Monthly Archives: May 2014

Clothing for Victorian dogs

crochet jacket for a greyhound Godeys 86 5 May 1873 p 453  In May 1873, Godey’s Lady’s Book, the most famous women’s magazine in nineteenth century America, published instructions on how to make this crocheted coat for a small dog.  The fashion victim illustrated in the wood engraving of the result of this home craft project is an Italian greyhound, who would certainly have needed a coat like this in an unevenly heated American house. As I recall, the pattern calls for red and blue wool yarn.  The coat also had small bells for buttons, so the dog would jingle as he trotted along.  Collars for small house dogs often had bells, too.

I thought about other household animals that had to wear bells.  By the late nineteenth century, house cats sometimes had belled collars to neutralize their effectiveness as hunters.  This may have been associated with increased public interest in song bird protection.  Horses sometimes had belled harnesses; I own a set of bells on a thick leather strap with buckles that belonged to my great-grandfather’s family.  It was used when they hitched the horse to a sleigh in winter — just like the song “Jingle Bells.”

But back to our Italian greyhound with his elaborate coat.  While having a jingling animal may not appeal to modern pet owners, I think that Victorian dog lovers would have found this a cheerful sound.  Remember that the world was a lot quieter than it is today!



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Ted and Rich Visit the Photographer’s Studio

IMG pets blog_0002   On September 21, 1908, Rich Chatterton sent Miss Gladys Rogers of Baker City, Oregon, a postcard urging her to “pack your suitcase” and come for a visit.  The message on the back of the card doesn’t even mention the extraordinary studio photograph on its front.

Dressed in a suit, bowler hat, bow tie and polished shoes, Rich looks down at Ted, who I think we can assume is his dog. Their names are written in pen at the bottom of the card. Sitting on a straight-backed chair, Ted looks straight into the camera, clutching a pipe in his jaws and wearing a fez that seems to have been improvised out of a can decked with a feather.  Rich has a pipe in his left hand, too.  I guess this is intended to be a picture of two pals enjoying a smoke….  I gave a talk last night in Maryland where found myself discussing the humor associated with pet keeping at some length.  Pet keeping is often a form of play.

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Getting Kitty High, part I

Scan341, March 05, 2005Now that catnip for people (recreational marijuana) is the topic of so much conversation, let’s think about why we get so much pleasure from helping our cats get a wicked buzz from a plant….

Catnip (botanical name, nepeta cataria) is native to Europe, where it has long been used as herbal medicine.  Its usefulness for treating fevers, sleeplessness, body aches and particularly digestive troubles is what inspired its cultivation in North American gardens.  A member of the mint family, it has now escaped from gardens and can be found growing along roadsides and in abandoned house sites.

Dried catnip was stocked in drug stores in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it is still carried in health food stores, where you can buy it in bulk or bags to make tea.  It wasn’t marketed commercially for cats until just after 1900.  At that time, veterinary patent-medicine companies expanded from livestock remedies into a new market, medicines for pet animals, and started to sell containers of loose catnip.    The most famous of these is the Dr. A.C. Daniels Company of Boston, Massachusetts.  This picture of a very happy cat is from the back of a booklet on cat care the company published around 1920.  The hollow rubber ball filled with catnip is actually Walter E. Smith’s “Exerciser for Felines,” which received its patent on March 26, 1907.  A perforated rubber toy containing a “chamber” that could be filled with catnip, Smith noted in his patent that “the device is especially useful in enticing well-fed, fat, and lazy cats to take the necessary exercise to keep them in good physical shape.”  In other words, this was intended for an elite class of feline, the pet house cat.  (Most cats were still working for their livings as household pest management specialists.)

IMG pets blog_0001_NEWThere are two current members of my household, Ruby and Alfredo, who are very grateful that I grow catnip in my garden.  I like it because the flowers attract a lot of bees, and the scent of the leaves is pleasant.  I try different ways to protect the young plants when I put them into the herb bed — milk crates turned upside down, small tomato cages, and raising the plants off the ground in pots, but nothing can fully protect them from hot kitty love except rapid growth.  (Here is a snapshop of a youthful Ed, who passed away a few years ago after a long and happy life, sitting in a pot of catnip.)  My stubby-tailed former barn cat Ruby likes to roll around on the plants with waving paws — and claws out — with eyes as big as saucers. I can’t weed near her or she’ll take a swipe at me! She soon dozes off, however.  Now that I think on it, catnip and marijuana do have similar stupifying effects, with sleepiness the usual outcome of ingestion following a period of euphoria.

In my next post on catnip. I’ll talk about the invention of the catnip mouse.



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May 19, 2014 · 5:38 pm

Nicknames are Nothing New

Pud the PugI recently purchased this real photo postcard (from about 1910) of a charming pug because of his nickname:  Pediadiah Pudkins from Poseyville  (Pud “for short”).  (Forgive the sheen in the image;  it is actually part of the photograph.) The card was addressed to a recipient in Davison, Michigan but was never sent, and the owner didn’t sign the card.

I have to admit that I still develop elaborate nicknames for my pets, a habit that inflicts all the members of my family.  Over twelve years, my much loved dog Patti became “Miss Poozle” (her hypothetical breed), Bean, Beanie Lou, Patti Lou, and Patricia Louise (if she did something really naughty).  It’s really a form of play, I think, which fits with my sense that pet keeping for many folks is a  form of leisure and play.

Pud doesn’t look like the typical pug of today.  His nose is longer and he probably breathed a little more easily. He’s clearly got the pug attitude, however, along with the portly body  — and his owner doted on him.

If you’d like to share your pet’s nicknames, you can do it in the comments section below.



May 17, 2014 · 1:27 pm

Dealing with Fleas and Other Itches in the Past, part one

Now that we’re entering flea season, it’s a good time to discuss what pet owners in the past did about these pests.  First, I have to stipulate that almost all people – poor or prosperous, city dweller or farmer — experienced the discomfort of insect bites, including kinds that we find horribly embarrassing today.  Housekeepers battled bedbugs that were carried home from travel; mosquitoes and biting flies that took advantage of unscreened windows; head lice; mites from backyard chicken flocks; and the fleas that every fur-covered animal suffered with during the warm months.

This uncomfortable reality meant that folks were likely to try to limit their exposure to fleas by housing pet animals outdoors during the warm months (although there is plenty of evidence that they still found their way indoors then, too).  Without modern flea-killing chemicals, conscientious housekeeping and hygiene was the first line of defense.  Bathing and flea-combing (through the hair of both pets and people) were the most common methods of killing the pests.  Fine toothed combs, which are still available in pet stores today, help owners lift fleas from the animal’s skin, to be crushed or drowned in a cup of soapy water.  Bathing animals with household lye soaps killed fleas but dried out and even burned the skin of dogs and cats.

Ricksecker's Dog SoapThis trade card advertises an important innovation in treating fleas on pets.  By the 1870s, a new type of soap was marked for medicinal use on both people and animals.  Carbolic soap, which contained phenyl derived from coal tar, was excellent for killing fleas; it also helped to treat other kinds of itches such as follicular mange.  In the picture a group of willing pets await their baths.  One dog is even begging for his turn in the suds.  No one in my household behaves like this at bath time, but the point was to suggest that carbolic soap offered welcome relief.

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