“The History of Pets in Ontario County” Exhibit Now Open

12/2/2021
by Laurel C. Wemett

Find out when dogs and cats came to the New World and explore the history of pets in the annual exhibit, Our Family Companions: The History of Pets in Ontario County now on view at the Ontario County Historical Society (OCHS) in Canandaigua. This exhibit is featured in the January/February issue of Life in the Finger Lakes magazine.

Gathered at the museum’s gallery through April 2022 are paintings, studio photographs, needlework, original art, advertisements, and snap shots of the four-legged animals, birds and other creatures that have become beloved companions. Together with a diverse selection of three-dimensional objects like bird cages and children’s toys, the exhibit’s focus on pets offers a refreshing look at one aspect of local cultural history.

Learn how dogs and cats became our favorite pets

“With the arrival of Europeans in the New World in the 1500s, so too came dogs. Europeans brought dogs as hunters, guardians, workers and companions. Most were hounds, spaniels, terriers, bulldogs, and pointers, although no real breed standards were established.

Cats came to the New World too, but more quietly, often as stowaways or working cats on sailing ships. Cat ownership was more casual. Most were household workers until well into the 20th century.”

Discover pet-related objects

During the 19th century, middle class women would spend time creating accessories for their pet such as this crocheted dog coat worn by the plush dog. It was made from the 1873 Godey’s Lady’s Book pattern using the suggested colors.

Find out how important pets were to their owners – on the back wall hangs a large formal oil portrait of Joshua Stearns and his Cat.  The youngster was painted in 1843 with his tabby and white cat.  Children were often painted with a favorite pet, but more typically in that era it was a dog.  

The museum at 55 North Main Street in Canandaigua is open TuesdayFriday: 10 A.M. – 4:30 P.M. or Saturday: 11 A.M. – 3 P.M.  For more information: OCHS.org or (585)394-4975. 

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