Inspired by a dream she'd had, the Cute Little Red-Haired Girlfriend asked me if dog catchers had been common in my area when I was a child. I said no. She'd never seen one either. Why then, the girlfriend asked, were there so many dog catchers in cartoons?
She painted a quick sketch of the character type: drives up in a van, wears a uniform, carries a big net, slams the door of the van on the captured dog or dogs. Of course I remembered many of them. (I also had a brief mental flash of the terrifying child catcher from Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, which I quickly suppressed.)
My first thought was that the dog catcher was somehow related to the animal control officer. Except I mainly associate animal control with wild or rabid animals, not stray dogs. When I lived in North Carolina, I once summoned an animal control officer to remove a bat that had found its way into my apartment.
I decided to look up animal control officer in Wikipedia to see if there was any history of the profession. There was a mention of the role of dog whippers, whose primary duty was "keeping dogs out of churches in 16th- to 19th- century Europe."
Clicking on the term dog whipper brought me to another page, which said the the dog whipper's removal tools were a whip and giant wooden tongs. The entry also mentions that dog whippers sometimes dealt with stray dogs generally, and speculates that they were a precursor to today's animal control officer.
While I can see the connection between 16th- through 19th- century dog whippers and present day animal control officers, it doesn't really address the existence of all those early 20th century dog catchers. When I searched on the term "dog catcher," I found a link to a web page under construction that appeared to belong to a pit bull breeder. From what I can tell, dog catcher doesn't appear to be a current job.
The lack of information about the dog catcher profession leads me to wonder if the dog catcher type is a product of cartoon narrative. Just as Granny often intervened in altercations between Sylvester the cat and Tweety the bird, perhaps the dog catcher was created to intervene in hostilities between dogs and cats.
Do any readers remember real live dog catchers in their area? Any thoughts on the origin of this character?