Curing Consumption with Black Dogs

Black Dog, Aline Thellusson, c. 1875, Brodsworth Hall.

Black Dog, Aline Thellusson, c. 1875, Brodsworth Hall.

Recently I’ve been looking at spectral Black Dogs as harbingers of Death.  In an interesting reversal of the folklore, material black dogs were also thought to be the source of a useful specific for victims of consumption.  Consumption was, of course, considered a death-sentence in the pre-antibiotic period and we’ve seen how desperate families took gruesome and horrific measures, either to cure their loved ones or to stave off the disease.  Here is an account of another macabre and dubious remedy for tuberculosis.

Dog-lovers, look away now.


The Dog-Fat Cure

An Alleged New Remedy for Consumption.

The attention of a reporter of the World was attracted yesterday afternoon while at the dog pound by two boys who were carefully skinning and dressing a dog that had just been drowned according to law for vagrancy.

“What are you doing that for?” was asked.

“For consumption,” replied one of the boys. “For a two-dollar bill,” said the other.

It was finally explained that many residents of the east side of the city firmly believe that dog fat is an infallible cure for consumption.

“The boys told you the truth,” said Dr. Ennever, the veterinary stationed at the pound, who was next questioned.

“A great many people believe that dog fat and even the flesh of dogs is a sure cure for consumption, and on an average one dog a week is taken from here and reduced to medicine.”

“Who comes after them?”

“Generally women, either Germans or Jews. They come up here, and after carefully examining all the dogs, select one that seems to be healthy and fat. They then point out their selection to an attendant, who ties a string round its neck or marks the animal in some way so as to identify it. The woman is told on what day that particular beast will be drowned; she returns at the time specified, gets the body, and turns it over to some of the hoodlums round here, who for a dollar or two skin it and take off the fat. If she wishes the carcass they dress it for her just as a butcher would a lamb or calf. No, yellow dogs have no value in this way; a black dog is always chosen in preference to any other color, if he is fat and healthy.”

“How do they take the medicine, as I suppose they call it?”

“In different ways. Some reduce it to oil and take it as a liquid, by the spoonful; others fry it out and then after it gets cold spread it on bread as you would butter and eat it so.”

“Do they eat the meat, too?”

“Yes, and, as a matter of fact, it’s not bad eating. I’ve tried it myself though I was not aware of it at the time. It looks like young veal.”

“Have you any regular customers?”

“We have one, a Mrs. Farley, who used to live at the corner of Avenue A and Sixteenth street. She was pretty far gone in consumption, but she used to come every other week for five or six months and get a nice fat dog. I have not seen her for some time, but I don’t think she’s dead. Some one told me she was living over on Ninth avenue. But as a general thing we don’t know our customers’ names. This superstition is so general on the east side that many of the drug stores keep dog fat or oil in stock. There are any number of these household remedies for different diseases. Through Vermont and New Hampshire the fat of skunks is used as a cure for croup and rheumatism. Then at the south negroes use dogs’ flesh as a cure for rheumatism. The dog must be jet-black or the medicine is without efficacy. When the animal is chosen it is fed on nothing but the lungs and livers of raccoons until it is so fat it can hardly walk, when it is killed and eaten. After that if the patient is not cured he is perfectly assured that his pains and aches are attributable to some other cause.”

During the last six years over 48,000 dogs have been drowned at the pound. So far this year 3,007 have been received, 2,674 drowned, 98 redeemed, 3 returned by order of the authorities, and 232 are now awaiting death. New York World.

Elkhart [IN] Weekly Review 14 September 1882: p. 6

Heartless as this sounds, 19th-century stray dogs were seen as a menace to public hygiene and health. Without sterilization dogs multiplied rapidly and packs of wild dogs savaged livestock, dirtied the streets, and went mad and attacked humans. So while many people valued their pets, there was a ruthless attitude towards mongrel dogs roaming the streets, as evidenced by this nonchalantly horrifying description of the Baltimore, Maryland pound and how it drowned its unwanted dogs.

The largest number ever drowned in one day was 202, and the largest number in the pound at a time was 500. Drowning days are Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Doomed dogs are put in an iron cage and lowered into the water by machinery, and it requires not more than five minutes to drown as many as the cage will hold. Puppies, however, with their eyes not quite open, will live nearly ten minutes under water. The carcasses are sold at a cent and a half each. Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA] 2 August 1882: p. 6

Could there actually be anything to this remedy? Just to hazard a guess—the diet of the poor—statistically more likely to be victims of consumption–was low in meat. Would adding extra protein and fat boost the immune system of a TB patient enough to let him or her fight off the disease? One would like to think these dogs did not die in vain.

Medical opinions? Chriswoodyard8 AT

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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