The Politics of the Pound: Controlling Loose Dogs in Nineteenth-Century New York City
- Dog Pound,
- New York
This article explores the origins and evolution of the dog pound as a New York City institution in the long nineteenth century. It first examines the rise of the pound as a response to problems of urbanization—particularly the fear of diseases like rabies—in mid-nineteenth-century New York. While the pound served an important practical purpose of protecting people from dangerous animals, it was also a vibrant cultural institution. Indeed, New Yorkers used tropes associated with the pound to argue about other political problems such as immigration. Next, this article considers New Yorkers’ evolving relationship with animals and the rise of animal cruelty laws sponsored by Henry Bergh and his new Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). Bergh’s SPCA launched a crusade to end cruel practices that were then prevalent across the city. Finally, this article looks at the ensuing legal, political, ethical, and social clash between the proponents of the pound and animal anti-cruelty advocates. While the SPCA’s victory in this struggle led to the professionalization of animal control, politics and patronage lay at the heart of this struggle. New York politicians recognized that collecting stray dogs was a lucrative business for immigrant New Yorkers, and they were reluctant to let professionals deprive them of an easy means of winning political support.
This article should be of interest to social and cultural historians curious about the birth of an important local institution as well as legal scholars, lawyers, and philosophers interested in the roots of the more radical animal rights movement of the twentieth century.