a post about the problem of fleas on household pets and the various ways people tried to treat this problem in the late 1800s.  I discussed the flea comb (used on people as well as pet animals) and introduced the early flea soaps, which were based on carbolic acid’s vermin-killing and disinfecting qualities.  I also promised to write more on the topic.  It’s taken me some time, but the flea season is continuing very late here in Delaware and on the Delmarva Peninsula — and I am inspired by the flea treatments I’m still having to use on Teddy and Stump.  So let’s continue the story.


In 1912, this comic postcard was in circulation, but it reflected a real problem:  controlling fleas on dogs, cats and people, too.  Until the flea collar with its time-release insecticide was developed in the 1960s, pet owners still had to remove fleas by hand or go after them with soaps or chemicals that killed them on contact.  The Q-W Laboratories, founded by the French immigrant kennel-owner Henri Vibert around 1920, offered an array of remedies for dogs.  This advertising from the Q-W Handbook for Dog Lovers, published in the 1920s, offered dog soap, flea powder (which was also good for cockroaches and bedbugs) and Q-W Flea Oil and Coat Grower.


Spread from Q-W Handbook for Dog Lovers (Q-W Laboratories, Bound Brook, New Jersey, n.d.) was offered as a free handout by stores carrying the company’s products in the 1920s.  Drug stores were important outlets for proprietary veterinary medicines; this particular copy of the book bears the stamp “McCUE & BUSS DRUG CO. 14 S. Main ST Janesville, Wisconsin.”



Q-W Dog Soap, Q-W Laboratories, Plainfield, New Jersey, 1930s. The unused soap is still in this package.

This Q-W dog soap from the 1930s contained  Beta Naphthol. Naphthol (or napthol) soaps were in common use for household laundry until the development of modern powdered detergents; I still use Fels Naptha to dry out poison ivy blisters!  This was considered a good alternative to the old standby carbolic acid (which was also poisonous to people and pets unless well-diluted in the soap).  Here is an earlier trade card for a carbolic-acid soap, which was also recommended for disinfecting kennels.


Trade card for Little’s Soluble Phenyle and Soap, no date (probably 1890s).

Another type of soap promoted to kill fleas and relieve mange was used creosol, which still appears in “tar soaps” used for severe dandruff.  Q-W Laboratories also offered one of these, and even added sulphur to the mix.

While flea-killing soaps were in wide use well into the 1960s, pet owners who were unwilling or unable to struggle with their dogs in the bath turned increasingly to powders. Cage bird owners had been using one insecticide,”Persian powder,” for decades.  Also known as pyrethrin, derived from a particular chrysanthemum plant, it became an ingredient of flea powders for dogs in the early 1900s.  It was poisonous to cats, however. If they licked enough of the powder off their fur and skin, it had neurotoxic effects.

By the 1920s, flea powders, along with “dry bath” products,  included another ingredient, rotenone, that could be used on both cats and dogs.  Rotenone is also plant-derived and is still used by gardeners today as an alternative to synthetic pesticides.  Mechling’s Flea Powder, seen below, was produced by a company in Camden, New Jersey, that seems to have specialized in agricultural chemicals.  Flea powder was a small sideline — it wasn’t that hard to mix rotenone and inert powders together and package them for sale at a high markup —  and this product probably had a regional market.

Mechling's Flea Powder

Mechling’s Flea Powder, Camden, New Jersey, after 1922.  Mechling Bros. Chemical Company was incorporated that year and sometime in the 1930s became part of General Chemical Company, one of the five who organized Allied Chemical Corporation.

Lowe's cat flea powder

Lowe’s Flea Powder. Edward Lowe C0mpany, 1960s.

When Edward Lowe, the man who created a national market for cat-box filler with his trademarked “Kitty Litter,” expanded his product line to include other products for cats in the early 1960s, he included this flea powder, which relied on rotenone but did contain a small amount of pyrethrins.  What’s important about this powder is that it seems to be one of the first marketed “especially for cats.”

Flea powders had other problems, too. I recall my mother struggling to powder the family cat.  Powder flew everywhere.  I’ll introduce other options for treating fleas on pets in a future post.


Filed under dogs, fleas, material culture, pet supplies and equipment, pets, veterinary medicine

“Runt.” An Epic Poem about an Epic Piddling Dog from the Miller Dog Food Company

This masterpiece of doggerel (sorry, I couldn’t help myself….) is a promotional brochure for the products of the Miller Dog Food Company of Battle Creek, Michigan.  The company started out as the Battle Creek Dog Food Company, and I am not yet sure when it changed its name, but the typography and design suggest the 1920s to me.  Located in the same community where Kellogg’s cereals were produced and where Dr Kellogg had his famous sanitarium, the early ads I have found for Miller’s Dog Food promoted it as health food for dogs.  I’m having trouble imagining this as a pet shop giveaway, given its barroom tone. But I leave you to peruse it.  In fact, I suggest reciting it out loud!

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Pets Blog 22 March 2016_0015


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“Some pictures of Etta’s pets…”: a real photo postcard

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Real photo postcard, between 1902 and 1907.  Photograph by “Etta” (no other information available).

At this busy time of year, I’ll share a short post about a card I purchased a while ago.  Here is a real photo postcard that features a pair of images taken by “Etta,” who I presume was a young woman, perhaps a teenager.  I’ve written about these kinds of cards in earlier posts, but let me review some history quickly. Eastman Kodak began selling pre-printed postcard stock with photo-sensitive fronts in 1902;  they offered a camera designed for amateur postcard photography in 1903.  Other companies soon followed; some began to offer accessories such as sets of black paper masking frames that allowed printed photos to have different shapes and borders.  This one is interesting because Etta printed two round images on the front, masking them but overlapping them by accident.   I’ve been unable to identify the recipient, the sender, or the writer — but this card is evidence of a young woman taking up amateur photography.   The photo of the cat is particularly nice.  I like that the horse is her “pet,” too.  This suggests that, at a time when horses still were crucial sources of motive power, some crossed the line from worker to beloved individual — and that girls were riders, too!

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Back, postcard of “Etta’s pets.”  Sent to Ruth Daniels, Middlesex, VT, no postmark.

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Stump’s New Stroller

Stump in Pink BlankieMeet Stump.  I adopted him almost three years ago, along with his colleague Teddy.  There are some other photos of Stump (and of Ted) in the My Pets section of this blog.  Stump had a hard life — an unknown life — prior to his rescue as a middle-aged dog.  He was almost bald from flea allergies when he was found as a stray, and he had a big tumor on his hip.  When I adopted him, I thought that if the tumor proved to be malignant, at least he’d had a few months of the proverbial Life of Riley, which is now all the animals in my household live!   But that’s another story….

Walking the BoysStump and Teddy walk with me twice a day.  This is what a typical day looks like from my end of the leashes.  Neither seems to care that he is attached to a girlie pink leash once used for my much-loved dog Patti.

But Stump is enjoying his walks less these days.  He has arthritis in his lower back and hips, along with scar tissue from an ACL repair, and he can’t take pain-relief tablets because they give him a very upset tummy.  I’m trying some other options, but in the meantime, walks have gotten slower and slower, and Ted gets very annoyed because he is likes to trot along at a good pace — unless he needs to leave some pee-mail, which can lead to sudden, dramatic halts.  In any case, Ted and I haven’t been getting enough exercise in our designated walk time — what to do?

So a while ago, I saw a little old dog in stroller in New York City, and I was inspired to some online shopping.  This arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago.

Stump's stroller

It wasn’t too expensive, and I thought it was worth a try. After a little struggle assembling it, here is the first attempt at a walk with our new artifact.  Stump in stroller closeup copy

Success!  Stump sat in the stroller and, as we negotiated curb cuts and bumpy sidewalks, he got sleepy in the morning sun.

When did dog strollers become part of the expanding equipage of enlightened pet ownership, you ask?  The answer seem to be in the year 2003, when a company called Dutch Dog Design introduced the “Doggyride” line of products.  According to their website, the company began with dog trailers for bicyclists, which makes sense given the Dutch commitment to bicycle transportation.  They branched out to strollers when they realized the number of dog owners whose pets were too old or lame to go for walks.  Here is a brochure for the company’s dog travel products;  they now also make luxury orthopedic dog beds and other accessories.  The Doggyride™ stroller looks like the bike trailer that begat it;  there is a handle on the back and a single wheel in the front.

Stump’s stroller is a cheap model, and it looks like a baby carriage for a doll except that it has a screen attached to the rain hood that can be zipped to prevent escapes (or insects, I guess).  (It also has two cup holders.) I chose the blue plaid model because it did indeed remind me of my doll carriage, which was a favorite sleeping spot for Scotchie, a family cat, around 1960.  Bundled up in an old baby blanket, she would allow herself to be pushed along until the ride got too bumpy.

I venture that some small dog owners improvised with baby carriages before now, but purpose-built dog strollers are part of a new genre of prosthetic material culture for pets, including the wheeled carts designed for  cats and dogs unable to use their hind legs and a variety of braces and prosthetic limbs.  I’ll be looking into these more for a future post, so stay tuned.  And I would love to have a photo to share of your pet using one of these prostheses or mobility aids.

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Lombard’s Musical Cats

PC Lombard's Musical Cats

“Lombard’s Musical Cats,” photographer unknown; poem probably by Harlan P. Lombard.  Auburn Post Card Manufacturing Company, Auburn, IN, between 1913 and 1929.  Postally unused.

On this very hot Saturday (a day when all wise pets are taking naps someplace cool), allow me to introduce you to Lombard’s Musical Cats.  I looked for information about this postcard on and off for months, and this pair, a mother and son team according to the poem, and their owner remained as mysterious as when I purr-chased the card. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself….)

I can tell you something about the Auburn Post Card Manufacturing Company, the publishers of this card.  The company began as the Whitten-Dennison Post Card Company in Maine, but L. G. Whitten, one of the founders, moved it to Auburn, Indiana, and renamed it in 1913.  The company made cards for businesses, cities, and tourist destinations.  They were also known for their “comic” postcards on subjects like courtship and holiday cards.  This, however, seems to be unique in their output.  It is clearly a commission from someone who felt that he could make use of the minimum 500-card order required by APCMC.

And now I think I know the identity of the man behind “Lombard’s Musical Cats.”

Harlan P. Lombard (c. 1862 – 1942) was a composer of spectacularly obscure popular songs in the 1910s and 1920s.  He lived in North Eastham, Massachusetts, according to copyright records.  The 1920 U.S. Census listed him as a widower and a “music composer.”  His works survive in a few pieces of sheet music in public collections.  “If You’re a True America, You’re All Right” was self-published in 1917;  a copy can be seen in the digital catalog of the Library of Congress.  The caption above the song title is “‘Harmony Harl’s’ Patriotic March,” suggesting that he was a recognized local character with a presence as a performer known as Harmony Harl.

So let’s raise a glass of iced tea to the memory of Harmony Harl, Baby, and Thomas Boy!


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The Secret Life of Pets — in Victorian America

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“Friends.”  Stereoview, Carlton Harlow Graves.  Universal Photo Art Company, Philadelphia and Naperville, I, between 1895 and 1910

I recently saw (and enjoyed) the summer hit movie “The Secret Life of Pets,” and it got me thinking about how people gave “voices” to companion animals in the nineteenth century.  I’m not thinking about fairy tales or fables here, or even full-blown anthropomorphism, where a dog or cat becomes a little person in a fur suit, living the life of a human being.  I was interested in finding images or texts where animals “talked” or wrote about their lives from their points of view.

There are a number of famous autobiographies from the 1800s told in the voice of an animal. In the late nineteenth century, the most famous of these was Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty (1877), a story told in the first-person voice of a horse.  Black Beauty’s misadventures, and the cruelty with which people treated him (although the story does have a happy ending), made this book a crucial text for the animal welfare movement on both sides of the Atlantic. There were other important animal autobiographies, especially Beautiful Joe: the Autobiography of a Dog (1893), which helped to stigmatize dog fighting. I still can’t read either of these books without weeping.

But I was looking for something different: “diaries” that talked about the everyday life of dogs and cats, often with humor.  Here’s one for your perusal.

“Folly Frivolous. A Dog’s Diary,” is a story in Louise Stockton’s 1881 collection  The Christmas Thorn, and Other Stories which is available through Google Books. Folly gets into various forms of trouble and is often “whipped” and confined to the coal-shed.  He reports, “I have a little place out here where I keep all the bones I get, and one or two other little things that nobody knows about.” The ultimate insult is when he is forced to learn the trick of sitting up: “I have to beg for my ball…and beg for this, and beg for that, until life has got to be pretty much a burden.”  Folly has a strong sense of his own interests, and he knows how to manipulate the lady of the house by dropping one ear and looking “solemn.”  He seems a lot like the dogs and cats of “The Secret Life of Pets.”

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The first page of “From the Diary of a Cat,” with the unnamed protagonist dreaming of a feast of white mice.

Here’s another example, a more complex little work of fiction titled “From the Diary of a Cat.”  The full text is available through this link to a pdf:  HarpersMagazine-1904-08-0011290 copy

Published in the August 1904 issue of Harper’s Magazine, this story by Edwina Stanton Babcock is told in the voice of an alley cat who has figured out how to survive in the city.  Some of his adventures are funny, including his successful foray into a butcher shop looking for meat.  The cat experiences hunger and discomfort along with adventure, but he never feels sorry for himself even though he dimly recalls that he “must have been owned.”  He speculates whether he actually has nine lives.  At the close of the diary, he finds that he is unable to stay in the lap of a little girl who would keep him because he feels “the spell of the streets — a spell that draws me away from mere ease and plenty to the thrill and mystery of a roving life.”

Babcock (1875-1965) was a poet and fiction writer who was popular during her life but seems to be neglected today.  The historical context for this “diary” is worth noting, too.   At this time, abandoned and feral cats were receiving more attention from animal welfare groups — and also from city animal control officers, who killed hundreds of thousands of cats between 1890 and 1910.

I’ll work on finding other “secret lives” to share. But these two cases suggest that animal-loving Americans in the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries wondered about the inner lives of their companions — and came up with funny “takes” on animals’ views of the world  —  just as we do today.





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A Mysterious Hero Dog of Chicago, 1958: Your Help Needed!

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“Spotty the Hero Dog,” posthumous photo,Chicago, IL, 1958. Photographer unknown.

Here is a mystery that really needs solving, and I hope that you can help!  Years ago, I purchased this posthumous photography of “Spotty Chicago Hero Dog.”  The images had no information on the reverse side, although the 8″ x 10″ black-and-whites looked like unused newspaper photographs.  The seller had no information on the pictures, either.

Spotty the Hero Dog won a “Lassie Gold Award.” For you youngsters, the rough-coated collie Lassie was the star of a young adult novel, Lassie Come-Home, published in 1940.  The novel became a movie in 1943, and Lassie (who was really a male collie named Pal)  became so popular that a series of movies followed.  Then came the television show Lassie, which first aired in 1954 and continued for twenty years. Pal did not live forever, of course, but his descendants played subsequent Lassies.  Not only was Lassie the centerpiece of a media machine, but Lassie products proliferated, too:  dolls, spin-off children’s books, lunchboxes and posters and other items. As a little girl, I watched Lassie, although I always thought that Timmy, the boy who had the thankless job of starring against Pal in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was sort of a drip.

In 1957, the popularity of the heroic Lassie character led to the creation of the Lassie Gold Awards, intended to commemorate dogs that had done something exceptional, including protecting or rescuing people.  It’s not clear whose idea led to the awards, nor is it known who nominated or selected the winners. The first award in 1958 went to posthumously to a dog that had died in World War II.  So Spotty here was an early recipient of the award, which included a large gilded bronze medal with Lassie’s picture on one side.  One medal hangs above Spotty and a $500 Savings Bond, apparently part of the award, is visible to its right.  However, I think that the Lassie medal may be the larger one in the open case in front of Spotty’s coffin.

I searched for a list of recipients of the Lassie Gold Award, but I have been unable to find one.  One 1964 newspaper article I found noted that by 1964 more than 200 dogs had received it.  The award seems to have continued into the 1970s.

So who was Spotty?  I may have found him, but let me know whether you think I’m right and if you have more information.  Here is the heroic Spotty that I found.

Spotty crop copy

This is an image of Spotty nursing a head injury after saving his owner, Vivian Piorcharz, from a pair of robbers. Circulated  by the United Press as a human interest piece, this one was published in the 21 March 1958 edition of a local newspaper in Harlingen, Texas.   Returning to the original photo and using a  magnifying glass, I think that I make out her name on the Lassie medal.  Also, there are mounted clippings just visible to the left and right of the coffin.

So what happened to Spotty?  If this is he, the faithful dog didn’t survive long after his heroic deed. Perhaps he died from a head injury.  The white markings on the face of the corpse don’t exactly match the photograph, but perhaps Spotty’s body was dolled up a little.

I’ll keep looking for more information.  Don’t hesitate to let me know if you can fill out more of the story!



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