Canine “Suicides”

John Patrick Leary recounts how newspapers reported on them:

Dog suicides in 1898 were always male. The suicides were usually expressions of a fragile emotional state. Like [J.P Morgan’s prize bulldog “His Nibs”] their humiliation was provoked by a neglectful family, an unkind mob, or by abuse from boys, women, or cats. Sarah Knowles Bolton, in the 1902 book Our Devoted Friend, The Dog, devoted an entire chapter to dog suicides. For example: Rex, a prize-winning Gordon Setter, was worth $300 and drowned himself after he was kicked on the head by a private watchman. Most suicidal dogs were pure-bred, which presumably led to their emotional fragility: a $10,000 dog in Boston deliberately drowned himself, writes Bolton, after he was devastated by an insult from a thoughtless kennel-keeper.

It was the New York World who declared the end of “His Nibs” a “suicide”:

His Nibs offered the World a golden opportunity to combine animal violence and class conflict in one melodramatic package. For one, His Nibs—a mock aristocratic title given to a self-important person—was supposedly named by Morgan’s servants, who were responsible for looking after their boss’s pet. Add to this the fact that His Nibs was also a bulldog, a breed with a resolutely masculine name that manages, in its appearance, to channel both the confident aggression of male youth and the ineffectual droopiness of masculine old age. That such a dog, pampered by servants, should die at the hands of a woman’s thoroughbred cat and his own wounded vanity, was gravy—and an easy way to mock Morgan’s excesses too.