Animals and Pets

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Kathleen J. Kete

In 1974 the Journal of Social History published a spoof on the history of pet keeping. "Household Pets and Urban Alienation" by "Charles Phineas" was a satire of the kinds of subjects Ph.D. programs were producing in the 1970s when social historians began to pay attention to the history of everyday life. In the same decade, however, a number of books and articles appeared which established the importance of attitudes toward animals in European, especially British and French, social history.

These studies make it clear that attitudes toward animals played an important part in the building of a sense of social identity in modernizing Europe. The history of Europeans' relationship to animals can be placed at times within a "left," and at times within a "right" political narrative of history. What is significant is the constancy of the the role of these attitudes in charting a shifting line between an "us" and a "them"—a line of exclusion that runs through the Puritan, bourgeois, feminist, nationalist, and even Nazi revolutions.


Europeans had a greater acquaintance with animals in early modern times than had been the case in the Middle Ages. A rise in the numbers of domesticated animals went along with the agricultural revolution that began in Holland and England in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Enclosure allowed for sheep farming and experimentation with new crops, some of which like alfalfa fixed nitrogen in the soil, some of which like turnips and clover provided fodder for animals. For the first time, it was no longer necessary to slaughter pigs and cows in the autumn. A motif of medieval art and culture was becoming obsolete.

Economic modernization initially shifted the ratio of animals to people in favor of animals. As Keith Thomas points out in Man and the Natural World, in the early 1500s there were three sheep for every one person in England. Animals and people lived in close proximity whether in the archaic longhouse, which contained humans and large domestic animals under one roof, or the increasingly common farmhouse. Although farmhouses primarily sheltered humans, they also warmed hens, lambs, calves, and goats. Jonas Frykman and Orvar Löfgren in Culture Builders present the observations of a sixteenth-century German merchant who visits a Swedish peasant farm. He bedded down on the farmhouse floor, and what seems to have bothered him most was being licked in the face during the night by hungry juvenile pigs. Young adults and family servants typically slept in barns in some rural areas into the twentieth century.

Urbanization in modernizing Europe also brought animals and people together. Authorities throughout early modern Europe legislated uselessly against the keeping of pigs within town walls. Alexander Cowan in Urban Europe, 1500–1700 describes the failure of Philip II's administration to do so in Valladolid in the 1560s. In Man and the Natural World, Thomas explains how pigs caused fires and attacked children in English towns into the nineteenth century. Many sources note how cows were kept for milk and fowl were raised for eggs and meat. As cities grew so did the presence of the horse in the city. The waste products of all these animals joined with that of humans to foul the streets. So, too, did offal from the carcasses of animals slaughtered for meat.

Animals figured in the recreations of both urban and rural people. The so-called blood sports of modernizing Europe include cock throwing, cockfighting, dogfighting, bull baiting, and bull running which were conducted in villages, towns, fairgrounds—sites associated with festivities and drinking. They also include hunting, which was reserved by law for the elite and which will be discussed below. In Europe these sports triggered the first conflict between social groups over the treatment of animals, resulting in Europe's first animal protection law, the Protectorate Ordinance of 1654, promulgated during the radical Puritan stage of the English Civil War. The Ordinance of 1654 banned cockfighting and cock throwing. It also set the terms for continued debate on the proper treatment of animals in England.

Cock throwing was a game that traditionally took place on Shrove Tuesday and at other festive occasions. The game began with tethering a cock to a stake with about a foot or two of slack in the tether. Contestants took turns throwing clubs at the cock until it was dead. Bull baiting was much like cock throwing. The bull was tethered with a rope long enough to provide mobility. Dogs were set upon the bull until it was weakened and bloodied from fighting. The bull then was slaughtered.

Bull baiting was said to tenderize the meat of these male animals, as did bull running, it was believed. Bull running took an entire day and was a townwide event. A bull was set loose, then was beaten by people, and chased by dogs through the streets of the town. At the end of the day, it was slaughtered for meat. Traditional recreations merged with the ritual slaughter of animals in the case of cock throwing, bull baiting, and bull running. In each case, these practices began to appear in the historical record as they were about to disappear from daily life.

An argument against these practices had been forwarded by the Puritans as early as the mid-sixteenth century, as Puritanism resonated with a more generally developing middle-class view. Blood sports and other popular recreations were associated with idleness and drunkenness. They profaned the Sabbath. They turned people away from their duties to God and society. Moreover, the Puritan reading of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden led to a recognition that humans owed it to animals not to enjoy or increase their suffering, a suffering which had become their lot after Adam's sin. In their sense of being lords of creation as revealed in Genesis 1 ("you will have dominion over the earth and the animals in it"), the European West began, with the Puritans, to develop notions of good stewardship over the earth and animals in it.

The Puritan argument was countered by the early Stuarts. James I issued the King's Declaration of Sports in 1618, which was reissued by Charles I in 1633. The Book of Sports was a defense of traditional recreations, and its insistence that these lay outside the purview of reform continued as the argument of some gentry and some rural poor into the nineteenth century and, with respect to hunting, throughout the twentieth century. The Book of Sports helped trigger a Puritan revolt against the state while Puritan interference in everyday life became a leitmotif of resistance to Puritan revolution.

The Ordinance of 1654 was overturned in the Restoration. Middle-class opinion in the next century, however, continued to form against blood sports. The valorization of happiness and benevolence expressed in latitudinarianism and more generally in Enlightenment thought was helping to shape middle-class attitudes toward animals in England. Robert Malcolmson in Popular Recreations in English Society shows how repulsion to these sports was expressed in the municipal press. By the end of the eighteenth century many towns were enforcing ordinances against cock throwing and bull baiting. Municipal ordinances were followed in 1835 with the Cruelty to Animals Act, which outlawed the "running, baiting, or fighting" of any animal.

One important shift in the pattern suggested by the mobilization of middle-class reformism against elite and popular conservatism in modernizing England occurred in Stamford in the 1830s. There middle-class opinion turned against the abolition of bull running when the London-based Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) backed by the royal army forces mounted an attack on Stamford's bull running. The formation and the history of the RSPCA in the nineteenth century will be discussed below. Here it is seen that in England lines of conflict over the treatment of animals could be shaped not only by class but by a divide between the state and local traditions in ways that echo the conflict between London and the counties in the age of civil war and revolution.

On the Continent animal pain was also a part of traditional celebrations. Robert Darnton explains in The Great Cat Massacre how the "rough music" of a charivari could be produced by skinning a live cat. Cats also fared poorly in May Day and summer solstice festivities. Because they were associated with witchcraft, they were burned alive on maypoles or bonfires, their dying cries part of the fun. When it came to the problem of animals, however, the focus of reformers within the French elite and those surrounding the enlightened despots of Prussia, Russia, and Austria was to effect an agricultural revolution on the model of England's, that is, to improve the progress of animal husbandry and increase yields of grain. It was not until the nineteenth century that middle- and upper-class distance from lower-class cruelty to animals was institutionalized along British lines in animal protection societies. Meanwhile, early Enlightenment thought in France had produced two lines of argument about the relationship of humans to animals whose effects would linger in modern European culture. For followers of Montaigne, a lover of cats, animals were feeling creatures, akin in this way to humans. For followers of Descartes, animals could also be understood as living machines, sensate but unfeeling, whose secrets could be discovered through experimentation.


The patterns of social conflict associated with hunting in early modern Europe are distinct from those formed over the practice of popular blood sports. In England and on the continent hunting was reserved for the landed elites. The rural poor were allied in this issue with urban elites, not in opposition to hunting but in resentment of their exclusion from the sport. By the end of the eighteenth century, the romantic movement was developing an argument against hunting based on empathy with animal pain but, for the most part, notions of cruelty to animals were absent from the conflicts over hunting in early modern Europe.

Hunting and aristocracy. In the Middle Ages hunting was a type of practice warfare for the nobility. By the twelfth century forests were being reserved by important nobles and royalty for hunting. Although game could be a precious source of protein in the premodern economy, it is the political and cultural function of hunting that historians stress. In an age that depended on increasing the amount of arable land to expand the production of grain, the preservation of forests, or fragments of forests in deer parks, was an exercise of power. The Robin Hood legends indicate the resentments that the royal forest law in England could trigger among those excluded from its benefits.

Hunting as an enduring attribute of monarchy is made clear in the biographies of the early modern monarchs of England and France. Even in old age Elizabeth I would go shooting. James I liked to bathe his arms in the steaming blood of a dying deer then anoint the faces of his entourage with its hot blood. Louis XIV's hunting parties appear frequently in the memoirs of the duc de Saint-Simon. It is in this context that Louis XVI's journal entry for 14 July 1789 makes sense. Simon Schama explains in Citizens that his entry, "rien" ("nothing") tells us not that the king was out of touch with one of the most important revolutionary events but that he was disappointed at not being able to hunt that day. His comment passes for premonition, for three weeks later, on the night of 4 August 1789, the hunting privileges of the noble elite were abolished along with all other aspects of feudalism.

Hunting had been a privilege of the ruling class since the establishment of manorialism. In France the exclusive right of the lord of the manor to hunt on peasant's land was one of the remnants of a system that economic modernity was making obsolete. Tocqueville points out in The Old Régime and the French Revolution that the right of the lord of the manor to hunt on peasants' fields was like the banalité—which included the obligations of peasants to use the lord's ovens and mills—less punishing in and of itself than as a reminder of an anachronistic system of power relations. Hunting's importance in defining social relations in rural France is indicated by the fact that it was both closely guarded by the nobility and contested by the peasantry. Isser Woloch in Eighteenth-Century Europe points to the prevalence throughout eighteenth-century Europe of poaching as a form of social protest. He also explains that complaints against the hunting privileges of the nobility were among the most frequent in the cahiers de doléances, the list of grievances solicited by the king on the eve of the French Revolution.

Poaching continued in France after the Revolution when it was redefined as a property crime. A permit system in the 1830s was designed by the state to combat the problem. But as Eugen Weber notes in Peasants into Frenchmen, hunting offenses remained more common than theft in rural areas through much of the century. At the same time, however, the romantic tide was turning some of the great landowners against hunting. Witness the romantic poet and revolutionary Alphonse de Lamartine's lament for a dying deer in his poem, "Mon dernier coup de fusil" ("My last shot").

In the German states and in Russia where serfdom hardened during the eighteenth century, hunting also marked power relations. The obligations of serfs included the beating of game, that is the obligation to process en masse through fields, woods, and underbrush driving game forward into clearings to be slaughtered by nobles. Readers of War and Peace will remember its wolf-hunting scene. David Blackbourn suggests in The Long Nineteenth Century that even in areas where the ties of serfdom were loosest, the hunting rights of the nobility were tightly held on to.

For the most part, early modern hunting on the Continent was a male pursuit although, as W. H. Bruford relates in Germany in the Eighteenth Century, German ladies were sometimes invited along to pigstickings.

Hunting in early modern England. In England conflicts over hunting were more complicated. Rural capitalism was destroying the medieval manor as urban capitalism was the guilds. By the eighteenth century London was the center of a commercial empire poised to dominate the globe. It is in this context of emerging capitalism that the game laws of early modern England and the opposition they generated can be understood. Though all English game laws were oppressive to the lower classes, it is the Game Law of 1671 that historians see as introducing class conflict into the arena of hunting.

The Game Law of 1671 followed the political logic of the seventeenth century in that it displaced the monarch as sole owner and protector of game by including in that definition the landed gentry. The gentry could hunt freely throughout the countryside (subject to a weak law of trespass) and they were charged with protecting game through the employment of gamekeepers and the enforcing of the game law through their offices of justices of the peace.

For P. B. Munsche, writing in Gentlemen and Poachers: The English Game Laws, 1671–1831, it is significant that urban elites—those merchant capitalist investors in the East and West India Companies who had previously joined with the gentry in resisting absolutism—were excluded by the game law from hunting. The game law qualified only large landowners, not those wealthy from mobile wealth. Munsche argues that the new law must be aimed at this group as the status of the lower classes with respect to hunting remained untouched by the law—that is, the penalties for poaching remained the same, a fine of about a day's wages for rural workers.

In Munsche's view the function of the game law was to enhance the social position of the gentry at the expense of the urban bourgeoisie, held to be responsible for the excesses of the revolution. Merchants were often Dissenters. More vaguely, but importantly, city life was associated with modernity, newness, root-lessness, and change. The importance of hunting in early modern England is that it allowed country gentlemen to build a positive social identity. Their exclusive association with hunting let them assert themselves as simple, natural, and English, a political move that shaped the divide between Tory and Whig in the Hanoverian century.

For Douglas Hay, whose "Poaching and the Game Laws on Cannock Chase" appears in Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England, the meaning of the game law lies in its enforcement, especially after the mid-eighteenth century when amendments made penalties for poaching harsher. Whipping, hard labor for night poaching in lieu of stiff fines, and by 1800 transportation for this offense were possible. The killing of deer in a park, that is, in an enclosed area, was punishable by death. Hay analyzed the application of the game laws on Cannock Chase, a great estate belonging to the Paget family. The laws were aggressively enforced through gamekeepers. They were also universally resisted by villagers. Unlike a crime of property which could alienate the perpetrator from the community, the hunting of game on land once viewed as commons was understood as morally right though legally wrong. Hay shows how villagers protected poachers from Paget's gamekeepers. Poaching, Hay shows, was—like wrecking, smuggling, arson, and rioting—a community crime, a form of protest, a way of building social identity among rural wage workers who were no longer feudal but not yet fully modern and class conscious.

In rural England one defined oneself in terms of one's relationship to hunting. Hay and Munsche would both agree. For Hay, unlike Munsche, the defining divide was between patricians—gentry and merchants—and plebeians, the working poor of rural and urban England. The game laws were part of a criminal code, a theater of power, based on the strategic deployment of penalties of capital punishment and transportation, which throughout England maintained the dominance of the propertied over the poor.

In any case, capitalism helped destroy the Game Law of 1671 and its amendments. Poaching was found to be fueled by the demand for game on the part of the urban elite; that is, game poached from the gentry found its way to the urban gullet. The status of game was such that it had become a necessary part of a gentleman's table and of a tavern menu by the early nineteenth century. The Game Reform Law of 1831, which opened hunting to anyone with a permit, was promulgated in part to increase the legal supply of game and make poaching less attractive and lucrative. In this it failed. In its other purpose, however, the law was more successful. Equalizing access to hunting by including professionals, doctors, lawyers, civil servants—nineteenth-century young professionals, such as one finds in the pages of Anthony Trollope novels—encouraged the adoption of Tory attitudes toward animals as the national attitude.

In a theme that strengthens as the nineteenth century wears on, Englishness comes to be set apart from other cultures by its special relationship toward nature. The democratization of hunting also results in the gentry finding new ways to express their status with respect to animals. The raising of prize pigs and cows is satirized in the endearing figures of Lord Empworth and his pig in the novels of P. G. Wodehouse and analyzed in the The Animal Estate by Harriet Ritvo.


In the nineteenth century attitudes toward animals took on unprecedented political importance. This is true for England especially, where the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shaped both public opinion and public policy. Tocqueville indirectly signaled the importance of animal protection societies in Democracy in America when he spoke to the importance to liberal democracy of intermediate bodies between state and people. The RSPCA stands out as one of the most successful of European voluntary associations. Brian Harrison notes in Peaceable Kingdom that its legislative achievements both "reflected and enhanced their influence" (p. 84).

Animal protection societies were formed throughout Europe and the United States along the model of the British. The most important European society after the British was the French Société Protectrice des Animaux, founded in 1845. Societies were also formed in the German states and in Switzerland in the late 1830s and 1840s. The German cities of Dresden, Nürnberg, Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich, and Hanover established societies. In Switzerland, Berne, Basle, Zurich, Lausanne, Lucerne, and Geneva did so, too. According to Ulrich Tröhler and Andreas-Holger Maehle in "Anti-vivisection in Nineteenth-Century Germany and Switzerland," a German national organization, the Verband der Tierschutzvereine des Deutschen Reiches, in the early 1880s included more than 150 local animal protection societies. The Swedish national society was founded in 1875.

Marx specifically noted the role of animal protection societies within bourgeois Europe. In The Communist Manifesto he grouped them with other humanitarian organizations under the rubric of "Conservative, or Bourgeois Socialism." Marx saw the universalism of bourgeois culture at work in organizations whose object was the reform of lower-class behavior. "Members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals . . . like temperance fanatics, . . . organizers of charity, . . . improvers of the condition of the working class," Marx wrote, "wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat. The bourgeoisie naturally conceives the world in which it is supreme to be the best."

The transmission of bourgeois values was openly a goal of legislation prohibiting public violence to animals on the streets of urban Europe. To be kind to animals came to stand high in the index of civilization. It formed part of the project of civilization. The barbarian other—the urban working classes, continental peasants, southern Europeans, Catholic Ireland, Russians, Asians, and Turks—was defined in part by its brutality to beasts.

Animal protection in England and France. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in 1824 in London. Its founders and early members included evangelical humanitarians but also Anglican ministers, Irish M.P.s, utilitarian radicals, and socially prominent Jews. One of the most important of these was William Wilberforce, otherwise famous for leading the campaign for the abolition of slavery in the British empire.

Throughout the century the society attracted royal and aristocratic patrons including Queen Victoria whose support explains its name change to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1840. Members of Parliament could be called upon for advice and information. Its members included a large number of women from among the social elite. Harrison in Peaceable Kingdom credits its informal manipulation of the political system with its success in effecting legislation and changing attitudes toward animals. The RSPCA also developed a force of lower-class, paid constables who were highly disciplined and uniformed. Inspectors, whose job it was to discover and prosecute infractions of the animal protection law, wore badges from 1838, armlets from 1853, and hats and capes from 1856.

The first major achievement of the animal protection movement in England, however, preceded the formation of the SPCA. Martin's Act of 1822 was sponsored by Wilberforce, Thomas Fowell Buxton, and Richard Martin. Buxton, like Wilberforce, was an evangelical. Martin was an M.P. for Galway—"high-living" and "hard-drinking" according to James Turner's description in Reckoning with the Beast. The disparity in temperament and political orientation among the sponsors of the bill is an indication of how broadly shared among the British elite the new attitude toward animals had become. Martin's Act prohibited public cruelty toward horses and cows and most other farm and draft animals (though not bulls). Its significance lay in the fact that the law looked at animal cruelty from the point of view of animal pain, not the harm to or destruction of property.

Some observers noted that animals were protected by law in England before slavery was abolished and before children were protected from the worst exploitations of the factory system. The SPCA was accused of humanitarian inconsistency. It is true that only in 1833 were children under nine prohibited from working in factories and the work hours of older children regulated. Although the slave trade was abolished in 1807, slavery itself throughout the empire was abolished only in 1833. It is clear, however, that the protection of animals against public cruelty was part of an expansive process of reform. Martin's Act of 1822 and the more inclusive Animal Protection Act of 1835, which included dogs and cats—and like the temperance movement, the ragged school movement, the first suffrage reform act of 1833—were responses to the advance of capitalism. In a more general way they were a part of that modernization of state and society that characterizes English culture in the first half of the nineteenth century.

It would be a mistake, however, to see the origins of the animal protection movement in industrialization per se. Not only did the movement to protect animals from cruelty begin in the seventeenth century but industrialization itself did not distance the English from animals. Ponies were used in mines, horses along canals and for the building of railroads. Horses provided transportation in cities for most of the century, and dogs pulled carts in London until 1839 and until 1854 elsewhere. The cavalry remained a basic unit of armies until World War I. Veterinary schools were founded to train people to treat horse and livestock diseases.

The animal protection movement in the nineteenth century is a chapter in the history of violence. It is only indirectly related to a romantic view of nature. It had an obvious though not exclusive class dimension. An outburst of anger, for instance, on the part of a London cabdriver that results in his beating to death an old weak horse on a London street is a recurring image of animal protection literature. From the point of view of the RSPCA and its sympathizers, it was a dangerously irrational act. Beating a dying horse will not make it work. Those who are vicious to animals will be murderous to others. From the point of view of workers and their advocates, however, the attempt to get a cab moving again is desperately rational, as Anna Sewell made clear in Black Beauty (1877). Fares were needed for survival

The RSPCA attacked the recreations as well as the livelihoods of the London poor. Dogfights as well as dogcarts were objects of attacks, but foxhunting by the professional and landed classes was left alone. Violence was sequestered, hidden away from the view of those susceptible to its pernicious influence. This explains the attempt in the first part of the nineteenth century to move London slaughterhouses to the periphery of the city, so the sights and sounds of dying animals would not disturb neighborhood life. Two principles informed the animal protection movement in the nineteenth century. The first was familiar to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century reformers: We have a duty to God to treat well each of his creatures who are dependent upon us. People should not cause animals unnecessary pain. The second was the need to quarantine violence, because like disease, it "communicates an immoral contagion of the worst and most virulent kind among those who witness it." Here Harrison in Peaceable Kingdom (page 120) is quoting the Bishop of St. David's at the 1846 annual meeting of the RSPCA.

In France a similar constellation of socialites, enthusiasts, middle-class reformers, and members of the political left as well as the right formed the Société Protectrice des Animaux. Its targets were similar to those of the British society—vicious cabbies and carters, slaughterhouses, and the treatment of animals by the rural poor. The target in peasant France was less the recreational use of animals than more pragmatic practices—the snaring of many little birds for food, the beating to death of unwanted dogs.

The first major achievement of the SPA was the Grammont Law of 1850, which prohibited public cruelty toward animals. In the aftermath of the Revolution of 1848, the National Assembly could be counted on to be receptive to arguments linking familiarity with violence to animals to criminal and radical political behavior among the misérables of Paris.

The second major success of the SPA was the integration of its principles within the national school system. Under the Second Empire, the Ministry of Education was persuaded to present a medal and prize money each year to the schoolteacher who best taught kindness to animals to students. This practice was continued under the Third Republic, an indication of how mainstream these attitudes toward animals were among the political elite. Effectiveness was demonstrated by student essays on the subject of kindness to animals—"I used to destroy birds' nests but now know birds are mothers too"—that were forwarded to prefects and then to the minister of education in Paris. The National Archives retains copies of some of these essays, showing how love of animals became part of the catechism of the Third Republic and the Grammont law part of the Ferry reform of education.

In France as in England kindness to animals was equated with Atlantic civilization. Both the SPA and the RSPCA conducted crusades against Spanish bullfighting and inquiries into Arab disdain for dogs. As we will see in the discussion on antivivisection, however, this moral high ground was maintained by the British in their attack on French methods of physiology from the 1870s on.


New attitudes toward animals were focused by many people on pets. During the early modern period small dogs, cats, and monkeys had been kept as pets by members of the prosperous classes. This practice became obvious in the seventeenth century when Charles II was shown being openly demonstrative to his spaniels and Dutch genre painters depicted small animals as part of the material and symbolic apparatus of everyday life. Pets in this period, however, were considered luxury objects. Ladies' lap dogs (spaniels and pugs) had sometimes negative connotations of indolence and sexuality, and an association with aristocratic excess.

Most canine types were only roughly distinguished in terms of function. Johannus Caius's list of Tudor dogs, translated from Latin in 1576 as Of English Dogges, discussed seventeen varieties, which were divided into three categories according to their function: hunting and ladies' dogs, shepherds and guard dogs, and menial working dogs like spit turners. Hunting dogs included ordinary hounds and royal greyhounds in France. On the eve of the nineteenth century, very few breeds were distinguished as such. Ritvo in The Animal Estate notes the foxhound as an exception in England and points out that other breeds familiar to eighteenth-century people, such as the bulldog and collie, were transformed by nineteenth-century breeders. By the end of the century French experts could describe two hundred varieties of dogs. The British, more prudent here, recognized sixty breeds, described and monitored by the newly formed British Kennel Club.

It was not until the eighteenth century in England, and the nineteenth century in France, that dogs began to take on their modern aspect of emotional necessities. Sources for the development of pet keeping include a tax on dogs in eighteenth-century London that chart an increase in the numbers of nonworking dogs—that is, dogs kept for pleasure and not for spit-turning, or for use in dogcarts, or as watchdogs. In France a tax on dogs in 1855 provoked middle-class protest indicative of the new attitude toward pets. Nonworking dogs, or pets, were to be taxed at a higher rate than working, useful dogs, like shepherds and guide dogs. In the law's eyes, pets were luxury objects. Like hunting dogs, they were for the rich. The tax was a sumptuary law meant to discourage pet ownership by the poor. Criticism of the tax in Second Empire Paris, however, centered, as Kathleen Kete shows in The Beast in the Boudoir, on the usefulness of pets. Pets were seen by the bourgeoisie as being integral to family life. They protected the home emotionally and physically. They were friends in need to the desolate.

Pet keeping in the form that became known in the twentieth century was established in France and Britain in the nineteenth century. There the dog became a cliché of family life. The rituals of pet keeping were also formed. Pet care books were written, dog and cat shows were established, and dog food companies formed. Spratt's Patent was the first commercial dog food. Boarding kennels, dog hospitals, and shops specializing in collars, leashes, and clothes were advertised to the middle classes. So, too, were stories about faithful family pets. Lord Byron's epitaph to his Newfoundland, "All the virtues of Man, without his vices" (1808) was reproduced on gravestones at the Parisian pet cemetery and at other final resting places. Pets by this point had clearly entered the history of the family, including changes in emotional emphases and, probably, the declining birthrate.

In this area, too, we find the nineteenth-century middle and upper classes monopolizing the virtue of kindness to animals. As Kete explains in The Beast in the Boudoir, dog care books imagined the pet as middle class. Clean, virtuous, and devoted, middle-class pets were contrasted with the dogs of workers, which, it was claimed, were abused, dirty, violent, and promiscuous. Animal refuges were in part established to rescue dogs from working-class violence.

Cats were less popular than dogs in the nineteenth century, though they attracted some enthusiastic admirers. In France their association with bohemian life set them in contrast to dogs, who were solidly bourgeois. In middle-class homes, birds were kept in cages, and plants in greenhouses and terrariums. The aquarium was invented and became wildly popular in the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s.

By the twentieth century pet keeping was commonplace. At the turn of the twenty-first century, class biases no longer shape its practices as pets have become firmly a part of everyday life.


The issues of animal protection and the nineteenth century's love of pets come together in the antivivisection movement of the last third of the century. Vivisection—that is, experimenting on live animals to understand the mechanisms of the liver, the pancreas, the spleen, and other organs—was developed particularly by French and German physiologists. One of the most important in France was Claude Bernard, whose Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine was widely influential. Vivisectionists operated mainly on small animals, though sometimes horses were used in veterinary schools. Because of the availability and size of dogs, they were favored animals of vivisectionists. The image of the faithful and loving family dog begging for his life in the laboratory of the vivisectionist was favored in antivivisectionist propaganda. The fear that the family pet, when lost, would end up on the vivisection table frightened children well into the twentieth century.

The antivivisection movement was important in western Europe from the 1870s to World War I. It was, first of all, an expression of conflict within the elite over the purpose of science and possibilities of its regulation. The question of whether scientists should be regulated was debated in Britain, France, and Germany. In Bismarckian Germany, antivivisectionists from the conservative and center opposition repeatedly petitioned the Reichstag in the 1880s and 1890s to abolish vivisection, but to no avail. The practice was left to the discretion of German scientists until the Nazi takeover. In Britain the Act to Amend the Law Relating to Cruelty to Animals in 1876 was the world's first restriction of vivisection by establishing a licensing requirement. Hostile public opinion forced the reopening of debate on vivisection, however. Both sides maintained a very active propaganda war until 1912, when the Royal Commission on Vivisection's final report upheld the practice of vivisection but subjected it to legal control. In France the question of whether to restrict vivisection was studied by the Academy of Medicine and by a committee of the SPA. As in Germany, and unlike in Britain, vivisection remained self-regulated in France in the nineteenth century.

In England and France within the established animal protection societies, there was a consensus that vivisection could be allowed if animals were caused no unnecessary pain and the use of anesthesia was urged. French scientists were dependent on vivisection to an extent that the British refused to be. Protests against visits of French physiologists to Britain became debates over the costs of modernity with British public opinion granting the English once again superiority in the realm of kindness to animals.

Vivisection stimulated an examination of the relationship between scientists and the state. More dramatically, it raised questions about women's roles and about the meaning of being female. Antivivisection is linked, therefore, to the development of feminism in the late nineteenth century. Some historians suggest that the antivivisection movement empowered women by providing them with leadership positions in volunteer organizations and a voice in the public sphere. Within the RSPCA and the SPA women played a largely decorative or behind-the-scenes role. But the leadership of antivivisection societies included very effective women. The Victoria Street Society for the Protection of Animals from Vivisection (established in 1876) was led by Frances Power Cobbe—already famous for her propaganda war in Florence against the German physiologist Moritz Schiff. Marie Huot and Maria Deraismes in France led the Ligue Populaire Contre les Abus de la Vivisection. Within the SPA the issue of vivisection moved ordinarily demure female members to speak out in opposition to it. Marie-Espérance von Schwartz, an ally of Ernst von Weber who founded the Internationale Gesellschaft zur Bekämpfung der Wissenschaftlichen Thierfolter (International Society for Combat against Scientific Torture of Animals) in 1879, was a member of its directing committee.

Mary Ann Elston, in "Women and Antivivisection in Victorian England, 1870–1900," points to the influence of women within the RSPCA, however. By establishing animal refuges, they saved dogs from hardhearted workers in mid-century and from evil scientists in the last part of the century. And, of course, men were leaders in the antivivisection movement, too. Its strongest supporters in England included men on both sides of the question of woman suffrage. In Germany its most famous supporter may have been Richard Wagner, who, as Tröhler and Maehle note, famously claimed not to want to live in a world "in which 'no dog would wish to live any longer.' "

Some women claimed an identification with animals mistreated by scientists, an identification that galvanized feminist consciousness. Women, like animals, were at the mercy of male rationalism. As Coral Lansbury asserts in The Old Brown Dog, Claude Bernard himself had "described nature as a woman who must be forced to unveil herself when she is attacked by the experimenter, who must be put to the question and subdued" (p. 163). In antivivisection imagery as well, the vivisector appears as a sexual predator, sadistically enjoying a perverse pleasure in causing prostrate animals pain. This is the image that appears in Gemma or; Virtue and Vice by Marie-Espérance von Schwartz, in The Beth Book by Sarah Grand, and in other works which Coral Lansbury, in The Old Brown Dog, compares with pornography.

The antivivisection movement emphasized the importance of feeling, rather than the use of scientific method, as a guide to understanding. It thus could serve as an interrogation of materialism, a rethinking of the aims and means of science. But the identification of women with animals abused by male science drew upon essentialist notions of female identity. It spoke to conventional binaries—woman and nature, men and culture, feminine emotion and masculine reason—and to an important degree served a conservative role. The antivivisection movement included suffragists in England, but also antisuffragists and conservatives in Bismarckian Germany.

For those involved in either promoting or opposing the antivivisection movement, society could seem divided into ruthless men of science and women, whose maternal roles of childbearing and nurturing gave them a special affinity with the world of nature and allowed them to critique the experimental method. In Germany, especially, this critique of materialism came to focus on Jews as well. In the minds of German and Swiss antivivisectionists, it was Jewish doctors who practiced vivisection and "Jewish" attitudes toward animals that allowed it. Arthur Schopenhauer had argued earlier in the century that, as Tröhler and Maehle put it, "it was time that the 'Jewish' view regarding animals came to an end" (p. 151). For anti-Semites like Wagner, this "Jewish" attitude was expressed in both vivisection and kosher butchering. (Its reverse, vegetarianism, was strongly promoted in Bayreuth.) The journal of the German antivivisection movement, Theirund Menschenfreund, as Tröhler and Maehle note, strongly supported the abolition of kosher butchering—which was achieved in Switzerland in 1893 and by the Nazis in 1933. The image of the kosher butcher practicing a private, bloody, orgiastic rite was much like the image of the vivisector, as a viewing of the Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew makes clear.


Keith Thomas speaks in Man and the Natural World of the dethronement of humans, a process that begins in early modern Europe and continues through the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century the abandonment of the principle of the sanctity of human life and the hierarchy it presumes led to a radical right and a radical left rethinking of the relationship between humans and animals.

In "Understanding Nazi Animal Protection and the Holocaust," Arnold Arluke and Boria Sax discuss Nazi animal protection legislation in the context of the Nazi revolution of state and society. One of the first laws passed by the Nazis in April 1933 prohibited kosher butchering. Soon afterward, vivisection was first abolished, then restricted. Nazi animal protection extended far beyond these two overtly anti-Semitic acts, however. Laws covered the treatment of lobster and shellfish by cooks. To reduce their suffering, lobsters were to be thrown only one by one into rapidly boiling water. Another provision protected horses that were being shoed. Endangered species such as bears, bison, and wild horses were protected.

Nazi animal protection legislation was not much more comprehensive than the British, Arluke and Sax point out, but clearly the Nazi understanding of the relationship between humans and animals was profoundly distinct from traditional European beliefs. Nazism "obliterated . . . moral distinctions" between animals and people, Arluke and Sax explain, a principle that allowed for a reordering of the chain of being. Some animal species rested above some human "races." So Aryans, German shepherds—"deliberately bred to represent and embody the spirit of National Socialism" (p. 14)—beasts of prey, and Teutonic acorn-eating pigs were far superior to subhuman "races." Jews were vermin that needed to be killed, as 6 million were in the death camps and in the German-invaded villages of eastern Europe.

The Nazi understanding of the natural world stands in contrast to that of the Soviets, who maintained Marx's nineteenth-century understanding of humans as being distinct from other animals by their control of the environment. The Soviet destruction of the environment of large parts of eastern Europe, made apparent after the fall of communism, warns against a naive celebration of this view as well.

The Animal Liberation movement of the 1970s renewed debate about the social meaning of the human relationship to animals. Peter Singer's Animal Liberation compared speciesism (a neologism) to racism and sexism. In each case, he argued, arbitrary characteristics were the signal for discrimination. In the case of the human species our ability to reason is our excuse to oppress other species. In the animal liberation movement of the 1970s and 1980s in Europe, antivivisection again became a cause. Protestors investigated animal research at university and private laboratories. Older causes, such as the transportation of animals to slaughter, were taken up in England by the Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) group.

The most important development of the late twentieth century may have been the global dimension of the environmental movement, which recognized the importance of consumer pressure on international trading practices and was captured in media images of demonstrators (in Oxford in 1997, for example) dressed as trees, skunks, butterflies, and squirrels.

But older themes as well as older issues prevailed in the late-twentieth-century animal protection movement. Hilda Kean notes in Animal Rights that in the CIWF campaign against Parisian Muslims' slaughter of sheep for the festival of Eid el Kebir, the British provenance of the sheep figured strongly. Kean notes, too, that recent campaigns against vivisection in England highlighted the fact that the animals used in British laboratories were imported from southern Europe, southeast Asia, and the Caribbean, speaking to an earlier British sense of themselves as uniquely civilized in the care of nature. In England, as well, the fight to abolish foxhunting seems likely to continue along not only class, but also rural-urban lines.

It seems clear from other late-twentieth-century events such as the outbreak of mad cow disease and the ensuing British-French enmity that Europeans will continue to find meaning in their relationship with animals along the lines of earlier structures of thought established since the Renaissance. Regional enmities as well as a sense of human guardianship of nature will likely prevail. Whether the logic of "dethronement" will also have social consequences in the twenty-first century is far more difficult to know.

See also other articles in this section.


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