The Shakers and Pets
In the early years of the Shaker communities, the keeping of pets was forbidden. While the Shakers’ Millennial Laws (1845) admonished that animals should not be left to suffer neglect, it also stated that “no cats may be kept in the shops, without permission, and none at all in the dwelling-rooms” and that “no dogs may be kept in any family gathered into order.”
By the 20th century, however, rules had relaxed, and the Canterbury Shaker Archives are full of evidence to that effect. As the population decreased and fewer people came to live at the Village, pets provided companionship and a sense of security. Manuscript materials, historic photographs, printed materials and objects convey the Shakers’ deep relationship with pets in the 20th century.
During the 1940s, Bertha Lindsay kept a small notebook she entitled “Facts About My Pets.” Here, she wrote about the horses boarded at the Shaker barns, including Plucky Lass, Maple Red, and Shaker Lass. “I had been working very hard to get Shaker Lass to come to me and to eat sugar but she took a long time to be friendly,” Bertha wrote in 1940. “By the end of July I had the pleasure to feed her the grain and from that time on my little pony was just a perfect little pet.”
Dewey the dog arrived at Canterbury Shaker Village on July 4, 1920. A gift to Brother Irving Greenwood from friends in Ohio, the eight-week old puppy was carried in a basket on the train with Sisters Josephine Wilson, Aida Elam, and Hope Vickery. Dewey was dearly loved by everyone at the Village. He posed for photographs, rode on the snowplow and tractors, and accompanied the Shakers on walks and outings. He appears to have been a very patient dog! He died on April 9, 1931, and was mourned for many years. “There is only one ‘Dewey,’” Josephine Wilson wrote in her diary. “He was all that a little dog should be.”
Rex, a Border Collie, lived with the Canterbury Shakers during the 1930s. While Dewey resided at the Trustees’ Office and was considered “an Office dog,” Rex lived at the Dwelling House, at the center of the Village. Alberta MacMillan Kirkpatrick, who grew up at Canterbury Shaker Village, remembered that Rex “was Sister Alice Howland’s dog, and we loved him. He was a lovely collie, beautiful.” Rex died on May 5, 1940.
Other dogs at the Village during the 20th century included Terry Berry Howland, Brownie, Buddy, Chris, Honey, and Penny. Each was dearly loved by their Shaker friends.
Shaker cats in the 19th century were kept in the barns, dutifully catching rodents and lapping up extra milk. By the 20th century, they were to be found in almost all the buildings throughout the Village at Canterbury, including the dwelling houses. Photographs of cats at Canterbury include Martinelli the Tiger, Timmie the Maltese, and Kris Kringle the Angora, who lived at the Trustees’ Building with Sisters Blanche Gardner and Josephine Wilson. Sisters Ethel Hudson and Alice Howland cared for many cats.
Friends remember visiting Sister Marguerite at the Infirmary and hearing the happy chirps of her birds as they walked into the hallway.
“I let my bird friends out of their cages only one at a time,” she told a reporter from the Concord Monitor in 1969. “I can’t keep their little hearts from flying, that grace which God has given them to use, but I love them so and wouldn’t want to lose them.”
Eldress Bertha Lindsay’s canary sang through an interview with Ken Burns in the 1980s, and Sister Alice Howland—long after her bird cages were empty—kept a toy parrot hanging in her Dwelling House room.