A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 28, 2009
Dogcatcher Elections ("Couldn’t get elected dog catcher")

Stray dogs were a big problem in the 19th century. A city would elect a “dog catcher” (or “dogcatcher"), who would round up these dogs in a “dog wagon.” (A lunch cart was also called a “dog wagon,” serving “hot dogs.”)

The dog catcher was regarded as the lowest position on the ballot; a politician who “couldn’t get elected dog catcher” was someone who couldn’t get elected to anything. The phrase “can’t get elected dog catcher” is cited in print from at least 1889. Dog catchers are not elected today, but the phrase is still often used.


Wikipedia: Animal control officer
An animal control officer may be an employee of, or a contractor to, a municipality, is charged with the responsibility of responding to calls for service ranging from stray animals to investigations of cruelty to animals and dog fighting, and bringing them to a compound or animal shelter, where the animals are held for a certain time before being returned to their owners, put up for adoption, released back into the wild, or euthanized. Animal control departments are also responsible for investigating incidents of human contact with both wild and domestic animals, such as bites. They may work with Health Departments, police departments, sheriffs departments or parks and recreation departments.

Variations of the historical phrase “I wouldn’t vote for him for dogcatcher” or “He couldn’t run for dogcatcher in this county” refers to an individual so poorly regarded that the individual in question is not fit to be elected to even a trivial position of public trust. In actuality, this position is usually an appointed one in localities that have a dedicated full-time animal control officer.

Google Answers
Subject: Re: dogcatcher elections: history
From: patrickredmon-ga on 14 Dec 2005 20:36 PST
The insult you allude to in your question, “I wouldn’t vote him for local dogcatcher,” is a common political insult.  More generally, dogcatcher refers to any relatively lowly elected position such as local school board, a political party’s district leader, or any other seemingly (relatively) unimportant position.  I was, however, able to a few references to real, elected dog catchers.  First, in Idaho in the 1960s, there was a dogcatcher from St. Maries, who led an unsuccessful movement to recall United States Senator Frank Church in the 1960s. The effort gained national attention and was featured in an article in the New York Times.  Also, in Edwardsburgh/Cardinal, Canada, the dogcatcher is Chris Arsenault (his phone number is listed on the web page).  At one point in history, it appears that elections for dogcatcher were common.  Today, the position is typically a hired or appointed job like any other low-level municipal employee such as crossing guard.

25 February 1889, Weekly Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), pg. 1:
Unpopular With Rascals.
(Chicago Herald.)
An insolent Republican newspaper asserts that Mr. Cleveland is so unpopular in Washington that he could not be elected dog catcher for the district. This may be true, yet Mr. Cleveland has caught a great many dogs in his day—stealing. His success in that line would naturally make him unpopular with the claim agents and other parasites that throng the capital.

16 October 1891, Chicago (IL) Herald, pg. 4:
By finally deciding to stump in Ohio for McKinley Mr. Ingalls shows a belief that he still has political possibilities of his own which he does not care to mix up with the fortunes of a man who could not be elected dog-catcher in Kansas at this writing.—St. Louis Republic.

29 November 1891, Chicago (IL) Herald, pg. 1:
“You couldn’t be elected dog-catcher in your ward,” hotly replied Specht.

Chronicling America
29 November 1891, Omaha (NE) Daily Bee, part 1, pg. 2, col. 5:
“Yes,” replied Mr. Davis, “but you could not be elected dog catcher at this time.”

6 January 1899, Kansas Semi-Weekly Capital, “Senate Defeats the Second Railroad Measure,” pg. 1:
“If I should vote for that bill it would be useless for me to run for office again in Wyandotte county. Why, I couldn’t be elected dog catcher. My constituents are opposed to the bill and I have to vote against it.”

13 July 1900, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, pg. 8:
What a terror that Weather Bureau is, anyhow. On any electoral ticket it could not be elected dog catcher in August, the season when some scientists say hydrophobia most abounds.

10 October 1906, New York (NY) Times, pg. 2:
Hearst in California.
“Hearst couldn’t be elected dog catcher in any part of my State,” declared State Treasurer Truman Reeves of California yesterday to Mayor McClellan, on whom he paid a social call.

1 April 1968, New York (NY) Times, pg. 28:
Of the President (Lyndon B. Johnson—ed.), she said, “I think he saw the opposition growing so great that he couldn’t run for dog catcher and would rather go down in history as having done his best than be defeated in November.”

Google Books
Brain Droppings
By George Carlin
New York, NY: Hyperion
Pg. 130:
When we point out someone’s lack of popularity, especially a politician’s, we sometimes say, HE COULDN’T GET ELECTED DOG CATCHER. First of all, since when do they elect do catchers? I’ve never seen one on the ballot, have you? The last time you were in the voting booth, did it say, “President, Vice President, Dog Catcher?” No. And why do they imply that getting elected dog catcher would be easy? I think it would be hard. A lot of people have dogs; they wouldn’t vote for you. And many of the people who don’t have dogs still like them. I should think it would be quite difficult to get elected dog catcher.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Tuesday, July 28, 2009 • Permalink