Chris Woodyard's outstanding collection of morbid delights, "The Victorian Book of the Dead," featured the sad end of Alice Knott, murdered by her "evil-dispositioned" parrot, who had the habit of "pulling the tips off the gas burners with his strong beak and inhaling the gas until it stupefied him." While this was nothing but fun and games for the bird, one night it was death for his mistress.
This memorable tale left me wondering if this was a once-in-lifetime sort of event, or if there were other tales of people gassed to death--intentionally or not--by their pets. Just a short browse through the old newspapers left me convinced that our beloved furry and feathered friends are in league to kill us all.
Let's kick things off with the soulmate of Miss Knott's bird, Dolly the Parrot of Death. This story comes from the "La Crosse Tribune," September 25, 1947:
Jersey City, N.J.--Her pet parrot who turned on a kitchen stove gas jet was blamed today for the death of 66-year-old Mrs. Fannie Stewart.
Mrs. Stewart, a widow, was revived by police rescue squad workers but died later at the Jersey City medical center of what hospital authorities said was cerebral thrombosis.
She had told rescue workers that her parrot, Dolly, flew about her Beacon avenue home at will and had turned on the gas jets once before when it alighted on the kitchen stove. Mrs. Stewart, however, said she had discovered the escaping gas before any damage was done that first time.
Neighbors who detected gas seeping from Mrs. Stewart's home summoned the rescue squad yesterday.
|Dolly's mug shot.|
The "Dundee Courier," April 7, 1948:
Mr. John Blackman returned to his home in Crewys Road, Charles Hill, Cricklewood, to find his wife was missing.
He thought at first she must be shopping or with neighbours.
There was a strong smell of gas. He went upstairs. In the bathroom he found his 56-year-old wife, Susan Maria, dead.
At the Hendon inquest yesterday a gas official said the geyser safety device was faulty, and a bird had built its nest in the flue pipe.
Verdict--Accidental death from coal gas poisoning.
Sadly, there was at least one case where the tables were turned on our homicidal birds. The "Perth News," April 21, 1928:
Melbourne, Saturday.--That a mouse should cause a parrot's death seems incredible, but such a thing happened in the flat of Mr. and Mrs. P.R. Garvie, Mary-street, St. Kilda, this week.
Mrs. Garvie was accustomed to leaving the parrot's cage in the kitchen overnight to protect the bird from cats.
On Thursday night a mouse crept from its hiding place, and in its search for food climbed a gas pipe, leading to the copper. The tap on this pipe was very loose. It turned under the weight of the mouse, and the room was filled with gas. In the morning when Mrs. Garvie entered the kitchen she found her pet bird and mouse lying together dead in the bottom of the cage.
I suppose it should not be a surprise that cats excel at creating DIY gas chambers for their owners. They were, by far, the leading practitioners of this particular animal hobby. This next brush with death comes from the "Virginia Recorder," July 22, 1938:
Des Moines.—Less than 24 hours after three young women of Des Moines received a cat as a mouser, the animal brought death close to the girls by turning on a gas burner as they slept. The girls are the Misses Lavona and Evelyn Hove, sisters, and Miss Helena Adair. They occupy a basement apartment in the rooming house of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Bougher.I found no follow-ups to this story, but I'm guessing Tippy got her body count in the end.
A few days ago the girls heard a mouse in their room. Learning of this, Miss Adair’s mother offered the cat as a solution. The three girls promptly installed the cat in the apartment and named her Tippy. It was about 1 a.m. when the girls retired. Tippy was lying curled up in a corner, apparently content. A little before 6 a.m. Bougher went to the house furnace in the basement. When he returned to his quarters a few minutes later he told Mrs. Bougher there was a strong odor of gas in the basement.
“I can smell it up here,” Mrs. Bougher replied. “Say—l wonder if it can be coming from the girls’ apartment? You know it’s right below this room.” The couple hurried to the basement, knocked on the apartment door, but received no answer. “I thought right then that they were dead,” Mrs. Bougher said. “The gas was so strong it almost knocked me down,” she said. “I yelled several times and then one of the girls answered. Mr. Bougher ran into the room and opened the windows. “We found that one of the burners on the stove was about half-way open. That’s where the gas was coming from.” The three girls were aroused and taken to the Bougher apartment. None suffered any apparent ill effect. Neither did Tippy. All three girls were certain the gas had not been on when they retired. And certainly, they said, the burner had not been half-way open for five hours. This left Tippy as the only possible suspect. “I guess it was a pretty close call,” said Miss Lavona. “After this,” added Miss Adair as she stroked the cat, “Tippy is going to have to sleep out nights.”
Same goes for this cat recorded in the "Sydney Herald," April 28, 1931:
Wellington (N.Z.) Monday. Left inside a Wellington house to catch mice, a cat jumped on the gas stove during the night, in search of some fish that had been left there, and turned on a gas jet, and as a result the occupants of the house were nearly asphyxiated. The mother and three children were overcome by fumes, and the others became violently ill. One member of the family had awakened earlier, smelt the gas, and turned off the tap, without telling the others.
"San Francisco Call," November 1, 1913:
A pet cat in the home of Edward Clarkson, Brooklyn, disconnected a rubber tube from a gas stove in the kitchen, causing the death of Mrs. Ida Clarkson from asphyxiation. Clarkson was asleep at home, as also was his wife. He was removed unconscious to the Holy Family hospital."Perth Times," March 25, 1934:
A pet cat is believed to have been responsible for the death of its 90-year-old owner, Mrs. Margaret Kingston, who was found in a gas-filled room at her home at York-road, Hove, England.
Mrs. Kingston loved her cat--a Persian--so much so that every night she took it to bed with her.
It is believed by the police that while she was lying asleep the cat brushed against a gas-jet, turning on the tap.
When they entered the room Mrs. Kingston was dead in bed. Her daughter Mrs. Moorhead, and the cat were lying on the floor unconscious.
Mrs. Moorhead and the cat recovered after the police had applied oxygen to both.
The "Western Press," August 13, 1931:
Mr. J. Lewis, of Frazer Street, Bedminster, Bristol, had his moustache and eyebrows singed when an explosion occurred in the gas stove at his home yesterday.
The force of the explosion broke panes in the kitchen window and damaged the ceiling.
Mrs. Frazer expressed the opinion to a reporter that the cat must have turned on the gas in the oven.
When her husband lit the gas on top of the stove, he smelt an escape, and opened the oven door, a loud bang being the result.
[Note: You know you have one heck of a slow day in Bristol when J. Lewis' singed moustache is headline news.]
A rare instance of a would-be killer cat's change of heart was reported in the "Columbia Missourian," March 15, 1929:
Cats usually come under the category of "dumb animals" but "Rags," a persian cat belonging to Mrs. N. A. Dysart, 208 South Eighth Street, has proved the exception. About three o'clock yesterday morning Mrs. Dysart was awakened by "Rags" jumping upon the bed and then racing into the hall. The cat continued this until she finally awakened her mistress enough to know that something was wrong and that the cat was trying her best to tell her.
Mrs. Dysart followed the animal out into the hall where gas fumes were so heavy that it was almost impossible to breathe. She succeeded in getting the window open and making her way into the kitchen from which the gas seemed to be coming. Groping though the dark until she located the light switch, she found that one of the gas jets was on.
"Rags" was in the habit of getting upon the stove to catch mice that were making their home there. In so doing she had accidentally turned on the gas and sensing that something was wrong sought to warn her mistress of the accident.
The "Meriden Morning Record," March 2, 1912:
Newton, Mass., March 1.--The cat in the household of Louis Andrews at Newton Upper Falls could not control its curiosity as to the shutoff on the gas range in the kitchen early today. The consequence was that four of the occupants of the house were rendered unconscious by escaping gas and were not revivied for several hours.
When the excitement was all over a searching investigation revealed that the cat, which had been asleep in the kitchen, had turned on the gas.
Mr. Andrews is in doubt whether the family pet became despondent and contemplated suicide or hit the gas cock in a playful mood. The cat suffered no ill effects from the gas.
"Playful mood," my eye. Mr. Andrews had yet to learn that a few days earlier, the cat secretly took out life insurance policies on the entire family.
I kid, I kid.
You don't have gas in your home, you say? You're immune from having your darling pet asphyxiate you in your sleep?
The "Yorkshire Post," July 19, 1933:
The prowling of a cat in the cellar of the house of Mr. Bower, Hillhouse Lane, Huddersfield, nearly resulted the family being gassed by ammonia fumes. Mr. Bower, who is a grocer, had a carboy of ammonia In the cellar underneath on which stood some ginger beer bottles. It is thought the cat, walking along the shelf, knocked over a ginger beer bottle on top of the carboy. The glass was broken, and ammonia fumes spread rapidly over the house while the cat made her escape.
When Mr. Bower realised what had happened, he called the fire brigade, who it found Impossible to get inside the house without the aid of masks. So far had the fumes spread that the ordinary gas mask was no use, and a special one had to secured. This was attached a box containing several different kinds of chemical crystals to counteract the effect of different gases. The mask had not previously been used against ammonia fumes by the Huddersfield brigade, but Sergeant Hutton, who went to the cellar to carry out the carboy, felt no effect from the fumes.
You dog owners must be feeling pretty smug right now. No lethal birds or treacherous cats for you. No worries!
"Kalgoorlie Miner," October 9, 1948:
London, Oct. 8--A dog, by jumping on a gas cooker and turning on the tap, caused the death of his master, 53-year-old Ernest Herbert Gibbons, who was found gassed in a first floor bedroom of a house in the London suburb of Cricklewood.
Gibbons was in bed and evidently asleep when the dog jumped.
Here is a particularly incriminating story from the "Sunderland Echo," December 30, 1933:
A dog belonging to John Carter, of Hull, accidentally turned on a gas tap in the room where its master was sleeping.
The dog then went to another room where its play awakened the man's brother.
John Carter was found unconscious from the effects of the gas fumes.
"Gloucester Citizen," January 30, 1939:
A pet dog found unconscious on a kitchen floor is thought to have been the cause of a gas tragedy in which a man, his wife and a child lost their lives at Manchester during the week-end.
The dead people were: William Edward Webb, aged 52, a railway worker, Jane, his 51-years-old wife and Roy, aged 6, their adopted son.
Policemen who were called by neighbours to their house in Eltham-street, Levenshulme, found Mr. Webb and Roy dead in bed in the back bedroom. Mrs. Webb was in the front bedroom.
The house was full of gas which had escaped from a tap on the scullery boiler, which was turned on slightly.
The dog revived after treatment.
The only theory as to the cause of the tragedy is that the dog, which was allowed to run about the house during the night, had brushed against the tap and turned it on.
The lesson to be learned from today's post? Keep the catnip, gourmet bird seed, and caviar dog biscuits handy, my friends. Maybe we can bribe them into sparing us.