Anyone inclined to wax nostalgic about turn-of-the-century Sonoma County, take note: Life back then could be rough, and the suicide rate was high. As elsewhere in the Bay Area, the number of suicides in Sonoma County dipped immediately following the earthquake of 1906, but come next year, the papers were again reporting that grandpa was reaching for the carbolic acid or braiding up a noose. Nor was there necessarily a higher regard for civility in the early 20th century; witness Santa Rosa's ongoing problem with people trying to kill dogs by throwing poisoned meat into their neighbor's yard.

Our ancestors doted on Fido and Fluffy as much as we do today, maybe more so; nearly the longest-running lawsuit here in the 1900s centered upon Queen, "a valuable varmint dog," and after she was killed in the earthquake, "the dog suit" became "the pup suit" as the fight shifted to ownership of her last litter. Yet incidents of dog poisoning were so common in that era that the Press Democrat usually reported then in 3-4 line page fillers. The articles transcribed below are unique only in the amount of detail provided.

(Right: Santa Rosa woman posing with cat on steps. Detail of photograph from the Larry Lapeere collection)

To be rigorously fair, it should be mentioned that there was no dog catcher at the time and the town was overrun with stray dogs, a situation that probably became worse after the earthquake. Also, there was a bubonic plague scare in early 1908, and residents were urged to clean up their yards and put out rat poison. Yet still, these articles clearly show that in each case, someone's intent was to specifically kill pets.

Dog Poisoner Drops Poisoned Meat in Yards
While accomplishing His Mean Work in Killing Canines the Guilty One May Become Responsible for Sacrifice of Human Life

Some miscreant, bent on poisoning dogs on Henley street and vicinity has been throwing poisoned sausage into the yards of houses, particularly on Henley street, and has succeeded in poisoning a number of dogs. Pieces of sausage have been picked up in which strychnine had been placed.

The man intent on dealing death to canines, reprehensible enough as that is, should remember that his act may cause the life of some innocent babe playing in the yards of the houses who might chance to pick up the poisoned morsel and unsuspectingly put it in its mouth. The police and citizens are trying to discover the guilty person, and if caught he will be punished severely.

- Press Democrat, December 11, 1906


A fine collie, "Dollie Gray," owned by Mrs. Paul Coulter, was poisoned last night. The canine was only absent from the Coulter residence on Slater street a few minutes before it found the poison. The death of the dog, who was a general favorite with people in the vicinity, was the occasion of no little excitement, and if the person throwing out the poison had been caught in the act, well--there would have been something doing, judging from the opinions expressed.

It might be a hint to people, who in the bright rodent-killing days are using poison, to be careful to put "rough on rats" where it cannot be taken by dogs or possibly little children.

Mrs. Coulter recently refused a hundred dollars for "Dolly Gray," but would not part with her pet at any price.

- Press Democrat, March 14, 1908


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