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We can borrow Flush's story (and Woolf's strategy) to take up the challenge of the
'animal turn' (Wolch and Emel 1995) in geography, 'giving precedence to the
animal perspective' (Munich 1996:127) in order to tell a fable about a world in
which neither animals nor humans know their place . This strategy allows us to
reimagine the entwined geography of the human and non-human world, for the
places of Flush's nightmare ordeal among the dog-stealers are central to this story
and its significance. Virginia Woolf is keen on her part to emphasise that this
narrative of pet abduction is properly a city story, a story about the ways in which,
again turning the world upside down, London's poor might be understood to
exploit the rich, with Whitechapel or St Giles's preying on the comfortable
bourgeoisie of Wimpole Street. Squier's excellent analysis of the sexual politics of
Woolf's London points us in the right direction here. In particular, she emphasises
that the spatial proximity of Whitechapel and Wimpole Street alerts us to the
symbiotic relationship that existed between neighbourhoods only apparently worlds
apart (Squier 1985:127). 'The terms upon which Wimpole Street lived cheek by
jowl with St. Giles's were well known', as Virginia Woolf (1933:76) wrote: 'St.
Giles's stole what St. Giles's could; Wimpole Street paid what Wimpole Street
must.' For Flush and for bourgeois pet-owners in general, the city was a place of
danger and anxiety, rather than simple, confident mastery. London's others, the
thieves and the banditti who shared public space with the bourgeoisie and their pets,
were never in fact very far away. The phenomenon of dog-stealing gives us a glimpse
therefore not just of human and animal relations, but also of the complex
geographies in which and by which relations between different sets of people in the
Victorian city were played out.
Trading in affection: dog-stealing as a profession
While dog-stealing was hardly a new phenomenon, it was the spread of pet
ownership among the urban bourgeoisie that called up the opportunities for a crime
that directly attacked bourgeois sensibilities. Animal-related discourse had certainly
always extended to both sentimental and economic relationships (Ritvo 1987), but
pet-stealing encompassed and linked the worlds of affection and commerce. This
was, quite literally, trading in affection. It is easy enough to see why, economically,
such a crime should arise. By the Victorian era astounding prices, up to 150 1 ., were
paid for breed dogs, particularly fancy dogs like spaniels, constituting an alluring
temptation to men living in a world where that amount might easily represent
several years' wages. The emotional value of such pets, in any case, might far exceed
their sale value: a terrier worth at most 5 s . might fetch, so it was said, as much as
14 1 . when ransomed ( Report from the Select Committee on Dog Stealing
(Metropolis), hereafter Report: iv). Dog-stealing could thus be a highly profitable
business, a criminal profession or a lucrative sideline for men who might earn a
considerable sum by snatching and successfully ransoming a favourite pet.
The dog-stealers' modus operandi was a simple one, as Henry Mayhew informs us,
a matter of prowling the metropolis for a likely dog out in public with its master or
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