I ran across this little bit on skinning cats—as with most of the little sayings we throw around now, this is based on a material reality of skinning cats alive. Why, I cannot tell; if they were selling the pelt and/or meat, there was no reason for the cat to be alive. The article clearly alludes to it being a “profession”—and a lucrative one at that—but aside from the production of pain, I can’t see why the cat had to be alive. Even if sensibilities were so blunted to animal suffering that the cries of pain did not incite any sympathy, why wouldn’t it be simply an option of convenience to kill, stun the poor animal first?
This is not for the faint at heart:
“Cat-Skinning is said to be a lucrative profession with many people in London. A late English paper says these vile wretches are mostly women; and adds, that in a respectable neighbourhood in London, a short time since, the inhabitants were alarmed by the continued and melancholy moaning of some cats; and on one of them going down stairs, he found three fine large cats completely skinned, and skewered down to the ground. It appears that the fiends who pursue these iniquitous practices, as soon as they skin the lower extremities, transfix the poor animal to the earth, then tear off the remainder with great rapidity, leaving the cat in the most horrible torture….”
Source: TS David. Every Body’s Album: A Humorous Collection. Philadelphia: Charles Alexander, 1836.