The Dog Remains: Mexico City’s Canine Massacres During the Enlightenment, 1770-1821 Restricted; Files Only

Luna Loranca, Arturo (Spring 2023)

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This dissertation studies how ideas about economic productivity and the management of natural resources and populations during the Enlightenment deemed specific life forms as disposable. It also examines why particular groups of people pushed against this view of the world. I explore this phenomenon by focusing on the first systematic killing of dogs in the Americas enacted by government authorities. From 1770 to 1821, the colonial government of Mexico City, the capital of New Spain, ordered the corps of guardafaroles (nightwatchmen) to kill any dog (stray or domestic) found roaming after dusk. During this period, the guardafaroles claimed the lives of 20,000 to 35,000 dogs. Although state and Church authorities claimed the dog slaughters improved urban living conditions and benefited the populace, Mexico City commoners opposed the measure.


Based on a social constructivist approach, I contend that principles found in Catholicism and oeconomic theory (an early modern concept encompassing the management of the household, natural resources, and governance) explain authorities’ contempt towards dogs. Church authorities in eighteenth-century Mexico City embraced the notion that animals had to be subservient to humankind. The version of oeconomy espoused by Spanish statesmen and government officials in Mexico City framed nature, animals included, as a vital resource for state-building practices. According to them, the appropriate exploitation of nature held the key to economic independence and self-sufficiency and keeping human populations alive, healthy, and productive. In the process, these bureaucrats also created categories of disposability. In their eyes, urban dogs were wasteful consumers of resources and hindrances to urbanites’ well-being.


Because common urbanites, particularly plebian members, rarely wrote about dogs, the dissertation takes a materialist approach to explain these groups’ resistance to the slaughters. I argue that common urbanites and plebian people had different perspectives on dogs based on their interactions with these animals. I demonstrate that plebian groups relied on the sale of dog feces to supplement their meager incomes, and dog owners saw their canine companions as integral members of their households due to the labor they afforded.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Mexico City's Dog Slaughters in a Nutshell 12

Organization of the Dissertation  22

Chapter 1. The Attitudes of the Church Toward Human-Dog Relationships in the Eighteenth-Century Spanish Catholic World  25

The Bible’s Dogs: Archetypes of Evil 30

Dogs and the Church in Eighteenth-Century Mexico City 47

Conclusion 54

Chapter 2. Civil Authorities’ Attitudes Toward Human-Dog Relationships: Household Economy and the Management of Nature 56

Oeconomy in the Spanish Empire 61

Oeconomy and Mexico City’s Culling  Campaigns 70

Ytzcuinpatli and Quauhizquiztli: Botany and the Efficient Control of Dogs 80

Conclusion 91

Chapter 3. A Dog’s Worth: The Importance of Canine Feces Among Mexico City’s Plebian Groups 93

The Limpia de la Ciudad: Asentistas, Fiadores, and Peones 97

“Every Man a King:” Selling and Commodifying Dog  Feces 114

Conclusion 122

Chapter 4. More than a Dog: A Dog’s Place in Colonial Mexico City’s Family-Networks 125

Have You Seen Me? Advertising Lost Dogs and Ascribing Subjecthood 128

Family Building Through Dogs 142

Defending Dogs Through the Idiom of the Household 153

Conclusion 166

Conclusion: The Dog Remains 170

Annex 1. Remates celebrated from 1773 to 1818 175

Annex 2. Lost Ungulates, Avian Animals, Dogs, and People reported in the Diario de México from October 1805 to December 1809 190

Bibliography 212

Illustration's Credits 230

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