A New Use for Cats: 1882

crazy cat

A New Use for Cats.

From the New York Tribune, March 11.

An experiment tried recently by a woman in Hoboken to detect the presence of sewer gas in her rooms was the topic of conversation among the sanitary inspectors at the rooms of the board of health yesterday. The woman had noticed an offensive odor in her parlor, and she went to the agent of the house to request that a plumber be sent to examine the drainage pipes. The agent told her the plumbing in the house was perfect. She went home and called in some neighbors, who thought sewer gas was escaping from the waste pipes. Acting on the suggestion of a friend, she sent out for some oil of peppermint and poured it into a stationary washbasin on the third floor. From the basin the oil poured down a waste pipe through a closet off the parlor. Very soon the odor of the peppermint pervaded the parlor. The woman then went to the agent again and told him she was convinced that there was a break in the waste pipe on the first floor of the house, at the same time telling him of the experiment with oil of peppermint. The agent refused to send a plumber, declaring that the odor of peppermint was so penetrating that it would soon fill a building. After studying over the situation for a time, the woman purchased some oil of valerian and poured it into the wash-basin upstairs. She then borrowed from her neighbors two able-bodied cats and placed them in the parlor. The cats sniffed the air in the room as if it were agreeable to them and they both went toward the door in the closet. When the door was opened for them they went in immediately and sprung upon the shelf, where they remained, purring and manifesting unmistakable delight. The woman then went to the agent’s office and related what she had done. Although incredulous still, the agent sent a plumber with directions to tear away the lath and plaster in the closet at the point where the cats had rested in their hunt for the valerian. The plumber found behind the shelf the waste pipe completely disjointed. The break in the pipe was large enough to allow an unwelcome amount of sewer gas to escape into the house. Some of the sanitary inspectors said yesterday that the experiment was new and decidedly ingenious. They thought that cats might be used in a similar manner in this city to more advantage than in Hoboken. By employing their household pets as pointers, it was said, residents of the city might save themselves from illness from poisonous gases and also save the cost of employing sanitary engineers to examine the drainage in their houses.

St. Louis [MO] Post-Dispatch 18 March 1882: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil at first feared the inquisitive ladies were going to try to employ the cats to clear blockages in the pipes. House agents are notoriously dilatory in calling plumbers, but using pervasive peppermint as an excuse suggests indifference of an unusually high order. Do house agents not understand that if sewer gas comes, can noxious effluvia be far behind?

The herb in question is the Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis).  Cats go mad for it.



Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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