More on Skinning Cats….

I am sad to report that I now know more about the nineteenth-century practice of skinning cats alive (the practice that I presume to be the source of the common phrase, “more than one way to skin a cat”). What follow are minutes of evidence from the English House of Commons, published on Aug. 1, 1831, reporting on their meeting on the 1832 anti-cruelty legislation they were deliberating. Apparently, these poor animals were skinned so their hides could be sold to furriers—so again I ask, why wouldn’t they be stunned or killed first? For what convenience were they skinned alive, crying out in horror?


The witness also reports that dogs were likewise treated, most of these animals presumably stolen from their owners. 

Reading this is not for the faint of heart. It makes me angry.

More Than One Way to Skin a Cat

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.

They are good, but we are better.

A brief clip in an 1889 issue of Our Dumb Animals describes a dinner conversation where a man tried to argue that the Japanese “are a more civilized people than the Americans,” based on the following scenario:

“[I]f, in a Japanese city, one picks up a stone to throw at a dog the dog does not run, because he has never had a stone thrown at him, and does not know what the action means. Manifestly, if such a state of universal gentleness and kindness prevails in Japan that not even a stone is thrown at a dog by a boy, there must be a very high and thorough civilization, permeating all classes of the population.”

It’s hard to imagine this American tourist in Japan ambling along the foreign streets, and thinking it a good idea to pick up a rock to “test” a stray dog’s reaction. It’s also hard to imagine that a dog (albeit one that has never been abused) wouldn’t recognize a stranger’s menacing attempt to hurl a projectile at him. The test, in short, seems flawed.

Still, the main point seems to be to goad American readers into feeling ashamed at the idea that the “little Jap” might surpass us in humaneness and civilization. Just in case this would offend some reader, the brief clip closes by gloriously appropriating for European-Americans the highest laurels:

“it is a significant fact that it was reserved for our own European-American civilization to introduce the completest refinement of cruelty to animals.”

To get a sense of how the Japanese were regarded around the turn of the century:




“Japanese Civilization.” Our Dumb Animals 22.6 (Nov. 1889).

Image from:

Mackay, Isabel E. “The Jingle of the Little Jap.” St. Nicholas 34 (May 1907).