Tag Archives: pet humor

“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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Filed under advertising trade card, dog food, dogs, pet food, pet humor, pets, veterinary medicine

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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Filed under alley cat, animal-human interaction, anthropomorphism, diaries, dogs, feral cats, pet humor, pets, pets in literature

More Dog Toys from the 1950s and 1960s

Continuing from my last post, here are a few more dog toys from the 1950s and 1960s.  I especially like the wingtip shoe.  These are in very good condition — no toothmarks — so they may never have been played with.

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Dog toys, probably American, 1950s and 1960s.  Latex rubber and paint, metal “squeakers,” manufacturer unknown.

As with the collection of toys “owned” by the little Pomeranian in the snapshot that was the topic for my last post, these squeaky toys take the form of objects that dogs are not supposed to be playing with, especially the glove and the shoe.  Out of scale and made from inappropriate materials, these are what George Bassalla has termed “transformed objects,” where functional objects are recreated, often out of scale and from more expensive materials then the originals, for ceremonial purposes (for example, bishops’ Croziers.)

Transformed objects are also widely used for the purposes of play, too.  Think, for example, of a toy hammer made out of fabric. Such an object is safer for play, of course, and it does allow a baby to practice the gesture of hammering, but its transformed character is also amusing to the adult who gives it to the toddler.  I think that we can add another characteristic to transformed play objects — they often make inappropriate, amusing sounds such as squeaking.

So “transformed object” dog toys are part of a much larger set of practices in material culture.  Not that dogs care about their conceptual sophistication….

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Filed under Christmas gifts for pets, dog toys, dogs, material culture, pet antiques, pet humor, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets

Look at All My Toys!

I just purchased this snapshot of an unidentified Pomeranian and his stunning array of toys.  Fortunately, the image has a date. The film was developed and printed in December 1967. From the looks of this little fellow, he was well-loved, and the snapshot was clearly  meant to be funny.

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Unidentified Pomeranian with his squeaky and chew toys. Snapshot, photographer unknown, developed December 1967.

The 1950s and 1960s were decades when the array of products sold by the neighborhood pet store, along with the pet departments of local five-and-tens and the pet food aisles of large supermarkets, included a much-expanded array of toys, including squeaky toys of painted rubber or plastic  and chew toys made of nylon, hard rubber or rawhide.

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Detail of snapshot, showing the array of toys purchased for this dog.

Take a look at this incredible assemblage.  The squeaky toys are shaped like an opened pack of Winston cigarettes, hamburgers and hot dogs, a woman’s foot with painted toenails, a chicken head, a raw steak, an ice cream bar with a bite out of it and an array of cartoonish animal figures wearing clothing.  In the full photo, just behind the Pom’s head on the left side of the photo, there is a rubber toy shaped like a baby’s pacifier.  Along with rawhide bones in various stages of unraveling, hard rubber toys for chewing include a ball, a bone and a dumbbell.

After I looked at the snapshot for a while, I realized that I actually owned one of the toys in the picture!  Here it is, a dog in a Santa suit — in its original package, no less.

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“Squeaker” dog toy in original packaging, Stevens Company, United States, ca. 1967.  This toy appears in the right-hand side of the detail, above.

Of course, dogs don’t really care about the shape of their toys.  My childhood dog’s favorite toy was a pair of old socks that had been tied together, good for tugging and shredding and easily replaced in a house with growing children.  But since the 1950s, the people who own dogs have gotten a kick out of dog toys that are shaped like the everyday objects — often ones that dogs aren’t supposed to have — or that are visual puns.  Dog toys are as much fun for us as they are for our dogs.   A small dog carrying around an open pack of Winston cigarettes must have seemed pretty funny in a 1960s household where people smoked.  And the large pacifier was a self-conscious pun on the status of the dog as the household’s fur-covered baby.  I would love to know who thought up the shapes for these dog toys.

Further, there are parallels between the toys that babies have played from the mid-20th century to the present, and the toys that family dogs have enjoyed in the same era.  Rubber squeaky toys were common baby toys in the 1950s and 1960s.  Although I need to do more research on this, I believe that the same companies made both rubber baby toys and squeaky toys for dogs.  Nowadays, flexible rubber squeaky toys for babies have been largely replaced by other objects, including a much wider array of plush toys.  And now dogs often get plush-covered toys, too, in shapes that are funny to pet owners. My dog Stump  drags around a purple platypus that I bought for him because I thought it was cute.

I’ll write more about the origins of pet toys in future posts.

 

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Filed under animal-human interaction, anthropomorphism, Christmas gifts for pets, dog toys, dogs, pet humor, pet photography, pet portraiture, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets, snapshot

A Cat Disturbed in Bed, 1906

My collection of pet-related photographs has been pretty much assembled on the cheap, and I have missed a lot of great things in auctions because my budget just wouldn’t stand it.  However,  when I saw this real photo postcard on an auction site, I decided to go for it — and I even managed to outbid someone who tried to “snipe” me at the end.  Lee, the otherwise unidentified sender  — and, I presume, photographer — of this postcard notes that “This is an actual Photo taken from life” in the right-hand margin.

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“Oh! Oh! What a difference in the morning.” Real photo postcard signed “Lee.”  Posted from Waterbury, CT, 13 October 1906.

 

The annoyed-looking feline subject of this photograph is tucked into a doll bed that has a full set of linens, including the knotted quilt that covers him (or her).   I used to do things like this to one of the cats of my childhood, and I imagine that many unsung housecats in the past suffered similar indignities.

The caption is especially interesting because it references a long-forgotten but very popular theatrical song of the 1890s.  “Oh! What a Difference in the Morning!” is a comic lament about hangovers, women whose evening beauty is gone with the dawn, and others who are deluded by the romance of night life.  There are multiple copies available online, including in the digital music libraries of the Johns Hopkins University and the New York Public Library (http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-edd6-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99).  It was popular in both English music halls and American popular theater; although I’m no music historian, my suspicion is that the American editions were knock-offs.  The song has an apparent association with Laura Joyce Bell, an English singer and comedienne who made a very successful career here in the U.S., including performances of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas with her husband Digby Bell.  “Oh! What a Difference in the Morning!” inspired additional topical verses in American newspapers and magazines, and the title even shows up in advertisements for mattresses, suggesting that it was a widely-understood humorous reference.

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Back of postcard. Addressed to William L. Wooding of Bethany, Connecticut. Postmarked Waterbury, CT and New Haven, CT, 13 October 1906.

The unknown sender of this photograph was sharing a joke that went far beyond the wonderful photograph he took.

 

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The Regulated Dog: House Training, 1865, 1907 and 1921

We’ve had a few unfortunate accidents around the house lately — the Puppini Brothers don’t like going out in driving rain —  so I’ve been thinking about house training and what we euphemistically call “accidents.”  I began to go through my library of books on dog care and my boxes of paper ephemera and found a couple items to share.

The first is from Francis Butler’s Breeding, Training , Management, Diseases, Etc. of Dogs. I own the third edition, published in New York City in 1865.  (My copy also has an instruction from an owner: “W. H. Townsend, Detroit March 18, 1865.)  How much of this book was actually written by Mr. Butler, and how much is copied from an English book on the subject isn’t known to me, but many of these types of advice books are heavily plagiarized.  That said, behavior toward dogs on both sides of the Atlantic was pretty much the same, so we can take this as advice a U. S. dog owner would have found useful.

Dogs are pretty quiet, during the digestive process, and should not have much exercise, after a heavy meal….Those kept in doors should be allowed to run a little after meals, when they generally require an evacuation.  If a dog be regularly exercised, he will seldom even dirt around his kennel, and a healthy house-pet is rarely troublesome, except after eating.  If a dog be dirty in the house, he should decidedly be broken of it, although he should not be corrected, unless he has had a fair opportunity of avoiding it.  He should be invariably taken to the spot, be sufficiently twigged there, and unceremoniously scolded into the yard.  It is important to catch him in the act, and administer summary chastisement.  The punishment will be far more justly administered, if the animal be let out at regular intervals; this being done, he will not attempt to infringe the law, except in cases of dire necessity.  Young puppies, however, must be, in a measure excused or more gently corrected, as they are incapable of self-restraint.  Nevertheless they may be very early initiated into habits of cleanliness. 

what’s striking about this passage is how fair-minded the writer is. The responsible dog owner must give the dog the opportunity to behave well.  “Twigging” I take to be hitting the dog with a bundle of small sticks.  While this is certainly not acceptable practice today, it is little enough in relation to the kinds of physical punishment that were meted out to both animals and human beings at the time.  I’m struck by the very modern insistence that the dog has to be caught in the act to be punished for undesirable behavior.

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“Now They’ll Blame Me for This!” Photographic postcard. Robert McCrum, published, 1907.

In 1907, the postcard publisher Robert Crum released this comic card that tells us something about dog and owner behavior at the time.  Faced with a puddle left be an improperly stored umbrella, the family dog worries about being punished for something he didn’t do.  The implication is that he’s worried because he has made similar puddles in the past, and that the owners have punished him after the fact.  And the published clearly assumed that purchasers would find this funny because it reminds them of their own dog.

Finally, here’s a passage from a 1921 book written by a veterinarian, Roy H. Spaulding, whose credentials include service as the “resident veterinarian at the New York Women’s League for Animals. Your Dog and Your Cat: How to Care for Them is very much directed to city people who wish to keep pet animals.

Cleanliness about the house is very essential in a pet.  Every puppy must be taught where he is to clean himself, for they have no other way of knowing.  In the apartment where a pan of sawdust or newspaper is provided, it should be so placed that the animal can at all times have access to it, and it should always be kept in the same place….As soon as he arrives he should be immediately taken to the paper, and, if possible, kept there until he uses it.  The paper is then left where it is, so that later in his travels about the house when he comes upon the paper, he is attracted by the odor and induced to use it again….Of course, sooner of later, he is bound to misbehave, and then he must be shown what he has done and severely scolded.  If, however, he persists in this, it will be necessary to punish him, provided this can be associated with the misbehavior.

Dr. Spaulding then discusses training a dog to relieve himself outdoors.  The amount of time associated with paper (or sawdust) training, however, suggests that many of his clients are living in apartments.  The paper or sawdust pan is an early version of the “wee-wee pads” that some pet owners purchase today.

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