With the topic of "pets in fiction," I have to confess that pets do not play much of a part (if any) in my Silver Rush historical mysteries. There is a cat that habitates the Silver Queen Saloon that very occasionally strolls through the pages of the books. Although Abe, the co-owner of the saloon, gets along with the cat and treats it as a pet once in a while, Inez's only interaction is to admonish it in Silver Lies: "Shoo. Go chase those rats I heard in the storeroom last night. Earn your keep, you lazy thing." Cats had to work for their keep, just like everyone else. There is Inez's horse, Lucy, but there again, although Inez evinces more fondness for Lucy than she does for the nameless cat, Lucy serves a purpose: transportation.
All this got me thinking. What was the status of pets in the 19th century? Weren't most of them "workers" just as their human owners?
Time to hit the Internet for answers!
I found an interesting New York Times review of a book Pets in America, by Katherine C. Grier, which is a history of, well, pets. In the U.S. of A. The reviewer notes that Grier's book includes "anecdotes about the menageries of George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain (a 'passionate cat lover' who liked to wear a cat called Lazy 'around his neck like a stole').
The book apparently also has a chapter on songbirds. When I thought of 19th century pets, I'll confess my first thought was of caged birds. The reviewer notes that Grier makes an interesting point about how the singing of songbirds was treasured in a way that many of us cannot appreciate in this day and age, in this quote from Grier: "We live in a world where recorded music, radios and television sets bathe us in constant chatter and music. The silence of rooms in the past is now largely unknown."
According to a post about 19th century pets on a taxidermy blogsite (??!!) the ownership of dogs as pets really took off mid-19th century, along with a rising interest in, erhem, "immoralizing" beloved Fido by having him stuffed and posed for all time after his demise. Other types of pets that were subjected to 19th-century taxidermy practices are mentioned. Who would've guessed that Dante Gabriel Rossetti had a pet wombat named Top, and that when Top died, he was grieved over and then stuffed? Not me!
Finally, I leave you with some adverts, circa 1870s-1880s, featuring children and their pets.... and you know that once dogs and cats were featured in advertising alongside pink-cheeked children, these pets were truly part of everyday life.