The Sad But True Story of New York’s “Great Cat Massacre” of 1916
Dogs may be a man's best friend, but cats are a close second. That's what makes this story from 1916 particularly sad and horrifying.
The 1916 New York City polio epidemic was a frightening period for residents of the Big Apple. A severe outbreak saw several thousands of people stricken by the disease beginning in June of 1916 and lasting through the winter. The borough that was most closely affected was Brooklyn. The disease claimed over 2,000 lives during this period.
Hysteria over the virus -- which should not be that hard to fathom given our recent history -- was at an all time high. And naturally, when these types of things happen, there becomes a sort of psychological need to lay blame. Who or what is the culprit? We didn't know... but some people thought they did.
According to Wikipedia, many theories about the illness circulated:
...people believed that contaminated sharks brought germs to America due to the toxic air they inhaled in Europe during the war. Others suspected the cause was permeated by automobile exhausts, sewers, garbage, and other animals and insects.
WE ALSO BLAMED PETS
The Department of Health considered household pets as carriers and spreaders of the polio virus. This turned out to be false. But that didn't stop the city from euthanizing thousands of pets out of fear.
The New York Times reported that between 300 and 450 animals were killed per day. And although thousands of dogs were also killed, cats received the harshest treatment, with roughly 72,000 cats slaughtered by the end of July 1916.
As cases started subsiding in November of 1916, so did public fear. But for thousands of innocent animals, it was already too late. Far more animal deaths occurred as a result of mindless hysteria than were actually lost to polio itself.