“Cruelty to Animals—A Scene in Brooklyn”

(May 7, 1869, The New York Times)

“Yesterday afternoon, as one of the Myrtle-avenue line of cars was making its upward trip, the driver was ordered to halt by a private citizen as he was near the foot of the citizen as he was near the foot of the citizen as he was near the foot of the down-grade at Raymond-street. When the car stopped, the citizen ordered that it should not move until a tow-horse was attached to it. It was not until Sergeant ROGERS, of the Central Police Squad, made his appearance that the citizen exhibited his badge—a Metropolitan Police shield—and made himself known as the agent of the “Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals.” As the point at which the car was stopped was some distance below the place where the tow-horse is usually attached, a long time elapsed before the car could proceed, and meantime a long train of cars filled with exasperated passengers was collected along the avenue, and a curious crowd had assembled. The Society’s operations were warmly discussed, and declared to be unpopular.”

“The Kittens’ Quartet”

O see, O see the little birds,

     The little birds, the little birds,

O see, O see the little birds,

     All singing in the tree.

All singing in the tree, the tree,

     All singing in the tree;

I suppose they belong to somebody else, 

     But I wish they belonged to me.

From: Carrie Jacobs-Bond, Tales of Little Cats (New York: P.F. Volland, 1918).

It’s a fascinating, if short, poem that imputes upon cats the ability to ascertain ownership of the wild. Who is this “somebody else” that the birds on the trees belong to? Why, all humankind, one would presume. The cat is presented as seeking rights above its station.

Tales such as these were common: dogs complaining of being “exiled” or displaced by “false,” deceitful cats. 

From: Carrie Jacobs-Bond, Tales of Little Cats (New York: P.F. Volland, 1918).

Cats and Dogs: Too Wild to be Property

From the Albany Law Journal 21 (Jan.-Jul. 1880):

            “In regard to the ownership of live animals, the law has long made a distinction between dogs and cats and other domestic quadrupeds, growing out of the nature of the creatures and the purposes for which they are kept. Beasts which have been thoroughly tamed and are use for burden, or for husbandry, or for food—such as horses, cattle and sheep—are as truly property of intrinsic value, and entitled to the same protection, as any kind of goods. But dogs and cats, even in a state of domestication, never wholly lose their wild natures and distinctive instincts, and are kept either for uses which depend on retaining or calling into action those very natures and instincts, or else for the mere whim or pleasure of the owner; and therefore although man may have such right of property in a dog as to maintain trespass or trover for unlawfully taking or destroying it, yet he was held, in the phrase of the books, to have ‘no absolute or valuable property’ therein which could be subject of a prosecution for larceny at common law….

            “And dogs have always been held by the American courts to be entitled to less legal regard and protection than more harmless and useful domestic animals….”

Doubtless, in the jargon of jurisprudence, “protection” of the beast of burden, husbandry, or food has a unique meaning. This is as conceptually awry as saying that the African slave was “protected” under the law from being stolen or killed by the neighboring slave-owner; the “protection” does not inhere to the chattel, but to the owner of the chattel. What’s really unique here is that pet animals were excluded from this (dubious) “protection” because they were conceived of as being too wild to be property—to “never wholly lose their wild natures”—which, alongside their decreasing economic worth as mere pets kept for companionship rather than the Almighty Dollar, disqualified them as “property”—and any “regard and protection” due to property.  

Images from The Clan of Cats: True Stories About the Feline Animals. London: Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday, 1877.

Cat-Organs and Cat-WMDs

This is horribly amusing. As in, so horrifying that it was conceived of that it’s absolutely intriguing.

The well-known defender of cats, the nineteenth-century writer M. Champfleury, records the following “inventions” using cats. Real, live cats.

Eine Kleine Miaulique; or, a piece of cat-music.

King Philip II of Spain held a party in 1549, and the orchestra comprised of “a large car; in the middle sat a great BEAR playing on a kind of organ, not composed of pipes, as usual, but of TWENTY CATS, separately confined in narrow cases, in which they could not stir; their tails protruded from the top and were tied to cords attached to the keyboard of the organ; according as the bear pressed upon the keys, the cords were raised, and the tails of the cats were pulled to make them mew in brass or treble tones, as required by the nature of the airs” (quoting a witness; emphasis added). To this “orchestra” danced live monkeys alongside mechanical puppets of other animals like wolves and deer.

The 17th-century German Jesuit, Kircher, records a cat-organ that is not bear-powered. “Instead of cords which pulled the cats’ tails,… spikes [were] fixed at the ends of the keys, which prodded the poor animals, and made them mew piteously” (Champfleury 42). Gaspard Schott, another German Jesuit, detailed a drawing of a machine where cats were boxed into, “with an aperture through which the heads of the cats protrude. The wretched animals, tortured by imprisonment and the pain inflicted on their tails (their most sensitive part), were infinitely amusing to pitiless spectators of this atrocity” (Champfleury 42-3).

A degree more innocently, Champfleury remarks upon an 1789 Venetian newspaper account of “cat-concerts” performed in London, where “learned” animals mock-perform as a human orchestra would. 

Cat WMDs.

Last but not least—the stuff of science fiction!—in 1535 Strasburg, France, an artillery officer named Christopher of Hapsburg devised a plan to “spread terror among the ranks of the enemy by the discharge of a small cannon charged with pestilential odours, and attached to the sides of cats” (Champfleury 40).

Facsimile of a drawing from his book:


Apparently, this an invention that never made it past the drawing table.


Cited: Champfleury, M. The Cat, Past and Present. London: George Bell & Sons, 1885.

Percy B. Shelley’s Cat Story

            A gentleman on a visit to a friend who lived on the skirts of an extensive forest on the east of Germany lost his way. He wandered for some hours among the trees, when he saw a light at a distance. On approaching it, he was surprised to observe that it proceeded from the interior of a ruined monastery. Before he knocked, he thought it prudent to look through the window.

He saw a multitude of cats assembled round a small grave, four of whom were letting down a coffin with a crown upon it. The gentleman, startled at this unusual sight, and imagining that he had arrived among the retreats of fiends or witches, mounted his horse and rode away with the utmost precipitation.

            He arrived at his friend’s house at a late hour, who had sat up for him. On his arrival, his friend questioned as to the cause of the traces of trouble visible on his face. He began to recount his adventure, after much difficulty, knowing that it was scarcely possibly that his friends should give faith to his relation.

No sooner had he mentioned the coffin with a crown upon it, than his friend’s cat, who seemed to have been lying asleep before the fire, leaped up, saying, “Then I am the King of the Cats!” and scrambled up the chimney and was seen no more.

Quoted in Hamerton, Philip G. Chapters on Animals. Boston: Roberts Bros., 1877.