Despite Webster 1913's definition of a dogcart as a horse-drawn cart that could carry dogs, the word "dogcart" (also "dog-cart" or just "dog cart") has also referred to a cart pulled by dogs, as a dogsled is. (In fact, http://www.hyperdic.net/dic/d/dogcart.shtml gives a dog-pulled cart as the only meaning of the word, though the American Heritage Dictionary lists both meanings.) Dogcarts, generally two-wheeled, were used for transporting goods or people by those who could not afford horses, mules, or donkeys to pull their carts, as well as in large, crowded cities where dog-drawn carts were more manuverable than those using larger animals. They also had the advantage of being able to guard the contents of the cart while the owner was away. And sometimes they were also used by the well-off just for fun.

During the First Crusade, when the horses and mules had died of starvation, dogs carried Crusader supplies (and people) toward Jerusalem. The postcard collections at judnick.com and Garry's Dogs show photographs from a wide variety of locations showing that the use of dogs to pull carts remained widespread into the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, even before motor vehicles displaced animals throughout the developed world, organizations such as the RSPCA in England worked to ban the use of dogs for transportation on the grounds that such animals were not treated right. Though their hearts were in the right place, and undoubtedly some dogs were mistreated, there were many dogcart owners who treated their dogs as friends, not just living motors.

The case in England is particularly interesting. For some reason, the RSPCA considered carting for dogs as "cruel servitude" (while apparently not considering horses doing similar work to be any problem as long as they were well-treated). In 1839 the Dog Cart Nuisance Act was passed, which prohibited the use of cart dogs within fifteen miles of the approximate site of Charing Cross railroad station in London {my source just used the name of the station, but Albert Herring tells me that "Charing Cross railway station had not been built in 1839; however, distances to London in general were measured to the site of the Eleanor Cross in Whitehall after which the station was named (although it's a few hundred yards away)".} This might have been the limit of the English restrictions if it had not been for the fear of rabies -- activists invoking overwork as a cause of the fatal disease, or at least making dogs more vulnerable to it, probably made people more willing, within a few years, to ban all cart dogs and tax other service dogs (such as shepherding and seeing eye dogs!). However, many poor people who used dogs in their livelihood could no longer afford to keep them if they didn't earn anything from it -- many were abandoned, and at least 150,000 were put to death in the first year after the law. In some cases, children replaced the dogs in pulling the carts, as there was no law against that at the time.

Nowadays, dogcarts are supposedly used more for exercising pet animals who would otherwise be sedentary, for training sled dogs without snow, and for sport racing. Dog Carts by Lilawasta (www.dogcarts.com) says its products are "ergonomically designed to be dog friendly," but the four-foot-square cart bed would certainly allow the owner to bring more supplies on a hike than a person could carry alone, and some other modern sources feature dogcarts that are designed for a human to sit on. The harness sizes offered start with 45-pound dogs and get larger. Of course, training the dog/dogs to pull it may take longer than the optimistic "as little as three one-hour sessions" that Lilawasta claims. "Drivers A La Cart" seems to think shorter sessions over a longer period of time will work better. This site also addresses the ethical concerns of dogcarts, and lists the things a caring pet owner will be make sure of:

  1. "the carting experience looks easy for your dog
  2. the dog looks like he's having a good time
  3. the dog is in good condition
  4. the weather/pavement is not too hot
  5. the dog's feet are in good condition
  6. the dog does not over heat or over exert itself
  7. not only should the dog cart driving look easy and fun, but it should be easy and fun for you and your canine companion."

Carting enthusiasts have a mailing list at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Carting-L/

Dogcart was also the name of an early Scottish-built motor vehicle from Glasgow's Albion Motor Car Company, built from 1898 or 1900 to about 1913

Sources:
Coren, Stanley. The Pawprints of History: Dogs and the Course of Human Events. New York: The Free Press, 2000.
http://www.hyperdic.net/dic/d/dogcart.shtml
http://www.bartleby.com/61/5/D0320500.html
http://www.thornburygrammar.org.uk/images/Belgium/DogCart.htm
http://www.judnick.com/DisastersToDogCarts.htm
http://www.gksimmons.free-online.co.uk/dogs/collect/dogcarts/
http://www.dogcarts.com
http://www.geocities.com/sierrakennels/carts.html
http://www.wayeh.com/aboutsleddogs/oscillation.htm
http://www.huskyteam.ch/DogCart/
http://www.sonic.net/~cdlcruz/carting/pvccart.htm
http://www.dslextreme.com/users/rotts4su/
http://www.nms.ac.uk/news/news_archive/dogcart.htm
http://www.krbaker.demon.co.uk/britcars/a/arroljohnston.html

Dog"cart` (?), n.

A light one-horse carriage, commonly two-wheeled, patterned after a cart. The original dogcarts used in England by sportsmen had a box at the back for carrying dogs.

 

© Webster 1913.

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