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Preface Recipe 4 The Big Fish The Ant of the Sea The Boat Lost to History Serche and Finde a Certain Isle Puritans and Cains Samples of the Story

Note: Text extracts are from un-copyedited manuscript and may differ slightly from the printed version.

Preface and Author’s Note


1. Partnership


2. Curious Neighbors and Wolf-Dogs
3. Cherished Companions


4. Down on the First Farms . . .
5. Working Landscapes
6. Corralling the Aurochs
7. “Wild Bull on the Rampage”


8. “Average Joes
9. The Pickup Trucks of History


10. Taming Equus
11. The Horsemasters’ Legacies
12. Deposing Sons of Heaven


13. “Animals Designed by God”


14. Dominion over Beasts?
The Hell for Dumb Animals
16. Victims of Military Insanity
17. Cruelty to the Indispensible
18. To kill, to display, and to love . . .




Book Extracts and Table of Contents

From Chapter 15: Purebreds and Mongrels

When the poet Lord Byron buried his Newfoundland dog Boatswain in 1808, he interred it on sacred ground with an epitaph that spoke of ‘all the Virtues of Man without his vices.’ By his time, pet keeping was becoming commonplace among more ordinary folk, at a time when displaying public affection toward animals became more acceptable.

      During the mid-nineteenth century, a positive cult of pet keeping arose in Victorian society, generating a huge trade in live animals, with 20,000 such street traders in London alone. Thieves even stole animals and returned them for a ransom, this apart from a booming trade in everything from dog collars to animal brushes, also in books aimed at pet fanciers, hitherto mainly written for owners of hounds and gun dogs. Pet fancying became a virtual obsession for many people, fanciers who became the backbone of the RSCPA and other anti-cruelty groups.

      Nowhere does one witness Victorian ambivalence more clearly than among dog fanciers. From the beginning, a hierarchy developed between the dogs of well-heeled masters and mistresses at one end of the spectrum and working canines and their owners at the other. Dog fanciers cherished elite patronage as a way of identifying with their social superiors. For example, terriers and pugs enjoyed high popularity; bulldogs, originally an animal associated with fighting and lower class sporting activities, achieved great popularity as pets during the late nineteenth century. By then, the lines had been drawn firmly between sporting dogs of the countryside and the pets of urban fanciers. Canines occupied a whole range of social ranks, with a strong preference among the aristocracy for breeds with little association with lower class pet lovers. As the nineteenth century unfolded, so the chasm between purebred dogs—the breeds were usually artificial formulations—and mongrels widened. Mixed breed animals were thought to cause much of the mischief and dog biting incidents in city streets and were shunned. Experts solemnly advised pet fanciers to steer clear of mongrels and to embrace purebred animals.

      Part of the ever-closer attention paid to breeds came from the growing popularity of dog shows. The first truly formal event was in Newcastle in northeastern England on June 28, 1859. There were sixty entries in the show, sponsored by a sporting gun maker named Pape, with classes for pointers and setters only. The idea soon achieved remarkable popularity. A large show with over a thousand entries at Chelsea, west of London, opened to wide acclaim in 1863. Not that these were the first such functions, for highly informal shows were commonplace in London public houses well before 1859. The audience served as exhibitors and judges, reaching what Harriet Ritvo calls a ‘convivial consensus’. They often took place in rooms used on other days for rat-killing contests. For all their humble, and probably often disorderly, ancestry, dog shows caught on like wildfire, many of them purely local events that prepared exhibitors for the major shows of the national circuit. In 1899, almost fifteen hundred dogs competed in the national Kennel Club show. Wrote an expert in 1900: ‘Taking out Saturdays and Sundays, there is a Dog Show being held somewhere or other on every ordinary day of the year.’

All this activity revolved around dog breeding. The shows themselves were usually models of decorum, but the conditions behind the scenes were appalling. Cages were inadequate, water and food in short supply, chains too short so that the animals were let out frequently. Under such circumstances the risks of infection, especially from distemper, were very high, so much so that entrants were in danger of their lives, as they were also from inquisitive spectators. No railroad provided adequate accommodation for show dogs. They huddled in filthy vans, often dying from cold and hunger. The atmosphere, even at big shows, was conducive to cheating and misrepresentation. The Kennel Club, formed in 1873, came into being as a way of establishing the pedigrees of different breeds. The Club’s untiring efforts paid off when showing dogs became a well-regulated and respectable pastime. It was largely the work of middle class dog fanciers, who were determined to carve out a place in the strongly hierarchical British society of the day. As Harriett Ritvo points out, dog fanciers were, in many respects, self-created individuals who manipulated the physical malleability of their dogs.

Felines, Fowls, and Lagomorphs

At the time when dog shows became all the rage, cats were not regarded as fancy, or prestigious, animals. Classifying them into distinct breeds was virtually impossible, but the first cat show, held at London’s Crystal Palace in July 1871, was a smash hit, said to be a process of discovery, a chance to compare different felines. The show was so successful that annual events became commonplace throughout Britain within a decade. Originally, coat colors distinguished what appeared to be classes of cats, but efforts to establish divisions almost invariably came back to color, except for imported breeds like the Siamese. Longhairs, shorthairs, tabbies--all were grist for the classificatory mill as a plethora of specialized cat societies came into being during the late nineteenth century. What was at issue was a search for a hierarchy of cats, just like that attributed to dogs. The search was, of course, illusory, often clothed in the doting rhetoric of obsessed cat owners. 

      Dogs and cats became big business, but we often forget that the Victorians kept all manner of pets, everything from exotic African and Asian beasts in the private zoos of the aristocracy to tropical birds, snakes and fish in the heart of cities. Selective breeding of rabbits began as early as medieval times, when they were treated as domesticated farm animals. Several breeds had emerged by the sixteenth century, but the real boom in house rabbits came in the nineteenth century in the hands of lagomorph owners, as dedicated as their fellow enthusiasts for dogs and cats. New breeds selected out for their color, size or other display characteristics as rabbit shows gained popularity. The enthusiasm for exotic breeds reached its height with the so-called “Belgian hare craze”, which saw thousands of them imported into Britain and the United States after 1888. Unfortunately, at the same time, rabbits came into widespread use for medical laboratory experiments, for studies of the human reproductive system, among other things. Chickens had been familiar farm animals for thousands of years, but a fashion for display birds developed in the late nineteenth century, with the importation of exotic, finely feathered birds from Asia, including the long feather footed Silkie from China.

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