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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Jul 20, 2022

Dogs are often called “man’s best friend.” When their population grows out of control, however, it can be quite the opposite. Just after the American Civil War, dog populations had become unmanageable in St. Louis, and rabies ran rampant, leading to… the dog wars. Just press play to hear the whole story. ———

Click on search links to see if there are episodes with related content: Katie Moon, Animals, Medical, Legal Matters, Politics and Government, ——

Podcast Transcript: I’m Katie Moon, Exhibits Manager at the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on eighty-eight-one, K-D-H-X. ———

If you’ve lived in St. Louis for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that pretty much everyone owns some sort of animal…dogs, cats, chickens, you name it. And that when one of those animals escapes or is seen roaming free, it’s a huge deal. Well, in 1865, people in St. Louis had other animal problems to deal with—stray dogs were EVERYWHERE. The Civil War had just ended, and the entire country was trying to regroup, but in St. Louis, dogs, particularly “mad dogs” or what we would now call rabid dogs, presented a more immediate concern. Newspapers regularly carried stories of people getting severely bitten and also dying from hydrophobia, or rabies. ———

Without the modern technology of spaying and neutering, the number of dogs in the streets just kept growing, and the mayor decided he was going to fix the problem. In July of 1865, he passed an ordinance which require owners to muzzle their dogs and stay with them while they were on the street. Any dog found unmuzzled and loose could be immediately killed by the police. ———

Many wealthier dog owners moved their animals to the country during this time, and not without reason. Within a week of the law going into effect, the police shot and killed several hundred dogs. But their mission wasn’t without mishaps (and happy results for the dogs). One officer chased a dog all the way to the Levee, where it jumped to safety onto a raft that happened to be floating by. When the officer attempted to follow, he fell into the Mississippi River and had to be rescued. ———

The initial public response to the mayor’s initiative wasn’t overwhelmingly positive, for several reasons, and it didn’t improve. The police were using valuable ammunition to kill dogs. In response, the mayor amended the law, stating that the officers should use means other than shooting. Needless to say, this didn’t improve the public opinion of the entire initiative. By the end of November, the vast majority of police officers were no longer enforcing the law. Instead, the city hired 2 dog catchers who would hold the animals until they were claimed by their owners, died from rabies, or unfortunately had to be put down. ———

Here’s History is a joint production of K-D-H-X and the Missouri Historical Society. I’m Katie Moon, and this is eighty-eight-one, K-D-H-X, St. Louis. ———