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.
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.