“Happy Families of Animals”

Victorian “happy families” of animals consisted of a cage of animals that in their “natural” state would likely be in violent relationships, but in human captivity, co-resided peacefully. Individual animals were trained (by “great kindness,” according to an 1844 article) to ignore that their unchosen and unnatural co-residents were not only of different species but also very likely a frightful threat or a tempting morsel. In spite of their presumed inclinations, this caged motley crew successfully “appear[ed]” “to dwell together” in “good temper and happiness” (“Happy Families of Animals” 148).

The journalist Henry Mayhew records the story of one of the oldest keepers of “happy families” in London Labor and the London Poor (1861). This particular “happy family” contained “3 cats, 2 dogs (a terrier and a spaniel), 2 monkeys, 2 magpies, 2 jackdaws, 2 jays, 10 starlings (some of them talk), 6 pigeons, 2 hawks, 2 barn fowls, 1 screech owl, 5 common-sewer rats, 5 white rats (a novelty), 8 guinea-pigs, 2 rabbits (1 wild and 1 tame), 1 hedgehog, and 1 tortoise” (qtd. in Mayhew 214-5).

Such “happy families” were also represented in art and literature. For example, Margaret Marshall Saunders’ Beautiful Joe (1893; the first animal viewpoint novel published in the U.S.) describes the Morris family’s domestic menagerie as follows: “[t]wo dogs, a cat, fifteen or twenty rabbits, a rat, about a dozen canaries, and two dozen goldfish, I don’t know how many pigeons, a few bantams, [and] a guinea-pig.”  

For contemporary narratives in this vein, see “Animal Friendship Pics” (from which the above picture was borrowed, though its real source is probably apocryphal at this point) and “Let’s Be Friends.”



“Happy Families of Animals.” Chambers’s Miscellany of Useful and Entertaining Tracts. London; Edinburgh: W. & R. Chambers, 1844. Google Book Search. Web.

Mayhew, Henry. London Labour and the London Poor. Vol. 3. London: Griffin, Bohn, & Co., 1861. 214-9. Google Book Search. Web. 

Saunders, Margaret Marshall. Beautiful Joe. —-: Phoenix, 1893. Print. 

“Innovative” Animal Farming (part 2)

A widespread global subculture exists of artisans who “farm” their pet hair for crafting material. For example, Amazon offers a Japanese book on the subject, and more grotesquely reminiscent of taxonomical experiments, the Daily Mail has reported that some folks have made their dead pets’ hides into clothing.

The previously-quoted 1899 article on feeding hens newspaper also mentions the successful establishment of “cat fur farms” (“Another Perpetual Motion”). The suffragist vegetarian Frances W. Willard published a very practical guide called Occupations for Women (1897) wherein she advocates for pet-boarding and breeding as “profitable and congenial business” options (117). In this handbook, she disapprovingly distinguishes such “cat lovers” from the “heartless people” who have set up cat fur farms.



“Another Perpetual Motion.” Dental Digest 5 (Jan.-Dec.). Chicago: J.N. Crouse, 1899. Google Book Search. Web.

Willard, Frances E. Occupations for Women. New York: Success Co., 1897.

“Innovative” Animal Farming (part 1)

Given the increased focus on mass farming practices, the following piece ought to strike a creepy note. In—of all places—the Dental Digest, the official organ of the Dental Protective Association of the United States, an author records in 1899 that some “genius” has conceived of a way to make hens lay more eggs: feeding them newspaper.

[A] genius…has discovered that printed matter reconverted into pulp by soaking in some milk and fed to some laying hens increases greatly hen fruit. The brain matter contained in the printed matter, the product of brain work, is so closely allied in composition to the contents of the egg-shell, that it serves as nutritive matter which has a special affinity for the cerebral substance. The editor puts brain into his paper, which the hen consumes as food, and transforms into egg matter; the editor eats the eggs and puts more brain matter into his paper; and so the turning wheel keeps on its course, and the hen and the editor fill the world with intelligence. The fact affords much hope for our future offspring. Another good result will be the marked increased sweetness in the temper and disposition of teachers in the public schools. No more waste printed matter that contains brains should be wasted.

Alas, compared to the things we feed chickens today (arsenic?), milky newspaper pulp seems downright benign. 



“Another Perpetual Motion.” Dental Digest 5 (Jan.-Dec.). Chicago: J.N. Crouse, 1899. Google Book Search. Web.

“Dog-Whip Day”

ENGLISH. On certain designated holidays and festivals, usually in October, boys armed themselves with makeshift weapons and roundly whipped “the unlucky dogs found running in the streets” (i.e., ownerless dogs) (Walsh 341). This public display of masculine violence was enacted upon the bodies of unprotected dogs as an annual ritual, a ritual steeped in a narrative of divine revenge.

In York, the story accuses a dog of having stolen and consumed a sample of whatever food served as the Eucharist for that day’s mass, for which crime “all its brethren were doomed to a periodical flagellation in memory of the sacrilege” (Walsh 341). In Hull, another legendary dog is charged with breaking into the monasterial larder and stealing a joint of meat (which was recovered). In each case, the canine crime is a crime against the so-called natural order of things: dogs cannot, must not, partake of the flesh of Jesus nor of meat designated for human consumption (note that the article describes the joint as being “rescued” for this higher purpose!). And to remind dogs of their rightful (i.e., lower) place, an annual “thrashing” was deemed an appropriate response (Walsh 341).

This logic of this (extremely) ex post facto punishment is quite odd to us now, when we see the dog as rational and sentient, but would fail to see how any dog could be expected to appreciate being punished for an ancestral crime. In the medieval period, animals—sometimes alongside their human coconspirators—would be put on actual trial for alleged crimes, so it would not be a far leap to hold the dog responsible for a crime committed by a long-dead member of its race.       

The history of the Church and the animal is a complicated one, as Catholicism (and Christianity) have long invested in the notion of the Great Chain of Being that ranks all heavenly and earthly beings in a rigid and essential hierarchy. Dog-whipping seems to be steeply grounded in the Catholic tradition as an expression of the divine order of things (human > animal)—the emphasis being on order. This is likely why, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, churches “in every county of England” (Pendleton 111) would employ professional “dog-whippers” to “keep order” in their sacred spaces by driving out sleeping humans and errant dogs. The whipping was quite literal: “The whip in question is a stout lash, some three feet in length, fastened to a short ash-stick with leather bound round the handle” (Pendleton 111, also Walsh 342).

These “curiosities” of were being remarked upon and re-recorded in the 1880s, a period steeped in increasingly intimate human-dog intimacies and organized movements fostering “humaneness” towards animals.



Pendleton, John. A History of Derbyshire. London: Elliot, Stock, 1886. Google Book Search. Web. 22 Apr. 2012.

Walsh, William S. Curiosities of Popular Customs. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co. and London: 6 Henrietta Street, 1897. Google Book Search. Web. 22 Apr. 2012.