September 2008
Animals of Alexandria

"Two motives impel me to press the subject upon your attention. The first is a feeling of compassion for our shamefully abused animals; the second is a desire to promote your interests."

-- Thomas Ewell in American Family Physician

In 1928, Mary Powell published her book The History of Old Alexandria, Virginia and included a short chapter on “Some Animals of Alexandria.” The stories include tales about chickens sleeping in a bed, a faithful dog who saved a child from drowning, “Old Judy” the cow, and a talking crow. In 1972, William Dickman and illustrator Robert Nicholson took Powell’s stories and turned them into a self-published book for children; above are the illustrations for the legendary goosepigs of Spa Spring and Mayor Smoot’s impounded cow. (William J. Dickman Collection, Box 69)

In earlier Alexandria, working animals and livestock were very much a part of the city. Cows sometimes roved in the streets, but pigs and geese were prohibited from being at large (swine are now entirely prohibited by city code). Cattle and horses were also pastured at Jones Point. The city had a number of livery stables, including one on Cameron Street with 84 stalls for horses and room to store 75 carriages. Fire horses pulled engines and wagons, and were used in Alexandria until 1919-1920.

Dogs and cats have also been a strong presence in Alexandria, with stray animals sometimes posing problems. The Alexandria Animal Welfare League was formed in 1946 to help with humane treatment of strays. In 1947-1948 the League handled 27 dogs and cats and one pigeon; in 1952 the numbers were up to 1,051 dogs and 843 cats. The Alexandria Library Special Collections has a manuscript collection of the Animal Welfare League’s records from 1946-1967.

Dog Taxes in Alexandria

In 1808, the duty of collecting the dog tax was taken away from the police constable and given to the collector for the corporation; the assessor was responsible for determining who needed to pay the tax. (Alexandria Gazette, April 1, 1808.)

A 1913 ordinance set the dog ownership tax at $1.00 per year for males and $2.00 for females and required that they wear tags. (Arlington Historical Magazine, October 1985.)

Currently, all dogs and cats over 4 months old in the city of Alexandria must be licensed. The yearly fee has risen to $30; however, for a neutered or spayed dog the fee is $10, and senior citizen pet owners can get a discount. The wearing of tags is still required.