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Lobsters and Cats and Ladies

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Interspecies Struggles at the Dawn of the Progressive Era

8.22.2013 lobster final BToday we know the lobster as a table food, and the cat as by far America’s most beloved pet.

This hierarchy was not preordained, however. For example, you are undoubtedly familiar with the one-time rivalry between dogs and cats for the affections of the American public. It was only recently that the cat eclipsed the dog as America’s most popular pet.

In earlier times, however, the competition for primacy among species was much broader. All manner of deviant affections are recorded in the pages of history. Undoubtedly you have heard of “bird-lovers.” You may even have one such tucked in your family tree. The field of genetics will no doubt soon erase these poor unfortunates altogether from the family of man.

Less familiar, however, is the struggle between the cat and the American lobster (Homarus americanus) to determine “who will serve and who will eat.”

For some context on relative status of lobsters and cats, consider that historians have suggested the use of the term “lobsterbacks” in reference to British soldiers was, in fact, an early cat-inspired bit of propaganda. We can neither confirm to refute this assertion, but it is noteworthy in analyzing the struggle.

Another similar reference, common today, is employed when someone has been disfigured by sunburn, we say they are “red as a lobster.”

These expressions clearly display the disdain we have for today’s lobster.

While it’s not precisely known when the lobster was relegated to its current status, a little research can document elements of the earlier struggles between cat and lobster. On May 1, 1889, the Vermont Watchman carried the story from Stonington, Conn., Lobster, Cat and Lady, which through its unintentional editorial bias shows the growing American affection for cats.

8.22.2013 lobster final A

Lobster on cat violence. (photo illustration)

The story describes the violent conflict between a six-pound lobster and a “sleek, handsome Maltese family cat” that took place on the back step of a house. Readers will want to review the article for themselves. However, the salient points are these: Using deceit and trickery the lobster engages the cat in a furious struggle. Upon discovering the fight, the lady of the house puts a stop to it.

While the news account portrays the lobster as having the upper hand in its struggle with the cat, it illustrates how the bond between cat and human – an alliance that continues to this day – could not be broken by sheer superiority of strength.

In the end, we are left to assume that lobster was boiled alive. Presumably his last thoughts were engaged in pondering the paradox of how he could be physically stronger, yet still lose this struggle. The point undoubtedly still rankles in the crustacean community.

– This has been an update from the History Cat News Network.