Worst Job In Cincinnati? Dog Catcher!


It has now become a cliché: “I wouldn’t vote for that scoundrel if he was running for dog catcher!”

After a couple of weeks of observation, none of these dogs – each of whom was impounded after biting someone during the summer of 1921 – developed rabies, so they were released from Cincinnati’s dog pound.

Photographs of four dogs From Cincinnati Post 18 July 1921 Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

If you ever hear that I am standing for election as dog-catcher, please vote for my opponent! A more miserable job I cannot imagine. Everybody hated the dog catcher, and if his enemies weren’t biting him, they were throwing things at him.

Frank Burke, a Cincinnati dog catcher, itemized his injuries for the Cincinnati Post [12 May 1905]:

“Do you see those scars – 15 on my left hand and 19 on my right hand? Each one of them is the mark left by the teeth of a dog I have captured in this business. Hardly a day goes by but that I get bit. It may be only a scratch, but it is a bite just the same. I carry caustic with me, and every time a dog nips me I just rub a little of it on the wound and cauterize it before the poison from the dogs fangs has time to get in my system.”

Burke’s remedy, caustic, is essentially what we use today as drain cleaner.

If the dogs didn’t get you, their owners often did. Uriah J. Hockett, pound master (i.e. dog catcher) of the Humane Society learned that painful truth in 1894 when he apprehended a dog belonging to the son of Mary North, who kept a boarding house at 280 Race Street. As Mr. Hockett tossed the pup into the dog-wagon cage, Mrs. North erupted from her house and chased the vehicle down the block. According to the Cincinnati Post [20 October 1894]:

“She overtook the wagon at George Street and Central Avenue, and, rushing up, she ‘let fly’ at Hockett, striking him a driving blow on the head, sending his hat whizzing across the street and staggering him. She then darted out to the wagon and gave the driver a blow on the face.”

Mrs. North was restrained by the timely arrival of Police Officer Martin Flannelly, who charged her with disorderly conduct.

If a dog’s owner required assistance, neighbors or passers-by jumped in to assault the hapless hound hunters. Small riots were not uncommon.

The Cincinnati Enquirer [30 July 1912] reported a crowd of assailants attacking the dog wagon at Richmond and Linn streets following the capture of Arthur Tracey’s mutt by humane officers Gus Sanzer and William Smith. As Tracey demanded his dog’s release, Smith drew an unloaded revolver and cracked Tracey across the forehead with it:

“The sight of the blood trickling from the man’s head sent the crowd into a rage and it pressed close to the dog-catchers, hemming them against the wall.”

Although police arrived to break up the melee, a small boy opened the cage and let all the confined canines free to scamper away all over the West End.

Some of these riots were obviously avoidable. The first rule of dog catching ought to be, “Don’t arrest a parade.” That truism was lost on a couple of pup poachers who were parked at the corner of Clark and Baymiller streets when the trifling parade of a woebegone circus marched down the street. No elephant, no giraffes, no lions in this procession – only a pony, a couple of dogs and some goats. The humane officers, nothing loath, charged into the street, grabbing animals left and right.  The Cincinnati Post [6 April 1894] recorded the dénouement:

“This was the signal for a general outbreak, in which the citizens who saw the act took a hand. The men in charge of the animals fought desperately, and a big crowd soon gathered. The dogs barked and the goats butted right and left, while the pony made a pivot of his front legs and let fly at all points of the compass.”

The dog catchers escaped with their skins, if not their reputations, intact.

Despite the ongoing opposition, the city insisted on sending out crews to retrieve stray dogs because of a very real fear of hydrophobia or rabies. Although Louis Pasteur had discovered a vaccine against rabies in the 1880s, it was well into the 1920s before Cincinnati mandated vaccination for all dogs. A bite from a rabid dog was essentially a death sentence and infected strays stalked Cincinnati’s summertime streets. In 1921, city authorities issued a warning, according to the Cincinnati Post [8 July 1921]:

“Dr. R.B. Blume [city veterinarian] and Dr. O.M. Craven, acting health commissioner, have advised the public to be careful of all dogs at this time. A slight scratch from an animal, apparently healthy but in reality suffering from rabies, may have fatal consequences, they say. When Dr. Blume learned Friday there had been more than 30 cases of attacks by dogs reported during the heat wave, with probably as many more unreported, he urged more active measures.”

Within a week, seven dogs sat in quarantine at the county dog pound, waiting under observation to see if they developed rabies – the only effective test at that time.

Cartoon of dog catchers at work
From Cincinnati Post 8 July 1921

Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

Although dog-catching in Cincinnati was largely delegated to the Humane Society, the city did not support any no-kill shelters until the 1980s. In 1916, according to the Post, half the impounded dogs were redeemed by their owners and a good portion of the remainder were sold. For the rest, however, the city variously used gas, gunshots, electrocution and drugs to send unwanted canines on “the voyage from which there is no return.”

This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities.

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