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Drowning Unwanted Pets

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"My mother must have had decent human minders. They had let her give birth to us. They had not drowned us as so many people drown kittens; and, as I say, they left us in peace."

Your pet, who you may not have even known could get pregnant, has just had a litter of babies. You don't have the resources to take care of several tiny mouths and find them homes, so what's there to do? Why, drown them, of course!

It was relatively common to drown unwanted, usually young, pets. This has fallen out of practice in exchange for better pregnancy preventative measures (namely, spaying and neutering pets) and giving pets up to shelters if you can't home them, but the practice still persists in some more rural, poor areas or areas where cruelty to animals isn't frowned upon or legally condemned. There's a lot of Values Dissonance to this and it's usually Played for Drama or sadness. It might also be a Kick the Dog moment, a sign of Bad People Abuse Animals.

Saving a drowning pet is a convenient way to introduce a character. It might also lead to a friendship or Rescue Romance.

In some cases, surviving this is how a pet becomes A Pet into the Wild.


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  • The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had a PSA called "My Little Puppy", which pointed out how it was wrong to treat animals like toys by showing a dog being neglected by the family that adopted it while a voice-over narrated the scene as if it was a toy commercial. The PSA ends with the father putting the dog into a bag and tossing the bag into a river.
    • Another RSPCA ad features two dogs going on a walk with their "best friend" with one of them narrating. First he notices they don't normally go this way on their walks, they usually go where there's more people. Then he remarks on how their best friend wants them to go for a swim and even puts them in a sack to keep them warm. At the very end he remarks it would actually be very hard to swim in this sack. It's pretty obvious what their "best friend" has done.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Natsumi from Higurashi: When They Cry is horrified that her grandmother drowns puppies in the tub as a part of a religious ritual.
  • Nanami in the anime of Revolutionary Girl Utena drowns her brother's kitten because she was jealous that he paid attention to it instead of her. She was a small child and may have regretted the action after seeing the kitten swept away.
  • Warrior Cats (manga):
    • Warrior Cats: The Rise of Scourge: As a kitten, Scourge's bully siblings told him that Twolegs throw unwanted kittens into rivers. Scourge, then known as "Tiny", was so scared that he ran away from home, which ultimately led to his Start of Darkness.
    • In the second volume of the Warriors: Tigerstar and Sasha manga, Sasha notices a bag floating in the river that she draws the Captain's attention to; inside is a kitten that she nurses back to health and raises.

  • Dutch comedian Herman Finkers used this trope for a joke in which he recalled how, as a child, he asked his mom if his own birth was the same as how their dog got puppies, including questions like "were my eyes also still closed, and did dad immediately drown all of my siblings?".
  • Emo Philips has a joke about his dad taking him to the lake as a child to drown a litter of puppies his dog gave birth to. Emo was crying his eyes out because he couldn't get them to skip.

    Comic Books 
  • This is the origin of Green Lantern villain Dex-Starr. Being the victim of an attempted version of this (just for fun, no less) ended up being the final straw (after a Trauma Conga Line that included his litter being abandoned as a kitten, his adopted owner being murdered, and being left homeless) for a cat named Dexter, filling him with so much anger that it drew the attention of a Red Lantern Power Ring, turning him into Dex-Starr.
  • In one issue of The Sandman (1989), a cat has the illusion that humans were the pets of cats painfully torn away from her when her human drowned her kittens.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dick Tracy villain Mr. Bribery attempts to dispose of his chain-smoking pet cat by tying a steam iron to its neck and tossing it into the reservoir, although the cat manages to escape.

    Fan Works 
  • The Bolt Chronicles: Via flushing in "The Survivor." Jack is described as frequently flushing Claire's smaller pets, usually still alive, down the toilet.

    Film — Animation 
  • Mentioned in 101 Dalmatians by Cruella DeVil in a fit of pique. When Roger refuses to sell Perdita's puppies to her, Cruella tears up her bank cheque, and fumes at Roger.
    Cruella: All right, keep the little beasts for all I care! Do as you like with them! Drown them!
  • Averted towards the beginning of the first Peter No-Tail movie. The farm's cruel owner demands that the kindly farmer get rid of Peter (who at this point is a kitten). We then see the farmer reluctantly carrying Peter in his jacket towards a full rain barrel, but a vacationer heading home drives up in his car to return the keys before he can go through with it. During the conversation that follows, the farmer smuggles Peter into the car.
  • In Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, this is part of the backstory for Puss’s new comrade Perrito, where, as a last resort, his old owners tried this due to him constantly returning everytime they try to abandon him by putting him in a sock tied to a stone and throwing him into the river. Miraculously, not only did he survive, but he soon grew into the sock and made it into a makeshift sweater.
  • Linguini from Ratatouille has the talented rat Remy in a jar, and is about to throw it in the Seine. Ultimately, Linguini relents, and takes Remy home as a house pet.
  • Happens to the title dog in Rover Dangerfield by his owner's boyfriend after ruining a shady deal for him. He ends up being rescued downstream before he can die.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Beethoven's 2nd, when Beethoven's mate Missy has a litter of puppies, her owner's ex-wife Regina — who has temporary custody of her as part of the divorce battle — initially wants to have them drowned. She does change her mind, but only when it's pointed out to her that they're purebreds and worth a lot of money.
  • Song of the South has a plot line where a couple of bullies want to drown a puppy for fun, even after their sister gave it to the neighbor.
  • In The Uncanny, Valentine De'ath not only murders his wife, but also drowns her cat Scat's kittens. Scat extracts horrible vengeance for both of these acts.

  • Used in a Black Comedy joke:
    A priest sees a little girl crying in the road and goes to her.
    "What's wrong, my child?"
    "Our dog had puppies and my mother said she's going to drown them!"
    "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. But those puppies will be in heaven soon."
    "I don't care about that, I wanted to drown them myself!!!"
  • A woman gives birth to triplets, so her husband invites their friends to celebrate. One of them, a dog breeder, goes to the crib, inspects the new-borns and declares: "I say you should keep the middle one."

  • Discussed in Anne of the Island, where Anne, Priscilla and Phil try to kill an unwanted stray cat that has wandered into the house by a more humane method of chloroforming it. By a mistake of theirs, the cat survives, and Anne has a change of heart and adopts it, however, Aunt Jamesina concludes the matter with:
    Aunt Jamesina: Kittens HAVE to be drowned, I admit, or the world would be overrun. But no decent, grown-up cat should be done to death unless he sucks eggs.
    • In a more heartbreaking example, in Rilla of Ingleside, Bruce Meredith, who is all of about five years old, drowns his kitten in a misguided "trade" with God to bring Jem—who is MIA overseas in World War I—home safely.
  • In Kittens in the Kitchen, the first Animal Ark book, a cat-hating janitor is so enraged when a cat gives birth on his favorite shirt that he gives Mandy one week to find new homes for the kittens, or else he'll kill them. His wife, who is much more sympathetic to the kittens' plight, tells Mandy that when she was young, it was common practice to drown unwanted litters in the rainbarrell, and her husband almost certainly will go through with this should they fail to meet the deadline. Thankfully, Mandy is able to find loving owners for each kitten before this can happen.
  • Texas Jake from Cat Pack is the Sole Survivor of an attempt at this. After his mother abandoned her litter, he and his siblings were soon placed in a bag by an unknown person and thrown into a river, Texas Jake was the only one who made it out alive.
  • Discworld:
    • Mort: As part of teaching Mort the duties of Death, Death takes him to Ankh-Morpork, where they find a sack of kittens in a water butt. Death, a Kindhearted Cat Lover, is very unhappy about this.
    • In Moving Pictures, Gaspode the Wonder Dog says his first memory is being tied in a sack next to a brick by his former owners. The only reason he survived at all is that the water in the Ankh river is so dirty and polluted it's almost impossible to drown in it. He recalls he thought the brick was his mother for a while.
  • In Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones, Sirius's life as a dog begins when his pedigree Labrador mother's owner throws the litter in a river for being mongrels. Several of the puppies survive and show up later in the book.
  • In Fed Up by Jessica Conant-Park and Susan Conant, a man asks passers-by on the street if they'll take his ex-girlfriend's neglected cat. Otherwise, he threatens to throw it in the river. The main character's boyfriend takes it, and the main character adopts it.
  • Leo from Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria is traumatized because his abusive father told his mother to drown a stray cat he was taking care of as a child. He has a phobia of cats and has nightmares about cats trying to drown him.
  • Aunt Marge from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is an amateur bulldog breeder, and in one conversation with the Dursleys, mentions getting her neighbour Colonel Fubster to drown the runt of her latest litter.
  • The Hundred and One Dalmatians: Similar to the film, Cruella advocates drowning the puppies, although in this case, she believed they were mongrels due to them being born without spots. She also admits that she's drowned dozens of her cat's kittens.
  • The Hunger Games: Prim's cat, Buttercup, despises Katniss because she attempted to drown it so she didn't have a third mouth to feed.
  • Ivan Turgenev's short story "Mumu" is titled after a dog whom a serf named Gerasim adopts and bonds with, before being forced to drown her by his cruel owner.
  • Mentioned in the fourth The Queen's Thief book as part of Deliberate Values Dissonance (and tying into one of the story's Central Themes). Berrone once convinced her father, Baron Hanaktos, to ban the drowning of kittens. The city subsequently became overrun with strays until the citizens got fed up and went on a cat-slaughtering spree that upset everyone, and Hanaktos quietly rescinded the order so that such an event wouldn't be repeated.
  • The Song of a Dog, a poem by Sergei Yesenin, recounts the story of a dog whose entire litter gets drowned before her eyes.
  • Strange Highways by Dean Koontz: "Kittens" has a girl learning what actually happens to the kittens her parents insist are taken to Heaven. So, she drowns her infant siblings in revenge.
  • Tortall Universe: Protector of the Small starts with Kel confronting a group of boys trying to drown a sack of kittens in the river.
  • The Witches: This fate is used as a threat when a hotel maid discovers the hero boy's pet mice. The manager orders him to keep the mice in the cage, and the maid keeps trying to catch him with the mice out, telling him that the first mouse to break the rule will be drowned. Later, when Bruno is turned into a mouse, and is given back to his horrified parents, the hero and his grandmother wonder sadly whether Bruno suffered this fate.
  • A variant appears in Wuthering Heights when the 7-year-old Hareton hangs a litter of puppies. This is evidence of Heathcliff's efforts to corrupt the boy to be just like him.
  • Young Wizards spinoff The Book of Night With Moon: One of the main characters is the Sole Survivor of a bag of drowned kittens, which gave him some serious PTSD issues.

  • In Voltaire's "Stuck With You", a husband and wife are having an escalating argument about bad things the other has done; one of the thing the wife claims the husband did was drown her kittens "one by one"- and enjoyed doing so.

    Video Games 
  • In Grand Theft Auto III, a radio commercial for a pet delivery system references this. The ad talks about replacing pets and we hear a girl say "Sorry, Fido, but we're gonna have to drown you."


    Western Animation 
  • In The Cat Came Back, Mr. Johnson's second attempt to get rid of the cat is to go to the middle of a lake and dump the cat inside a sack tied to an anchor. As he tries to drop the anchor, however, he breaks through the bottom of the boat, which takes the cat safely to shore. At the bottom, Mr. Johnson is surrounded by dozens of sacks tied to anchors.
  • Referenced in Futurama: Hermes hates Leela's pet Nibbler so much he wants to put him in a sack, throw the sack in a river and hurl the river into space.
  • The Pluto the Pup cartoon Lend a Paw begins with him rescuing a kitten that's in a sack tied to a weight floating in an ice floe.
  • Tom and Jerry:
    • In the episode Heavenly Puss, there's a shot where a soggy bag begins bouncing and Fluff, Muff, and Puff (who would later appear in Triplet Trouble) emerged from the bag. That's one, kids wouldn't figure out.
      Gatekeeper: "What some people won't do."
    • The 1954 cartoon Puppy Tale begins with a motorcar driving over a bridge, then tossing a sack into the creek. Jerry Mouse is nearby, and he fishes the sack out of the water with a branch. Five puppies emerge from the sack, and one especially grateful pup shadows Jerry thereafter.

    Real Life 
  • In 2007, John Wooligan, 47, of Whitehaven, Cumbria, in the United Kingdom, was acquitted of animal cruelty after the court ruled drowning 10-day-old puppies wasn't cruel since they didn't feel pain.
  • This was a pretty common practice before the idea of spaying or neutering pets. In some regions, it's still fairly common, especially in areas where sterilization is considered a violation of animals' reproductive rights.


Video Example(s):


What some people won't do

The Gatekeeper of Heavenly Express allows access to three young kitten who were thrown into a river and drowned, while lamenting their tragic fate.

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Main / DrowningUnwantedPets

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