The Rise of Man's Best Friend: The Popularity of Dogs as Companion Animals in Late Eighteenth-Century London as Reflected by the Dog Tax of 1796

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The history of the relationship between humans and their companion animals is long and more than a little complex. This is in large part due to the special status of these animals. Over the years these animals have evolved socially from that of an impersonal "object" to a "subject," i.e. a sentient being with a recognized mental and emotional life. Histories of this change in relationship are rare. This is due mainly to a lack of source material; little is available and what there is is rarely reflective of a general population. Recently, records of a 1796 English dog tax have become available and they provide a fairly complete overview of the status of the dog as a companion animal in late eighteenth-century London.

The evidence indicates the dog was very popular as a companion animal in late eighteenth-century English urban society. While some of these creatures were former working-class canines others were what might be described as "professional companion animals" i.e. creatures who had no previous work history. The tax records further indicate that concern as to specific breed was still in the future. Dogs often received a generic title such as "yard dog" or "lapdog" or "housedog." What is particularly interesting from these records is the number of mixed breed creatures—animals with the title of either "mongrel" or "curr." (At least three Londoners kept foxes as pets.) There is also an almost total absence of kennels of hunting dogs in eighteenth-century London. Other historical records suggest this to be a recent phenomenon. Lastly, this outline appears to correlate strongly with the literary remarks, material accoutrements, and even religious practices of the late eighteenth-century urban dog population of England.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 1999

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