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392 pp., 61/8 x 81/2, 100 illus., notes, index

$34.95 cloth
ISBN 0-8078-2990-0

Published: Spring 2006

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Pets in America
A History

by Katherine C. Grier

Copyright (c) 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. All rights reserved.

A Modern Pet Owner

My mother, who has the most reliable memory of anyone in the family, informs me that my first word was "kitty." This fact alone is probably sufficient as an explanation for the existence of this book.

Relationships with animals have been a big part of my life since that first recognizable word. I grew up in the suburbs and spent my years from age six to thirteen in a new housing development outside an industrial city in upstate New York. Across the street from my house was a vacant lot with a shallow creek, and on the other end of the large cul-de-sac, which was ringed with split-level and ranch houses, was what we children called "The Woods," which featured a marshy area dubbed "The Swamp." The fields that covered most of our township were still part of working farms, home to herds of dairy cows. Our housing development was populated by a large number of school-age children and by family cats and dogs who were allowed to roam freely and were identified by both first and last names (Moose Pryor, Tipper Mitchell). Our basset hound Gussie liked to sleep on the warm blacktop road in front of our house, and our neighbors knew to drive slowly and honk their horns to urge her up and out of the way. She also knew how to beg treats from the neighbors and made regular rounds in search of leftovers and dog biscuits.

In this setting, I grew up observing, collecting, playing with, and caring for a variety of small animals. In fact, I grew up in a family of pet keepers. Animals, both wild and tame, were cherished by my parents, by their parents before them, and by several generations before them. Their stories were part of family lore, and several are part of this book. But let me share one I particularly like that didn't fit anywhere else. My great-grandfather had a wooden leg—not a peg leg like a pirate, which I would have regarded as glamorous, but a slightly scary carved calf and foot that strapped on and was covered with a sock and shoe. When I was very small, he and Great Grandma had a big white cat named Snowball. When Snowball was a kitten, Great Grandpa got a laugh out of encouraging him to jump out from under the furniture and attack the wooden leg, which of course did not feel anything. However, Snowball soon learned to hide and attack everyone's legs. Visiting their house was suspenseful; when and whom would Snowball attack? No one considered getting rid of the cat, of course. Visitors simply had to be prepared in case of feline assault.

So I grew up in an indulgent environment for a child with an interest in animals. My brother and I collected pollywogs from The Swamp and were allowed to keep them until they metamorphosed into frogs, when they had to be returned to the setting of their nativity. We caught toads at a nearby quarry and transplanted them to my mother's rock gardens, where they seemed to thrive catching bugs. My dad knew a man who owned a pet store in an old building in downtown Utica, and he used to bring home surprises like a horned toad (it did not live long, I fear) and African diving frogs for the fish tank that sat on the breakfast bar between the kitchen and the dining room in our ranch house. The tank contained a huge goldfish named Ralph who was exceedingly tame and would take food from a hand.

I now realize that my parents were quite progressive pet owners for the 1950s and 1960s. Unlike the pets of many of our neighbors, our cats and dogs were always "fixed" (that is, spayed or neutered) before they could procreate, and we always took them to the veterinarian when they were sick. My mother also worked to instill other kinds of responsible behavior toward animals. She understood that asking children to be the primary caregivers and trainers for kittens and puppies was tantamount to sanctioning neglect and anarchy, so she assumed those responsibilities herself. However, my brother and I could have other, smaller animals if we cared for them. We complained, but we cleaned the hamster cages and guinea pig hutches built by my great-grandfather, although he did not care much for our "rats." One rule was always very clear, however: deliberately hurting an animal was never allowed. Nor was animal suffering. The message of our special responsibility was most profoundly apparent when an animal had to be "put to sleep," as we called it. (We used a Victorian euphemism for death without realizing it.) We all felt awful when that happened, but in my family there was no question that sometimes it was the right thing to do.

My connection to livestock was less constant, but I now recognize how fortunate I was to have some firsthand experience with large animals. As I child, I don't think that I ever considered the connection between hamburgers and cows, or bacon and pigs. The presentation of meat in paper trays covered with plastic in the markets where my mother shopped did not help clarify the relationship. Still, I had some exposure to life with livestock on a small farm. When my brother and I visited my great-aunt and -uncle in southwestern Virginia, a pair of resolutely old-fashioned people who had electricity but still used an outhouse, we drove their handful of cows from pasture to barn and helped (or tried to help) Uncle Norwood with the milking. I remember that the barn cats would sit around him while he milked, waiting for him to shoot milk directly from the cow's teats into their mouths. I fed my great-aunt's chickens and gathered the eggs—and got a case of bird lice while I was at it—but I never actually saw one killed for dinner, although those were the chickens we ate. Even if I had, I am not sure that it would have bothered me much; small children are pragmatic and often quite bloody-minded.

The greatest joy of my young life, and my most profound contact with large stock animals, occurred when I got my own horse at the age of fourteen. I had wanted and dreamed about horses for years. It's a good thing that Buck was a hardy animal of no particular breed because, in retrospect, he should have suffered both laminitus ("founder") and colic because of the way I fed him, and he probably had some kind of intestinal parasite most of the time. But he seemed to thrive despite my somewhat scattered ministrations. I even nursed him back to health after he suffered a deep wound in a trailer accident, and I was proud of my skill at caring for him. He was, in fact, my pet, although he kicked me a couple of times and tried to rub me off under trees periodically. I was sorry to have to give him away in college, but I could not afford to keep him. I hope that he had a good end at the hands of a kind owner, but I have learned that this is often not the case. Buck might have been sold for killing, and that thought still haunts me.

In my college years and during my twenties, even though my somewhat nomadic existence (group rental houses, graduate school, and a move across the country for my first professional job) should have precluded keeping pets, I am sorry to report that I continued to acquire cats and dogs, several of whom I deposited on the doorstep of my tolerant parents. I look back with shame on the story of one particular dog I took in, a Great Pyrenees who was beautiful but peculiar, the victim of a divorce in which no one wanted custody of the dog. She should have been guarding a flock of sheep somewhere, for she really did not like life indoors. Amanda escaped from every fence behind which she was confined, and she took the screens out of windows and doors so that she could go "walkabout." She suffered from strange rashes and, in retrospect, probably had undiagnosed food allergies. She was terrified of thunderstorms, moreover, which I suppose would have limited her sheep-guarding career, and she had to be tranquilized every time she heard a clap of thunder. I had to euthanize her after she was hit by a car.

I never thought much about our familial habit until one day in 1984 when one of my graduate school mentors, George Basalla, and I started talking about pets. Professor Basalla, now retired from the University of Delaware, is a historian of science and technology, curious about everything, and more widely read than just about anyone I know. The subject came up because the cultural geographer Yi Fu Tuan, whose work we liked, had recently published Dominance and Affection: The Making of Pets. Tuan explored the interplay of dominance and affection in the human desire to control and reshape the natural world, including gardens and domestic animals.

As a pet keeper, I remember that I had trouble acknowledging the role that my ability to dominate played in an activity that I loved. I still struggle with it, although I now think that accepting my own power to control or at least partly direct animal behavior is an inevitable part of choosing to share space with creatures whose wishes and natural behaviors are not always compatible with my routines. Ultimately, the issue becomes how much control is too much, how much has bad consequences for the animal, and how much coercion, no matter how well-intentioned, makes me a bully, too. Pet owners draw their lines in different places. For example, I spay and neuter my cats, a profound surgical intervention on their behavior and natural life courses, but I would never declaw them, another profound surgical intervention on behavior. I can offer a long explanation for why I accept one and reject the other, and some of the reasons make me what my community calls a "responsible pet owner." But in the end, I have set the line based on what I am comfortable with, the particular circumstances of my life, and what I judge is good for them.

At any rate, George Basalla and I agreed that someone should write a history of pet keeping. I was already well into my dissertation research on a less interesting topic, but I filed the thought away. Every time I found something about pets in nineteenth-century magazines and books, I photocopied the item and stuffed it into a file drawer. Although this is not a recommended research strategy, eventually I realized that there might be a project in that drawer. I also discovered that my hunch was supported by several important books. British historian Keith Thomas laid crucial groundwork for me with his wonderful Man and the Natural World: A History of the Modern Sensibility (1983), and Harriet Ritvo published her provocative study The Animal Estate: the English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age in 1987. I knew quite a bit about pets from my own experience, and after reading these two books and shuffling through the contents of that file drawer, I was certain that there was more to be said.

This history, which is only a first look at a complicated subject, grew out of my own experience. That's what makes working on, or even simply reading, the history of everyday life a source of so much pleasure. Not only does this kind of history make the ordinary things that we do part of the permanent record of human activity, but it gives us an opportunity to think about what those ordinary things mean as part of the grand narrative of changing times. I pored over old magazines, scraps of paper written by people a century ago, weathered little books offering well-intentioned advice, brittle photograph albums, and artifacts that no one bothered to discard, and I listened to hundreds of stories. In the process, I realized how much pet keeping reveals about this society's complicated and not fully congruous or even fully acknowledged ideas about animals. It also addresses even more general questions about how we define the characteristics of a good society.

I have never been without at least one animal. The most notable, a nondescript tabby cat named Margaret, helped me write my dissertation and revise it into a book and helped with the early stages of this project. She sat on my desk every day, sometimes directly on my notes and drafts, and I still miss her loud purr and comforting presence. It has been interesting to be an active pet keeper while writing a history about Americans and their pets. I believe that it has made me more sympathetic to pet keeping than some other authors on the subject have been. I also think that my own experience has helped me to understand better the day-to-day texture of pet keeping in the past. I wanted to understand the story behind the daily routines I know so well: feeding, grooming, training, doctoring, cleaning up, and playing. I knew that the animals I enjoyed so much in my own life were sometimes the subjects of my intense attention; at other times, they were part of the background of daily living. But regardless of my level of my attention, my pets themselves lived out every day with their own established rhythms and routines. It is the interplay of these two kinds of agency, theirs and mine, that makes my relationship with the animals in my household so compelling. I hoped that I could capture a bit of that interplay in past relations between people and animals.

Working on this book over the years has also made me more thoughtful about my own relationships to animals—the ones I take care of, the ones that cross my path, and the invisible animal workers whose lives support my own. No historian is ever truly neutral about what he or she chooses as the subject for years of research and writing. We owe our chosen material due care and candor, not a pretend neutrality. My own ideas about my responsibilities as a steward to both domestic and wild creatures continue to evolve. This project has left me more self-conscious about the difficult questions of human responsibilities toward animals, and it has changed some of my own behavior. I hope that my work will provide historical context for some of the issues with which my readers grapple, whether in their personal lives with animals or in their volunteer or professional work on behalf of animals.

What Is a Pet?

Before summarizing the contents and arguments of Pets in America, a definition of the word is in order. "Pet" has a complex history and obscure origins; its age suggests when people became self-conscious enough about the idea to wish to label it concisely. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that it may simply come from the root that gave us the French word "petit," meaning "little." First applied to people, "pet" was used by the early 1500s to describe "an indulged or spoiled child; any person indulged or treated as a favorite." By the mid-sixteenth century, "pet" included animals "domesticated or tamed and kept for pleasure or companionship." The term was especially applied to orphan lambs that required raising by hand. It morphed into a verb, meaning to fondle an animal, by the early 1600s, although it did not become slang for sexual foreplay until the early 1900s. Noah Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language of 1828 also defined "pet" as a "lamb brought up by hand," or "any little animal fondled and indulged"; as a verb it meant "to treat as a pet; to fondle; to indulge."

These definitions are based on human perception: no people, no pets. They also call attention to proximity and the importance of touch, and to ongoing care of the animal. In the eighteenth century, writing about pet animals still almost always used the word "favorite" instead of "pet." This usage suggests the most fundamental characteristic of pet keeping, the act of choosing a particular animal, differentiating it from all other animals. I know people who insist that their pet selected them first—and if you know dogs and cats, there is some reason to believe that this is true—but in the end, we choose to become their stewards. And it is not an equal relationship, although pet animals are capable of truly awe-inspiring displays of their own ideas about the way things should run.

There is some discomfort about the word "pet" nowadays. Uncomfortable with the ideas that pet animals are defined as sentient personal property under the law, animal welfare organizations and writers on the status of animals are trying to find alternatives that suggest the integrity of the animals as beings and de-emphasize some of the traditional rights of ownership. The Humane Society of the United States, which I consider a good measure on these issues, preferred "companion animal" until recently, when it bowed to popular usage and returned to "pet." Throughout my own work, I have chosen to use the word "pet" because it was, by the early nineteenth century, both in wide use and a word for which people had a practical understanding of its meaning.

Keith Thomas, who authored the first history to take pet keeping seriously as a historical subject, identified three characteristics of the pet in England between 1400 and 1800: (1) the animal was allowed into the house, (2) it was given an individual name, and (3) it was never eaten.[1] This was good start because it recognized that a pet was defined by a set of behaviors, what I call a "lived definition." However, a close look at the behaviors associated with pet keeping, especially since the late nineteenth century, suggests that the definition has become considerably more complex. Even adding the idea of the "companion animal" does not do it justice. Not all pets are true companions, although some animals are indeed excellent company. Companionship suggests recognition on the part of the animal, and some pets, while they have come to understand that the shadows outside the tank deliver food, do not seem to recognize the human feeding them as a distinctive individual. This is not to suggest that the simplest creature cannot be a comforting presence or a welcome distraction; think of the fish tank in your dentist's office. Caring for any pet can add welcome routine to our days. But pets are kept for many reasons. Some are regarded primarily for the beauty of their bodies or their movements; others make beautiful sounds. Some are living toys; others are symbols of our desires for social status. Many pets combine more than one of these characteristics; high-status show dogs may also be their owners' "best friends."

Many pet animals do recognize us, and I mean that in a more profound sense that the simple learned behavior associating a human with food. That recognition, or the hope of it, across the species barrier is what keeps some people involved with pets. This is one reason I like living with pets so much, and why I am willing to tolerate the poop, tumbleweeds of shed hair in every corner, occasional decapitated mouse carcasses, and stinky food. I like looking into the eyes of my big old cat Ed and seeing him very clearly looking back at me. In 1894, Olive Thorne Miller, a now obscure author who wrote a number of books on pets, recognized well that pets could furnish "an every-fresh source of happiness to those who love them."[2] She was right.

Revising Thomas's simple definition, the most important quality pets share is that they have been singled out by human beings. Not all pets live indoors; large pets may not even live in the same location as their owners. Some pets do not, in fact, have names. And a few pets do eventually get eaten, which simply reflects the contingent status of the designation. Pets receive special attention intended to promote their well-being, at least as people understand that condition. Or we intend that they receive this attention; sometimes we fail miserably as pet keepers, as I myself have done.

Why Pets Matter

What I have discovered, in the years I worked on this project, is that the history of pet keeping is an integral part of the history of everyday life in the United States. It is connected to changing ideas about human nature, emotional life, individual responsibility, and our society's obligations to all kinds of dependent others, including people. Pet keeping is an important part of the history of childhood in America, and it speaks to evolving ideas about the proper roles of men and women and to the historical characteristics of the modern American middle classes. It is part of the industrial and commercial development of the United States, especially its evolution into a nation of consumers. It is part of the environmental history of the United States. It is even part of the story of municipal government, public health, and philanthropy. But the history of pet keeping also has its own integrity as part of a developing field that studies the history of animal-human interaction. The stories I relate here are worth telling for their own sake, as one part of the larger narrative of our relations with other sentient beings generally. Social historians have been concerned with recovering the stories of the "voiceless" members of our society for decades. Animals are indeed part of our communities, and they are profoundly voiceless, something that Victorian advocates for animals emphasized repeatedly. Still they are, in their own small ways, the agents of their own lives. Their agency is often weak, especially when they face the power of human societies, but it is there nonetheless. Where I could demonstrate this agency, I have.

Even if I did not know these things, I would still think that pet keeping is worth long, careful study simply because of its ubiquity today. Since the 1980s, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Animal Hospital Association, the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), and the Pet Food Institute have all collected data on pet keeping.[3] While the information is based on modern statistical sampling, and even allowing for the inevitable variations from source to source, statistics on the pet population of the United States demonstrate that we are, indeed, a nation of pet keepers. A survey done by the AVMA in 2001 estimated that 58.3 percent of households contain at least one pet; the APPMA 2003-4 pet owners survey upped that figure to 62 percent, estimating 77.7 million cats, 65 million dogs, 16.8 million small animals, 17.3 million birds, 8.8 million reptiles, 7 million saltwater fish, and 185 million freshwater fish.[4] Visit any gift shop or stop at a greeting-card rack and count how many images of pet animals you find there. Watch cable television or surf the World Wide Web and see how many programs and sites are devoted to them. Anything that Americans spend so much time thinking about is worth a closer look.

The most detailed surveys of pet-keeping practices and owner attitudes in America today come from the APPMA, which devotes a great deal of time to figuring out what will make owners spend more money on their pets. For example, the APPMA has found that American pet owners now routinely describe their animals as their best friends or as family members. (Even 20 percent of reptile owners describe their pets as being "like a child/family member.") Owners feel that their pets enhance daily life and their own health. They report that the greatest drawback of pet keeping is not the veterinary bills, the ruined carpets, the clawed upholstery, or that vaguely zoolike smell some children's rooms get from the cages of their pals; rather, the most noted disadvantage is the inevitability of a pet's death.[5]

Not everyone feels this way, of course. Some Americans do not like pets and the mess they almost inevitably cause; some think that animals should live outdoors; some do not have strong feelings either for or against; some have allergies to furry animals; some do not have any experience of pets or a history of pet ownership in their families. Americans who were uninvolved, indifferent, or even hostile to having pets in their households do turn up occasionally in this book, but they are not my subject. The fact is, increasing numbers of Americans liked pets over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and I am interested in telling their stories.

Social and cultural change is usually gradual and uneven, and people experience change at different paces. Eventually, changes in the individual decisions people make accumulate into trends. Further, practices and ideas are often not completely in sync with one another. In the case of pet keeping, routines often did not change for many decades, even as more intense emotional involvement with pet animals became more common during the 1800s. Take, for example, how people dealt with the fertility of pet animals. Even fond pet owners dealt with litters of kittens and puppies by drowning all but one of the newborns, which the mother would be allowed to keep and nurse. As Americans became more self-conscious about the treatment of animals, people continued to drown kittens—they had little other recourse—but some of them clearly felt deep regret at what they were compelled to do. In 1805, Philadelphia diarist Elizabeth Drinker was appalled at having to drown kittens. But she did it nonetheless, and her feelings about it are recounted in Chapter 2. By the 1860s, advocates of kindness to animals even had to articulate an argument that drowning newborn animals was a positive kindness, apparently because so many people felt awful about it and were inclined to let kittens and puppies take their chances in the world. Owners made private ethical calculations based on their understanding of the sentience of newborn kittens and their future prospects for ownership, their own economic means, and what people had done before.

Class identity plays an important part in the story of pet keeping in America, too. The new American middle class set more demanding standards for pet keeping beginning in the nineteenth century, and it made kindness to animals an important subject for discussion and social action. However, class identity alone does not explain pet keeping alone, although it explicates some of its important features, such as increasing consumer interest in commercial pet supplies. People who simply liked animals and enjoyed the company of pets appeared in all classes, regions, and ethnic groups. My own evidence for this rests on the accumulated weight of all the stories I gathered. I anticipate that smaller-scale historical studies will add greater nuance to this assertion, although sources on the lives of some groups, particularly the poor, are hard to come by in any form. Even in the present day, this is a level of detail unavailable in current statistics on pet keeping, although it is information that would be extremely useful to animal welfare organizations and the thousands of shelters run by local governments.

Because change has occurred at such an uneven pace and the interplay between ideas and practices is so complex, figuring out a narrative structure for a first history of pet keeping in America has been a challenge. I soon realized that a strictly chronological account would be repetitive and would make the book difficult for readers to use as they sought information on specific subjects. So I decided on a topical approach: each chapter is dedicated to a particular theme (evolving attitudes toward kindness to animals or the role of the pet in the growth of the United States as a consumer society), and I treat that theme chronologically. While the chapters build one upon the other, this book's structure is intended to allow readers to read them individually, as topical essays.

I must also note that the majority of my examples throughout are from the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. This fact is partly a matter of logistics, but it also reflects the fact that modern American pet-keeping practice—emotionally intensive, fully commercialized, and integrated into local government and other community institutions—originated in these states. My emphasis does not mean that pet keeping did not take place elsewhere, and I offer examples throughout the text. Having an established framework for studying pet keeping in America will make it easier to develop regional comparisons in the future.

Pets in America: A Synopsis

European settlers carried cats and dogs as workers and companions to the North American colonies, where indigenous people already enjoyed complex relations with their own dogs. Settlers also carried certain habits of pet keeping, such as caging songbirds. By the mid-eighteenth century, some American households already cared for a variety of animals, including dogs, cats, birds, and even rabbits, simply for pleasure. Some animals were companions to their owners, but others were present because of their looks or the sounds they made, the status they represented, or the novelty they provided.

Several examples I offer—the families of Elizabeth Drinker in Philadelphia, Samuel and Olivia Clemens in Hartford, Connecticut, and the extended Van Rensselaer-Elmendorf-Rankin family of Albany, New York—show that that pet keeping did seem to run in families. However, pet keeping was also a typical behavior for many families when there were children in the house. Pet keeping was strongly associated with childhood by the nineteenth century. For both children and adults, caring for pets was one avenue for the cultivation of the self through expressive behavior during moments of leisure. At its best, the practice fostered gentle emotions, curiosity about the world, and even aesthetic appreciation.

In Chapter 1, I show that, by around 1870, the array of pets in American households was a pretty close approximation of the range of species found in the present day, with the notable exception of exotic creatures such as reptiles or tropical fish. Some animals, such as white mice and guinea pigs, were specifically regarded as children's pets. The "balanced" aquarium had been invented, but until the 1920s, its residents were either goldfish or freshwater creatures caught in local ponds and streams. While dogs and cats were still important workers in households, people also enjoyed their company, and many were no longer required to earn their livings. Most dogs were not purebreds in the modern sense, although they represented recognizable types such as spaniels, hounds, or terriers. By the 1870s, some Americans had become interested in purebred dogs. A smaller number favored pedigreed cats, and new breeds were introduced to the United States. However, registered purebred dogs did not become truly popular until the 1940s, and they are still a minority of the dogs in American households.

Little data enumerating the pet population of nineteenth-century America survives, if it ever existed, but the spread of pet keeping can be measured through the sheer proliferation of information sources. Instructional books and essays on pet keeping were published in numbers beginning in the 1840s; by the 1860s, a good bit of this literature was directed to children, reflecting the assumption that all children kept, or should keep, pets. Children's books and stories using pet animals as protagonists were published in increasing numbers. Printed pictures of pet animals were available in enormous quantity and variety, and Americans collected printed trade cards with images of pet animals doing the things pets do: getting into trouble, begging for food, hunting for mice, and caring for their young. While painted portraits of pets were rare, Americans brought dogs and, later, cats by the thousands into photographers' studios as soon as the technology arrived in America in the 1840s. As amateur photography grew simpler and more affordable, people started to make their own pictures of their pets. Trade catalogs and advertisements show that, by the 1870s, an expanded array of products for the care of birds, dogs, and cats were available, from tonics to prepared foods. These sources allowed me to reconstruct the routine behavior of pet keepers, including training practices, play, and the inclusion of pet animals in important family rituals such as portraiture and mourning, the subject of Chapter 2.

In Chapter 2, I also discuss important differences in the conditions of life for pets and the tough decisions American pet keepers sometimes made about their animals. Until quite recently, according to the historical record, pet keepers had to accept the biological realities of life and death that we now avoid through regular trips to the veterinarian. Small-animal veterinary practices were rare in many communities until the 1930s, and veterinarian friends of mine tell me that choosing small-animal practice over working for the livestock industry and in research was still somewhat stigmatized in veterinary schools until the 1960s. The people I discuss in this book accepted the inevitable and frequent mortality of their pets even as they regretted their early demises. (Let me suggest that this philosophical attitude still survives in relation to aquarium fish and rodent pets such as hamsters, whose life spans are quite short.) As I suggested above, people took direct responsibility for ending animal lives.

In the half-century before the Civil War, the era when a self-conscious and energetic middle class developed in the United States, many Americans began to rethink their relationships with the animals living in and around their households. The timing of these two phenomena is no coincidence. The new domestic ethic of kindness to animals was one product of a constellation of ideas and cultural ideals, including gentility, liberal evangelical Protestant religion, and domesticity, which I discuss in Chapter 3. Kindness to animals was linked to general ideas about socializing children to be citizens of the American republic. It was particularly associated with ideas about care for dependent beings—children, the elderly, the chronically ill, the enslaved, and others—who could not care for themselves alone in a rapidly changing society. The model for the good society was family life itself. Promoters of kindness relied on ways of talking about animals that conceptualized them as servants, the oldest way of speaking about animals, but also as children, parents, and friends. These metaphors appeared in both popular literature and the inexpensive prints that decorated American households in the nineteenth century. The latter suggested in literal terms what good relations with animals looked like. Drawing on popular media, which grew from what publishers saw going on around them, a new language of regard became part of the way ordinary Americans talked about animals, particularly pets. Increasingly, the domestic ethic of kindness promoted pet keeping as both a crucial part of childhood and a form of self-expression for adults.

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the domestic ethic had changed the baseline of acceptable behavior toward animals and had created a large population of respectable people who were self-consciously kind to animals and distinguished among other people on that basis. The domestic ethic underlay the expansion of pet keeping and of the creation of new animal welfare groups following the Civil War, and it became the basis of organized humane education activities beginning in the 1880s. Because of its focus on the heart of each individual and on the private household, however, the ethic had distinctive limits that impeded discussion of the structural character of cruelty in a large-scale, industrializing society. In cities in particular, large populations of animals lived on the fringes of pet keeping, part of a complex urban ecology.

In Chapter 4, I point out that pet keeping developed as an emotionally rich and complex practice at a time when most pet-keeping families still participated in the traditional animal-human interactions associated with farming and transportation. The separation of Americans from livestock and working animals was gradual; horses, cows, pigs, and chickens were part of daily life even in large cities through the 1920s. American families relied for their comfort and convenience on the direct labor of animal workers and on the products derived from their bodies (simply put, they knew where meat came from). Some livestock animals lived on the margins of pet keeping, and tenderhearted youngsters suffered when they tried to rationalize the differences between kinds of animals, especially since some animals could occupy more than one category. But other children seem to have absorbed the dissonances with little trouble, and most adults and children apparently were not troubled about the implications of loving some animals and eating others.

Case studies of other animals on the edges of pet keeping—tramps and strays, pet stock, and community and honorary pets—demonstrate both the cultural and historical character of what I call animal kinds. They also demonstrate how animals on the fringes of the practice, such as tramp dogs and urban cats, could be crucial participants in the ecology of American cities until the era of municipal housekeeping in the early twentieth century led to greater efforts to control them. Pet stock, the small animals who could be beloved pets, cosseted aesthetic objects, or dinner depending on the needs and goals of the owner, is an animal kind that we do not see much of nowadays, unless one has contact with the small-animal fanciers who still exhibit at county and state fairs. Community or honorary pets, from celebrity dogs to the wild birds many people feed in the winter, show how Americans still use animals as a public way to express community and to represent our love for a natural world fewer and fewer of us know well.

Pet keeping in America is also characterized by its commercial nature. In Chapters 5 and 6, I explore this by examining the trade in live animals and the development of the modern pet store and its supplies and equipment. Between 1840 and 1930, all the elements of a modern "pet industry"—a term that reflects perfectly the tension between sentiment and commodification that still resonates throughout the business—gradually developed. By the 1840s, bird stores dotted larger American cities, gradually supplanting the informal trade in native songbirds that occurred in city markets. By the 1890s, the modern pet shop had come along, supplying both animals and an expanded array of specialized supplies and equipment to facilitate care and display. By the 1920s, pet supplies and sometimes the animals themselves were offered for sale in department stores and five-and-tens.

Like any retail business, pet shops had to have reliable access to fresh inventory. Local trade in small animals sometimes capitalized on the owner's skill at breeding his or her own stock, and small, hobbyist breeders sometimes sold animals to stores. But shopkeepers also traded with a new group of middlemen who bought and sold animals. The wholesale trade in cage birds, especially German-bred canaries, was already highly organized, if small, by the mid-nineteenth century. By the early twentieth century, canaries, budgerigars (parakeets), and other exotic birds were farm-raised in the warm weather of California and Florida. These operations, along with the goldfish farms dotting Long Island, Indiana, and Maryland by the turn of the century and the southern tropical fish breeders in place by the 1920s, were a unique branch of commercial livestock raising. The wholesale animal business was subject not only to the natural vagaries of husbandry—disease, feeding problems, failure to breed, and so on—but also to fads, as interest in particular kinds of animals waxed and waned. An increasingly controversial part of the trade is found in the rise of the "puppy mill," as demand for unregistered purebred puppies has led to operations that breed and rear dogs as livestock. Some of these are run by true large-scale breeders who meet Department of Agriculture standards of care; other are operated by the infamous "backyard breeders" whose dogs suffer from poor care. In both cases, many Americans are ambivalent about puppies produced this way, because dogs are not supposed to be "livestock."

Pet supplies and equipment, the subject of Chapter 6, were the most profitable aspect of the pet trade; they still are. By the late nineteenth century, purchasing or receiving an animal as a gift could set off years of transactions at the local pet store, the drug store, and eventually the local five-and-ten or grocery. It is one small sign of changing times that supplies for cage birds were the first commercial foods and medicines; Americans in the past cherished their caged birds. Dog and cat food, now a common feature on grocery lists, was a product that people had to be convinced to buy. The first makers, including Spratt's, the company that literally invented dry dog food in the 1860s, used methods that are still in place today to create demand: free samples, premiums, commercial sponsorships of dog and cat shows, and mass-media advertising. Their ads are windows into the concerns of owners for the health and happiness of their pets. Because the pet products business cost so little to get into, myriad small companies packaged or canned food and made objects for pet owners to buy. Cages, collars, coats, furniture, dishes, and toys all tell the story of owner attitudes and the place of the small entrepreneur in American consumer goods innovation.

I close with a brief epilogue that considers some of the most recent changes in American pet keeping. It seems to me that, since the 1970s in particular, the practice of pet keeping has evolved at an accelerated rate. This indicates prosperity and demographic change, as more American households are small and without children, but it also reflects something less tangible. I am especially interested in speculating about the tension between the apparent desire of American pet owners to experience the "animal" in our pets—through such trends as the "biologically appropriate food movement" (which bears the unfortunate but memorable acronym BARF), "natural" training, and the provision of "enriched" environments for animals—and our simultaneous and increasing desire to regulate and control the lives of our pets. I am not against training or spaying and neutering, but I argue that we need to be thoughtful about our stewardship, including how much we control pets' abilities to move through the world outside our dwellings unimpeded, their opportunities to interact socially, and their expression of natural behaviors, especially those we regard as embarrassing or destructive. These contrasting impulses, toward the "natural" animal and the civilized pet, are augmented by increasing convictions that pet animals are distinctive individuals whose uniqueness should be celebrated. Pet keeping is the only one-on-one relationship with animals left to most of us, and I wonder what the long-term impact of this enhanced recognition of animals as individuals will eventually be on our treatment of the millions of invisible animals whose lives support our own.

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