The Mute Hunting Dogs of the Tainos

While I was in Santo Domingo last week (though spring break feels an eon ago), I went to the Museum of the Dominican Man, and took these pictures of the little model Taino villages. (TheTainos are the indigenous people of Hispaniola who were nearly decimated by the work of Columbus and his crew.)

The dog figures were probably representing the Tainos’ mute hunting dogs, the now-extinct Alcos, used to hunt hutias—the Alco’s inability to bark being an obvious advantage. According to the Wikipedia page on Tainos, they also ate (other?) dogs.   

This interesting page records some traces of the Tainos’ reverence for dogs, including in the form of a half-man, half-dog spirit, Opiyel Guoriban

It’s not about the nineteenth century, I know. But who could resist? 

I have been looking everywhere for a nice picture of an American or English dog-drawn cart for my book, but alas, have only found depictions of dog-carts seen in Antwerp, Belgium (where dog-carts were terribly common well past the turn of the century). This image is from an 1826 Rotarian magazine article by Audrew MacMahon (“The Flaming Flemish). It’s very interesting to finally see what it would look like, after reading about it so much. Certainly it’s hard to imagine such a sight now, except in the touristy sort of dog-sled things one might encounter while traveling in North America.

Illustration of a street-seller of meat for dogs.

Capital Punishment and Love

Dr. Edward Willard Watson wrote a brief complaint about the lack of people who “specializ[e] in humanity”:

“A dog not long ago killed its owner’s wife. It chewed her neck and arms (see newspapers), and her husband is said to have declined to kill it. He loved it, he said. It was of good pedigree; he knew its sire and grandsire…. This story illustrates well the virtues and vices of the true dog lover. Certain people are ‘doggy’ people; they fill their homes with dogs. The dogs annoy and bite their friends, and they only laugh: ‘He won’t bite you,’ or ‘He won’t hurt you.’ Animal lovers are seldom lovers of humanity itself. Those who weep over the woes of animals are, as a rule, callous to the suffering of fellow beings. We specialize in sensitiveness. There are bird lovers and horse lovers and cat lovers, who see no cruelty so long as their favorite animal does not suffer. Even in human suffering we specialize; the man or woman interested in the Cruelty to Children Society cares little how much father and mother endure…. In short, the heart seems unable to entertain a general kindness to all, animals and men. There are probably even those who only love ‘suffering snakes,’ and weep crocodile tears over the woes of alligators!”

While I question the impulses behind his writing, there’s some truth in what he says. Not, of course, the part about animal lovers being unable to love people, too, but his argument about specialization. At the very least, it’s fascinating that we believe this.

After the death of my beloved dog, I started keeping cats, which many friends interpreted as me “making a switch”—the assumption being, one can either love dogs or cats, but not both. (I am exploring this in an article I’m drafting.) Or, when I tell people how much I love my cats, I am politely told that I’m speaking with “a dog person” (suggesting that, therefore, there can be no sympathy in how I’m extolling my cats). These statements evince a belief that human affections must be specialized: a sort of anti-Communism of affect. 

And to return to the good doctor’s brief article, it sounds like he disapproves of the man for not putting his dog to death—as if his failure to do so shows he cares more for the dog than the killed wife, the fellow human. Would the dog’s death really prove he loves his wife/a fellow human more than a mere dog? That would be like saying capital punishment is the only way to express one’s love for the victim. In this ghastly equation, acts of death towards members of Category A become acts of love towards members of Category B. 

How Cats and Dogs Lived in London in Olden Times

These telling images accompany Frances Simpson’s article describing cats and dogs in London in the nineteenth century. The images alone describe the extent to which cats’ and dogs’ lives (and deaths) became of deep interest to bourgeois Londoners.

Homeless cat shelter.

Lost dog shelter (the famous Battersea facility).

Street seller of pet food (likely made of horse meat), attracting the local clientele. Where do these cats keep their moneys?

In the late 19th and early 20th, dogs and other live animals were still usually sold out on the street, not in fancy-schmancy pet stores like we have now.

Dog cemetery in Hyde Park.

Source: Simpson, Frances. “Cat and Dog London.” Living London. Ed. George R. Sims. London, Paris, New York & Melbourne: Cassell & Co., 1902. 

Cat & Dog Circus

Excerpted from a March 6th, 1897 Scientific American Supplement, a description of Leonidas Arniotis’ exhibition of trained cats and dogs (his little circus) at the Berlin Winter Garden:

“A comic scene which follows is a triumph in animal training. “Cerberus” is chained at the left side of the stage. “Pippina” takes her place on a chair at the right, and Mr. Arniotis is seated at a well covered table in the center, ready to eat his supper. He has nothing to drink, and, as there is no one to wait on him, he is obliged to go for it himself. After he has left the stage “Cerberus” slips his collar off, climbs up on the table and eats the entire meal. As he is swallowing the last mouthful a thought comes to him of the punishment that must follow, and he looks to his friend to help him out of his difficulty. “Pippina” is then taken by the collar and set on the table, where she remains looking sad, while “Cerberus” resumes his collar. Mr. Arniotis returns, is suspicious of the unhappy victim sitting among the empty dishes, and is about to punish her, when she climbs on her master and whispers in his ear that “Cerberus” is the real culprit. “Pippina’s” innocence is established, and the audience thanks the performers with a round of applause.”

I’m increasingly interested in how much humor can be derived from the trope of the “disobedient dog.” There’s some line when mild disobedience is utterly charming (that is, in the face of otherwise total obedience), and then another line where disobedience mean the dog can be killed).  What is this line? How is it set?

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.  

Man = dog’s God?

A 1902 hobbyman’s article on fishing tangentially describes an intimate (and masculinized, in the context of its call for back-to-nature engagements) human-dog moment as follows:

“As for a dog, I am sure that his admiring love for his master is never greater than when they come in together from the hunt, wet and tired, and the man gathers a pile of wood in front of the tent, touches it with a tiny magic wand, and suddenly the clear, consoling flame springs up, saying cheerfully, ‘Here we are, at home in the forest….’ When the weary, shivering dog sees this miracle, he knows his master is a great man and a lord of things.”

The self-aggrandizement, attained through the representation of the “weary, shivering dog,” necessarily speechless at the “miracle,” is palpable.

Even as I look at the ad for a contemporary dog-training book by “energy therapist and intuitive coach” Catherine Whittaker, Become Your Dog’s God, I can’t help but find the idea of being my dog’s God to be kind of silly and old-fashioned. The more natural sciences-based narrative of being a dog’s “pack leader” is much more familiar—but are these really so different? Is the popular and pervasive narrative of humans being their dog’s alpha pack leaders perhaps just the secular version of man being dog’s god?



Van Dyke, Henry. “The Open Fire.” Fisherman’s Luck, and Some Other Uncertain Things. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902. 207-33. Google Book Search. Web.