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Pets in America : A History



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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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When did America become so obsessed with its pets? It wasn't as recently as you might think. In fact, as Katherine C. Grier shows us in this lively social history, Americans have a long and abiding fascination with their furry, feathery, and sometimes scaly friends. Pets in America is the first comprehensive, thoroughly entertaining account of our long history of animal keeping. From White House gerbils to Mrs. Ralph Waldo Emerson's many cats, from drug-sniffing dogs to celebrity horses, from pet food to training to birdcages to art to cemeteriesno aspect of pet culture is left unexplored. Peppered with the warmth and humor of anecdotes from period diaries, letters, catalogs, and newspapers, Pets in America is also packed with more than one hundred whimsical pieces of pet Americanaillustrations and photographs of all of man's best friends. Pets in America is fun social history for a popular audience and pet lovers everywhere.

Author Biography

KATHERINE C. GRIER is a professor of material culture studies and director of research programs at the Winterthur Museum and a visiting professor of history at the University of Delaware. She lives in Wilmington, Delaware, and Onancock, Virginia, with her husband, two cats, and two dogs.

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Modern Pet Owner •p. 1
A Natural History of Pets •p. 24
At Home with Animals •p. 74
A Dog Obituary of 1866: The Life and Death of Ponto •p. 144
The Bunnie States of America •p. 147
The Domestic Ethic of Kindness to Animals •p. 160
The Edges of Pet Keeping and Its Dilemmas •p. 234
A Pet in Every Home •p. 300
Buying for Your Best Friend •p. 354
Epilogue: One View on Pets in Modern America •p. 411
Acknowledgments •p. 421
Notes •p. 425
Index •p. 483
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.


1A Natural History of PetsIn the late 1700s and 1800s, Americans were enthusiastic readers of popular natural history books. Evolving from a centuries-old tradition of scientific writing about minerals, plants, and animals, these texts mingled more or less scientific description and storytelling. While some natural histories for common readers represented the developing science of the age, others were little more than collections of thirdhand information, entertaining anecdotes, and thinly veiled moral lessons. This latter emphasis is particularly apparent in natural histories of animals. Directed to both children and adults, natural histories of animals enchanted readers with stories of the exotic wild beasts of the world (they were the wildlife documentaries of their day), but a surprising number emphasized common creaturescows, sheep, horses, chickens, songbirds, cats, and dogsand small incidents set in ordinary places. Since the first questions in any history of pet keeping are When did people actually have pets? and What kinds of animals did they have? it seems right to begin this account of pet keeping in America with a chapter in the tradition of natural history. While animals were their subjects, many natural histories also shared stories of the interactions of animals and people, and the books were as much about human actions, ideas, and values as they were about the lives of other creatures. This chapter, too, is necessarily full of stories of the interactions of pets and the people who owned them, from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. After all, people create pets, a truism that has had important implications for the animals regarded this way. I follow the model of Mrs. R. Lee, the author of a popular natural history who explained the character of her work this way: Dry details of science and classification have been laid aside in an effort to throw as much interest as possible over these recorded habits and actions of the brute creation.1 In other words, scientific description was not the point then, and it is not mine now. Like readers of natural histories, I, too, am interested in stories.BeginningsBefore the arrival of European migrants as permanent settlers, the indigenous people of North America had complex relationships with a wide variety of animals; animals were sources of food, raw materials, and muscle power. Animals occupied important positions in the cosmologies of cultural groups as well. Occasionally young wild animals lived in villages as casual pets and childrens playthings. Native Americans dogs occupied the most complex position of any animal in indigenous cultures. Depending on the tribe, Native American dogs were sources of muscle power pulling travois and sleds, representatives of cosmic forces that were sometimes sacrificed in religious ceremonies, fellow hunters, livestock herders, sources of protein, playmates for children, and beloved companions. In many Native American groups, dogs oc

Excerpted from Pets in America: A History by Katherine C. Grier
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