Tag Archives: veterinary medicine

Dr. Hyde, Pet Vet, 1939

I try to purchase paper items relating to early small-animal veterinary practices when they come my way. (Check out my post from July 2015 on the an early New York City animal hospital, based on a 1900 pamphlet that promoted the practice.)  I was pleased to be able to purchase this group of snapshots of a veterinarian and his practice, all dated 1939.  I’m still trying to figure out who Dr. Hyde is.  I made the mistake of not quizzing the seller of these snapshots about the source, and I will try to contact him as time permits.  If I learn more, I’ll revise this post.


The office appears to be in a residential neighborhood, and it looks like a converted two-car garage.


The operating/examination room is very simple, but it follows the ideas about small-animal practice that took hold in the 1920s, when many large-animal vets in cities and towns reoriented their practices toward the care of pets.  It has a white enamel sink on the left side and the operating table has a white enamel surface.  There’s a locker, perhaps for supplies, beyond the sink and a cabinet of medicines  on the upper right.


And here is Dr. Hyde with either his own dog or one of his patients, who looks serious — perhaps at the prospect of getting a vaccination.  Dr. Hyde has his arm around the little fellow and they both look into the camera, like a studio photograph of a man and his dog.

I’m only sorry that there was apparently no photo of the waiting room.  I’d like to see whether Dr. Hyde followed the advice of the American Animal Hospital Association (founded in 1933) to create an office environment that paralleled that of the family physician.

If you know anything about Dr. Hyde, please share it with us!  I’d be happy to credit you as co-author of this post.

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Filed under dogs, pets, small animal hospital, small animal medicine, snapshot, veterinary history, veterinary medicine

The New York Veterinary Hospital, 1900: An Early Small-Animal Practice

Small animal veterinary practices were uncommon until the 1920s, when the rapid disappearance of working horses in cities forced many large animal vets to either close their practices or learn how to care for pet animals.  The University of Pennsylvania was the first American vet school to open a clinic for dogs. (Until the 1960s, the majority of  vets still trained to be large-animal specialists.)  The earliest small animal clinics all seem to have been located in big cities.  I’ve discussed this in an earlier post, on a Los Angeles dog hospital from 1917; take a look at “Dr. Byles’ Dog Hospital, 1917”  from November 2014.

I recently came into a very rare — and very fragile — little booklet titled The Dog. Management in Health, Treatment in Disease by Dr. S. K. Johnson, the “Chief Surgeon” of the New York Veterinary Hospital, located at 117 West 25th Street in New York City.  Published in 1900, the booklet had several purposes.  First, it promoted Dr. Johnson’s Dog Remedies, a line of over-the counter medicines and a flea shampoo.   The text offered “principal symptoms in plain language” so that a sick dog could be “diagnosed and treated intelligently and promptly by any person.” The booklet also offered consultation with “canine specialists” through the mail for $2.00 (prepaid, of course).

Dr. Johnson introduced himself as the “consulting Veterinarian” to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I’ll try to look into his career and will let you know if I find anything more.  He also used to booklet to promote the Canine department o the New York Veterinary Hospital, “under exclusive charge of canine specialists for the past Eighteen years,” suggesting that it was founded in 1882, two years before the University of Pennsylvania founded its dog clinic!  I wonder whether Dr. Johnson was trained in England or Germany, where small-animal medicine was more advanced than in this country.

It is needless to state that during that period an enormous number of dogs and cats have been treated….From the most trivial to the most serious cases, from the slightest to the most critical operations have been performed on dogs and cats.  This immense experience, obtained by our specialists in the treatment of diseases, has resulted in the most perfect methods and remedies…the best, surest, and safest cure…compounded in Our own laboratory under the direct supervision of able chemists and veterinarians.

To support these claims, and perhaps to attract new patients to 117 West 25th Street, the booklet also offered photo-mechanical images of the practice.  Their quality isn’t very good, but they are still a remarkable record of an early small-animal clinic.  The hospital still treated equine patients, too.  If you go back to my post on Dr. Byles’ Los Angeles dog hospital, you can see how much modern small-animal practices changed, partly to reflect improved sanitation and partly to appeal to owners who expected their pets’ medical practice to look as modern and clean as their own doctors’ offices.

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The Canine Ambulance of the New York Veterinary Hospital. Back cover of The Dog. Management in Health, Treatment in Disease, 1900. Early dog hospitals often had ambulances since urban pet owners had no way to transport their sick or hurt animals to the clinic.

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Inside cover of The Dog. Management in Health, Treatment in Disease, Dr. S. K. Johnson, author. 1900. The two dark lines are from old repairs with cellophane tape.

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Consultation and Reception Offices Canine Department. New York Veterinary Hospital. From The Dog. Management in Health, Treatment in Disease, 1900. Notice the display of medicines on the back wall.


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North Section of the Canine Department, New York Veterinary Hospital. From The Dog. Management in Health, Treatment in Disease, 1900. A couple of patients in kennels are visible behind the table with medicines.

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“The Normal Temperature – Pulse – Respiration.” The Dog. Management in Health, Treatment in Disease included information to help pet owners evaluate their sick pets. The illustration showed how to create a cloth tape muzzle to prevent a dog bite.



Filed under cats, dogs, pet photography, pets, small animal medicine, veterinary history, veterinary medicine

Pets…for Assurance of a Fuller Life

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Pets for Assurance of a Fuller Life. New York: The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, 1956. Fifth in the series Assurance of a Fuller Life.

In 1956, The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, purveyor of life insurance since 1859, published a series of booklets, the “Assurance of a Fuller Life” series.  Produced by the Medical Department of the Company as a public health initiative, the series focused on vacationing, health and safety in the kitchen, and “making the most of personal health resources at work, rest and play.”  Number Five in the series was this booklet, Pets for Assurance of a Fuller Life (hereafter PAFL).    

This booklet promoted pet keeping as a form of family leisure and another opportunity to cultivate close family relationships: “Owning a pet is like playing a good game.  It’s exciting, stimulating, absorbing, challenging, and above all — it’s fun!”    The text also assumed that its readers were pet-less and encouraged  a family meeting to determine what kind of pet would be “best-suited” to its circumstances:

If you feel a dog or a cat would burden your family too much — ADMIT IT!  You need not face a petless future.  You can get pleasure when your canary sings as you enter the room, when your tropical fish swarm to the side of the tank, when your white mice do wild acrobatics just to amuse you.  None of these pets scratch at the door and imperiously demand to be taken for a walk just when you’re deep in a mystery story or putting a souffle in the oven — and it’s raining outside.

As I discuss in Pets in America, advice about pet keeping from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries promoted the idea that children’s (especially boys’) moral development required the presence of  pets, who stood in for the human dependents every pater familias could expect to support: elderly servants or family members, invalids, and wives and children, of course.  Kindly stewardship to animals taught children the patience, restraint and sense of duty that would make them good family members and good citizens. These early books didn’t discuss having pets as an activity that parents and children could share; ideals of family life at the time viewed relationships between parents (particularly fathers) and children as being loving but hierarchical.

PAFL reflects a couple of important changes in both “domestic culture”  and the practice of pet keeping by the time it was written.  While it promoted kindness (each pet was “a playmate, not a plaything”), the text’s perception of the ability of children to care for pets was grounded in new understandings of child development.  Parents were advised to give each child “plenty of help” in caring for an animal.

IMG pet blog images_0007The booklet also promoted the use of small animal veterinarians.  It’s telling that an entire page was devoted to explaining what a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine actually was.  Prospective pet owners were admonished that “diagnosing disease in animals is not a job for amateurs.”  Veterinarians also provided advice on a relatively new concern, whether to spay or neuter.  In case there was any confusion on the topic, PAFL  advised, “neutering is final, and once it is done you have lost the chance of mating or breeding your pet.”

Pets for the Assurance of a Fuller Life is an artifact of the 1950s, in both its graph design and its contents.  It reflects the increasing popularity of pet keeping as part of suburban family life and an avenue for family fun, and it reflects an era  when more pet owners began to pay for professionalized services such as grooming and  medical care.

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Dr. Byles Dog Hospital, Los Angeles, 1917

Blog scans_0014“Dr. Austin B. Byles, of Los Angeles, Cal., has issued a neat little folder, describing and illustrating his new dog and cat hospital, which is admirably equipped for treating and boarding canine and feline pets.”  This item appeared in the September 1917 issue of the American Journal of Veterinary Medicine.  It’s notable because small animal medicine was neglected in this journal, which emphasized the bread-and-butter practice of livestock care until the 1920s.  Pets were generally an afterthought among vets, who were not trained in their care.  Most pet owners did their own home doctoring.  (I’ll discuss more about home doctoring in future posts.)  The exception to this was in big cities — New York, Philadelphia, and here in Los Angeles — where small animal practice was developing into a niche market with a well-to-do clientele.

This is the brochure described in the JVM.  It offers both interior and exterior views of the Dog Hospital, and looking closely at it reveals some important things about the  emergence of small animal veterinary hospitals in the United States.

Dr. Austin Beuzeville Biles was born in Ealing, London, England in 1878 or 1881 and emigrated to the United States via Victoria, British Columbia, in 1905.  In 1912, in his Declaration of Intention to pursue American citizenship (he was finally naturalized in 1918), he listed his occupation as “Veterinary Surgeon.” He opened a clinic in Long Beach and also bred Airdale Terriers, registering some of his studs with the American Kennel Club between 1904 and 1911.

Around 1915, Dr. Byles made a sudden sharp career shift away from veterinary practice: he tried to become an oil-lands developer. This venture seems to have failed; by 1917, Dr. Byles returned to his first occupation.  This was when he opened Dr. Byles Dog Hospital and put out this brochure, announcing that he had “resumed practice as a canine and feline specialist.Blog scans_0015

The brochure offered a view of the Dog Hospital, which seems to have been in a house converted to the purpose.  Dr. Byles’ residence was apparently on the second floor, and the spacious, fenced back yard contained a kennel building for boarding dogs.

In 1922, The North American Veterinarian published another short piece about Dr. Byles’ practice. By the 1920s, the profession was paying more attention to pets because urban vets were rapidly losing their primary income source, the urban horse.  This second article made special note of Dr. Byles’ operating room, which  contained “a steel operating table, electric sterilizer and instrument cabinets.”

Why were these features notable? Traditional large-animal practice typically took place in barns or stables, and vets made little effort to recreate sterile environmental conditions except for swabbing wound and incision sites  with disinfectants.  In comparison, Dr. Byles directly paralleled his methods to those of “human hospitals,” including adherence to accepted “principles of sterilization” and the use of anesthetics for all operations.  He depicted himself in a white  operating room, wearing a white smock.  His assistant wore a white dress and a cap.  The dog’s hurt leg is being bathed in a white enamel basin and dressed with a roll of sterile white cotton.  The brochure pointed out Dr. Byles’ concern with modern sanitation in other ways, too.  The kennels were painted white, dogs were fed in white enamel basins and small dogs received “their own white blankets to sleep on.”

The brochure’s pictures and text show that Dr. Austin Byles was aware that increasing numbers of pet owners regarded their charges as members of the family who were entitled to modern standards of care similar to what they expected to receive at their own doctors’ offices.  By the mid-1920s, more practices began to look like Dr. Byles Dog Hospital although small-animal small animal veterinary practice still had a long way to go.

If you would like to learn more about the rise of small animal veterinary practice, turn to Susan D. Jones’ fine book Valuing Animals: Veterinarians and Their Patients in Modern America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).  I also discuss how people home-doctored their cats and dogs in my book Pets in America.


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