The Great New York Dog Massacre

In the Home Journal of 7 July 1849, a lady pleaded for New York’s dogs, condemned “to be slaughtered in the most brutal manner—their helpless cries ringing in our ears, their blood staining our pathways.” The New York Atlas was a much less sentimental paper, but on 16 July 1848 it compared the carnage to “that which was produced in the olden time, by the order of Herod, of Judea, against Christianity.”

It was a summer ritual in the mid nineteenth century for the mayor to issue a 50-cent bounty on the heads of stray dogs. The official rationale was a fear of rabies, then known as hydrophobia, but strays were considered to be nuisances whether or not they were infected, and the Atlas reported that “their extirpation is almost universally demanded.”

Dog hunters prowled the streets, and owners feared that their pets would fall victim. The Atlas reported on 16 June 1850 that

a lady landed from one of the Liverpool packet-ships, at the foot of Duane street, and had with her a favorite poodle, which she led by a riband. She had not reached the street, before the riband slipped from her hand, and the little animal was at large. At the next instant, a big negro seized him by the heels, dashed his brains out, by striking him against an anchor, and trudged off in triumph to get his reward of fifty cents.

“Chains, muzzles, collars, are no protection,” the correspondent to the Home Journal complained; “the price of blood makes all fair game.”

In 1851, a Dutchman brought in forty-two dogs in a single day, and a ten-year-old boy was heartless enough to turn in a bitch and her seven puppies. For the sake of the bounty, dogs were imported from Westchester, and boys stole dogs from a pound in Astor Place in order to turn them in again. “Some poor dogs were sold to death three or four times,” the Atlas reported on 6 July 1851.