That's how the City Euthanized animals back in those days.
The most well known location for The Pound was near 26th Street by the East River. The cage was loaded with dogs and rolled down to the river where a crane was attached to swing the dogs out over the water. The cage was then submerged for 10 minutes. Then it was brought up, unloaded, and another batch of animals prepared.
Sounds ghastly, doesn't it? ... drowning all those animals like that?
Before you judge the people who did this work too harshly, though, its important to put their actions in context with the times. Whenever I say something like that, it tends to make people uncomfortable.
"Oh My God, Paladin... You're saying that was OK!!!!"
No. I'm not.
But I think its important to understand that they didn't have the luxuries that we take for granted today - in neither technology nor societal support. They also faced the exact same challenges faced by Municipal Shelters today - only they didn't have the last 100+ years of technology and societal support. Industry standard for euthanasia before they started drowning animals had been someone walking into a pen of dogs with a club and beating them all to death....
I shit you not.
Drowning the dogs to dispose of them was seen as progress - and it was - as awful as such a thing seems to us today. When a Humane Group took over operation of the shelter at the turn of the century they made their own advancement in euthanasia technology by using Carbonic Gas - which caused death by suffocation. Hardly a great stride over drowning, but it was thought to be far more humane than drowning at the time. Later, they progressed to using "Illuminating Gas", which was the gas that powered the gas lights that illuminated the streets in New York.
During my own carrier in Animal Control, I've seen the technology and understanding of the euthanasia process morph even further. When I started in the field clean, cool Carbon Monoxide Gas Chambers were the way to go. If you had a modern CO chamber you were at the cutting edge of Humane Animal Euthanasia. Recently, the trend is toward Injectable Solutions like Pentabarbital.
Now, the general consensus is that CO is bad and if you aren't using pre-euthanasia sedation and injectable euthanasia solutions in a soothing euth room with soft music playing and a big rainbow painted on the wall .... then you just must hate animals.
Thankfully, my current gig doesn't involve euthanizing animals at anywhere near the level that I once had too. When I do have to do it, I actually prefer Injectable methods over CO in most cases. However, during the course of my career I killed A LOT of dogs and cats with a CO chamber. And by "a lot" of animals, I mean well into the triple digits.
Does that make me a monster retro-actively?
Dog Catchers were paid 25 cents for every dog they brought in to the Pound. And believe me, there were plenty. An article in the Brookly Daily Eagle appeared on August 29, 1886 reported 1267 impounded dogs over a 2 1/2 month period - of which 1097 were drowned. The remainder were reclaimed after their owners paid the $3 impound fee.
1267 impounded dogs in 2 1/2 months.... Even taking into account the propensity of some of the less scrupulous dog catchers to "nick" dogs out of their own yards instead of sticking to strays at large.... that's a lot of animals to deal with. Most Municipal Shelters don't have the luxury of turning dogs away like a so-called "no kill" shelter can. That's how a no-kill gets to keep their hands clean. If you run a Municipal Shelter you have a finite space to keep the animals (no matter how large the shelter), a set time you have to hold those animals before you can adopt them out, and more animals coming in every single day - day after day.
Do the fucking math.
The Dog Catchers back in the day did this job under awful working conditions for very little money. They were more like independent contractors than employees of the city and they had to supply their own wagons and equipment. Serious injuries were commonplace and the threat of death by rabies (termed "hydrophobia" in those days) was a constant threat. The general attitude toward the Dog Catchers by the populace was one of aggressive dislike. Cases of Dog Catchers being attacked by gangs of rock throwing mobs while the Police refused to intervene were reported on a regular basis.
So cut the Dogcatcher some slack... both then and now. They weren't the reason animals have to be euthanized back then, and they sure as hell aren't the reason now.
Then, as Now, the true root of responsibility for what happens to stray/unwanted animals rests firmly beneath the irresponsible Owners. If you're too stupid to keep your dog from roaming around and adding to the unwanted pet population - then have it sterilized. If you want to breed your dog so that little Timmy and Suzie get to see the wonderful miracle of life... then take them first to the Animal Shelter and let them see the not so wonderful and less miraculous death that awaits the animals that no one wants.