Captain Obvious

An advertisement from a 1916 American Angler magazine (the “contemplative man’s magazine”):

Proving that Captain Obvious was alive and well in the early twentieth century.

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Vintage Rabbit Hutches

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[img src: CN Bement, Rabbit Fancier (NY: AO Moore, 1859)]

Oh, kind Sir, where shall I sleep tonight? My loppy ears can’t stand the damp.

Why, dear bunny, I can build you a hutch. Which one would you like?

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[from Francis C. Young, Home Carpentry for Handy Men (London: Ward, Lock and Bowden, 1895)]

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[from Charles Rayson, Rabbits for Prizes and Profit (London: Bazaar, 18—)]

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[from Bement]

That Abe Lincoln? He could make a cat laugh…

From William Eleazar Barton’s The Soul of Abraham Lincoln (NY: George H. Doran, 1920).

Lincoln’s cat, Tabby (the generic name for brindled lady kitties in the 19c), was the first cat to live in the White House. 

Apparently, his wife Mary was also cat-like—and canine-like—in her own (horrible, horrible) way. Controlling and quick-tempered, she was described as a “tigress,” a “female wild cat,” a “Hell-Cat,” and a “she-wolf.” She was even compared to Satan. Of course, I consider these to all be slanders against the cat and wolf! Whether it was also slander against Mary—would she have been called such things if she were a white man?—I don’t know.

I haven’t, after all, seen the movie.  

From Michael Burlingame’s Abraham Lincoln: A Life, vol. 1 (Johns Hopkins Press, 2008).

Take the Turkey Bus

Illustration from Peter Parley’s Picture Book (NY: Samuel Colman, 1834). It’s an amusing image on first sight, and on deeper reflection downright puzzling. The coach riders appear to also be birds, too—though I can’t tell if they are turkeys, the two streetside birds do seem to have turkey tails. So are these (fancy) turkeys being towed by other (lower class) turkeys? Do these (lower class) turkeys work at the command of that menacingly long whip?

I immediately thought of Hello Kitty and her odd choice of pet: a cat. Charmmy Kitty, according to Sanrio’s website, “is a white persian cat that Papa gave to Hello Kitty as a gift.” Unlike Hello Kitty, who walks on two legs and wears clothes, Charmmy walks on four legs and is in her birth fursuit.

I assume that Papa is a human, not HK’s Papa, given the syntax here. Which means that a human (Papa) gave a humanized cat (HK) a pet cat-like cat (CK)? Fascinating!

 

If we replaced the turkeys with humans and horses in their “normal” places, would all be right in the world? Is interspecies slavery not slavery?  

…. And now, here is your “moment of zen”:

 

 

Who rescues who?

Here we have a 1911 story about a dog that, days after giving birth, managed to herd a mass of 3,085 sheep to their intended destination all by herself. (This reminds me of the recent story about the cat who traveled over 200 miles to get home.) “Left alone on Wagonaire mountain with 3,086 sheep by the death of John Sagoiday, her master, whose death occurred of heart failure one night, a female shepherd-dog two weeks later delivered to Manual Saunders, owner of the sheep, 3,085 of the animals, having lost only one during two weeks of privation. The dog’s achievement was carried out despite the fact that she was the mother of puppies only a few days old when her master died.” 

There are so many stories of this ilk, which I would describe as:

“[fill in the blank animal] does amazing thing [for humans].”

Google “dog saves man” and you’ll see what I mean. While these are much due expressions of gratitude, I wonder how many of these inspire useful behavioral manifestations of our gratitude. This article ends with an obvious plea for the adoption of dogs, detailing the thousands of animals that are annually “painlessly destroyed” in the London shelter for lack of humans to claim them. But is this the kind of story that should be motivating an adoption? “Save this dog, it might save your life or livelihood one day”? What if the dog you adopt doesn’t perform these miracles? Is it therefore deficient, or useless?

This is perhaps the flip side to the rhetorical move of emphasizing how much voiceless animals need us in order to motivate us to take some animal welfare action.

I believe this particular binary (someone must be the rescuer, someone must be the rescued) pits humans vs. non-human animals against each other.

After all—as with every relationship that is reciprocally invested in—we rescue each other.

Source: Our Dumb Animals 44.2 (July 1911).

Cats vs. Birds (you must choose one)

When is your cat a “bird murderer”? This 1911 piece summarizes a Cat Journal article defending his cat’s occasional predation.

The author’s main arguments are:

  1. When rowdy birds rustle around the ground, a cat can hardly help itself. (“[The birds] continually war with each other and often fall to the earth in fierce combat which is very tempting to the cats.”)
  2. Men and boys kill way more birds than a cat does, either for sport or via agricultural practices (“More birds die by the 22-caliber rifle during cherry season in California than by all the cats during all the seasons of the year. And what a multitude of our winged friends are poisoned by grain and grass seed charged with vitriol or strychnine and sown in the fields for their destruction!”)
  3. A good cat can be trained not to hunt birds; a “renegade” cat is just hungry. (“Only the untrained, unfed, homeless cats kill birds, and they do so only when they want something to eat. Is this worse than the sportsman shooting birds just for the sport?”

I find this piece very relevant to the current debates over in New Zealand about whether to ban the keeping of cats for the sake of the birds. And who didn’t receive, either in their e-mail inboxes or their social media newsfeeds, a link to the New York Times article about how murderous cats can be? In fact, my partner paraded around the apartment showing our three cats the article and calling them murderers. (Note: My cats do not go outside unleashed.)

Underlying everything, as I hinted at earlier, is the fact that us humans—it seems we get to choose, cats or birds?, because we think and act like we own the world. 

Source: Our Dumb Animals 44.1 (June 1911).