Thursday, June 30, 2011

July 9, 1844 --- An End to Dog-Stealing

The House of Commons moves to control London's infamous dog thieves. The sponsor, Henry Liddell MP, declares, "No man's dog is safe a moment - and the more valuable it is, the more certain it is to be stolen."

The victims include several Peers and MP's for the West End is the favorite haunt of the dog thief; the owners there are most willing and able to pay for the service's of the "dog-finder." In Henry Mayhew's classic London Labor and the London Poor, he described the modus operandi of a famous practitioner:
Chelsea George proceeds to varnish his hands with a sort of gelatine, composed of the coarsest pieces of liver, fried, pulverized and mixed up with tincture of myrrh. [He] caresses every animal who seems a 'likely spec', and when his fingers have been run over the dog's noses they become easy and perhaps willing captives.

The dog-stealer then steps employs a "dog-finder" who deals with the owner in the matter of a reward. Manby, in Curiosities of London Life, explains:

It sometimes happens that the reward offered ... is not deemed of sufficient amount by the thief in possession, who will cooly negotiate for a more liberal remuneration. A friend of the writer lost a handsome spaniel, and had bills printed, offering a guinea for his recovery. Next day he received a note informing him that if the reward were doubled he would see his favorite in the course of a few hours.
Heartsick owners, often pressured by inconsolate children, dug deeper, lest they lose any chance of ever seeing the animal again. Elizabeth Barrett's fabled spaniel, Flush, was dog-napped no fewer than three times, by what she called "the organized dog banditti." In fact, it took 20 guineas to retrieve Flush just one week before Miss Barrett's secret wedding to Mr. Browning.

Several MP's argue - not without reason - that the police have enough to do without safeguarding every "old woman's pug." In the end, a rather toothless bill emerged providing for seven years in jail for those convicted of a second offense. Still, victims rarely went to the police, knowing it likely doomed their hopes for a reunion with their beloved hound.

Miss Browning and her beloved Flush

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