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A Plague of Mad Dogs
Notes on Standards of Canine treatment from Plantation America
Taken from The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld by Herbert Asbury, 1936, NY, Perseus, 462 pages
In 1735, in a year of “high water and drought” the French settlement of New Orleans was afflicted by “…an epidemic of mad dogs, which roamed the streets and alleys in such numbers that the people were afraid to leave their houses. Business was almost at a standstill and a score of persons were bitten. Several are said to have died from hydrophobia…”
A detachment of soldiers were ordered to hunt them down. The Superior Council also passed an ordinance prohibiting the ownership of dogs by Indians and Negroes. Violators would be forced to wear the “iron collar” that runaway white slaves in English Maryland were sometimes dressed in.
From the modern standpoint, these Frenchmen obviously hated dogs, Indians and Negroes.
However, the African American was brought to this nation as a slave without the benefit of a dog culture and would learn to handle dogs according to his own ethics. I knew a banana boat sailor who sailed for a man out of Antigua who captured, put into sacks, beat with a stick and then fed to the sharks, any dogs he came about. Likewise, in Baltimore, I have spent a life amongst Negro folk who treated their dogs cruelly and tended to make them as ferocious as possible. It seems the situation was no better tin 18th century New Orleans. Also, the ordinance, as written, indicates that there were numerous free Indians and Negroes who owned property, among that property dogs. Amongst West Indian Negroes a dog was a vicious hound that the white master class used to hunt him down when he ran away—so we can expect little empathy from this suffering quarter of humanity for the canine. I have personally had a Negro dog walker who I was entirely unacquainted with set two pit bulls on me for the crime of being born of another race.
It is well known that the Amerindian relationship with dogs was one, two- or three- or four-fold, depending on the tribe or civilization in question and that these native dogs were small, never hound size, never a threat to a healthy adult human:
-1. The dogs wandered the settlement freely, eating human feces and fish scraps, primarily.
-2. The dogs were sometimes packed with light loads and made to haul household goods for the woman, who was the primary beast of burden until the arrival of the horse.
-3. The dog was used to wipe greasy hands on while feasting, common amongst the Indians of the Great Lakes region.
-4. The dog was slaughtered and eaten.
This seems very practical, with small dogs. But to permit Indians to practice this sort of dog management with large hounds capable of tearing humans apart, that is another story.
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