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).

Ambuvet!

This is a photo of the first car expressly manufactured to serve as an animal ambulance. Heralding the construction of Boston’s new free animal hospital, this vehicle’s special feature was “a low-hanging body with false floor mounted on rollers…the tail-gate being used as a runway” to facilitate the loading of a horse in need.

At this time, June 1911, only Philadelphia had anything similar, and that was a horse-drawn carriage converted to electric power.

Source: Our Dumb Animals 44.2 (July 1911).

“Dumb” Animals

I’m taking a much-needed break from cataloguing and writing to dig into old treasures. Prompted by the common nineteenth-century phrase, “dumb animal,” to refer to all non-human creatures, I was trying to find out when the term fell out of use. Was it a shift; did the word “dumb” transition from referring to the mute to signaling the stupid?

Ah, but I was wrong. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “dumb” has meant some form of stupid as early as 1756. As for its meaning of mute, it seems that the last OED reference to such a use was 1957. So, “dumb” always meant “stupid,” but its meaning of “mute” fell out of the lexicon around mid-century.

It strikes me now that the phrase “dumb animal” had at least one advantage: it categorically reaffirmed that humans, too, are animals. This is the kind of work that our modern phrasing, “non-human animal,” attempts to do, but which has also been critiqued for its inherent anthropocentrism.

When I first encountered the term, I admit to feeling averse to it. My association of the word with “stupid” was so strong, that I felt like I was insulting animals every time I wrote it. Moreover, the emphasis on their inability to speak human tongues, which has for centuries been considered as proof of their inferiority to humankind, seemed to be adding insult to injury.

Of course, then and now, animal welfare organizations have been emphasizing animal voicelessness as an inferiority that should therefore call upon us, the superiorly-endowed, to defend and protect them.

I really have mixed feelings about this rhetorical move. Maybe I would be less burdened if it were made clear that non-human animals—and all of nature—are voiceless only in the context of human affairs, only through the narrow vision of anthropocentrism, then to state that animals are voiceless would merely be to state the truth.