How much is your dog worth?

Reward for stolen dog.Resized4

How about five bucks? In 1854, that was the reward offered for a “large white pointer dog” that was stolen from the Falls Hotel. That seems pretty cheap, until you consider that $5 then is worth about $140 today.

In the mid 19th century, dogs weren’t invited to restaurants or spoiled with Busy Bee toys, they were mostly bred for usefulness. As industrialization began to increase during the mid to late 19th century, many families were moving to urban centers from farms and small villages. The dogs they brought with them were not yet the pets (i.e. family members) that we know today. They were relied on for their usefulness as ratters or guard dogs or sporting animals.

In Philadelphia, as in most industrialized cities, it was a mixed bag for dogs and much of a dog’s fate had to do with luck and breed. Strays ran rampant in the streets. Some were lucky enough to find someone that could care for them. Others were killed or died from malnutrition and puppies were routinely drowned by owners who could not care for them. Other breeds, like pointers and toy-type dogs, were luckier, being useful for hunting or as status symbols for upper class women.

Sporting dogs (perhaps like our lost pointer?) were one of the few well-bred (and well-treated) types of dogs. According to Katherine C. Grier in Pets in America:

Having a purebred dog in America in 1850 meant something far different than what it means today. Until the American Kennel Club was founded in 1884, there were few written breed standards…or registry books in the United States. Well-bred dogs were prized, just as highly bred horses were, but they were relatively uncommon except among the brotherhood of sport hunters, where some dog owners worked to maintain bloodlines of good setters, pointers, and hounds.

    Young man and his dog looking out a window, their gazes fixed on the same point. Either the dog showed remarkable discipline during the exposure to make this shot work, or the photographer used the old trick of releasing a caged bird at just the right time to freeze his movement. Circa 1850s. Courtesy of Cowan's Auctions, where the photo sold last year for over $4,000.

Young man and his dog looking out a window, their gazes fixed on the same point. Either the dog showed remarkable discipline during the exposure to make this shot work, or the photographer used the old trick of releasing a caged bird at just the right time to freeze his movement. Circa 1850s. Courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions, where the photo sold last year for over $4,000.

So was the lost pointer some hunter’s sporting dog? Perhaps. The building of Scheutzen Park in the vicinity a decade later speaks to a local interest in shooting and, in all likelihood, hunting. The influx of farm workers to the factories of the Falls of Schuylkill meant that many habits of country life, including hunting as a means of self-sufficiency, came along with them.

Perhaps the focus on working attributes is why many breeds in the 19th century look differently than they do today.

What ever happened to that dog and his owner in 1854? It may not have been a happy ending for our pointer, since dogs then were stolen as much for dog fighting as they are now. But maybe not.

The 19th century witnessed a growing rise in kindness toward animals among the middle-class. Rabid dogs were still shot in the streets, but many people began to believe that cruelty to animals was a sign of moral collapse.

Maybe some middle class family wound up with our pointer. But we’d like to think his value as a sporting dog led him to a new home flushing out game in local fields.

We love a good dog story at the East Falls Historical Society. We also love a good cause, like the East Falls Dog Park group’s commitment to a local dog park.

Help them out, and have a good time with your pup, at a yappy hour event at the Foodery in Roxborough TOMORROW — this Saturday June 21st.

Bring Your Own Dog

Only $10 (that’s two 19th century pointers!) gets you and your dog admission to the event, which runs from 3-5 PM.

And don’t forget to bring a leash. You don’t want to lose your best friend (and $140!)