Monkeys riding on dogs: The great American sport that never quite made it


In the 1930s, greyhound racing was horse racing’s less-accomplished, still-ambitious sibling. More carnival spectacle than sport of kings, promoters were forced to think of ways to draw crowds.

The best strategy: monkey jockeys.

See below:

“In the 1930s…the greyhounds got jockeys in the form of little monkeys dressed up in colorful, silk outfits,” the narrator enthuses in one video explaining monkey jockeys. Humans of course being too large to ride dogs, race organizers turned to small monkeys to replicate the experience of a man astride a horse.

Let’s see these animals in action.

Loretta and Charles David, however, were not the first to think monkeys should be forced to ride on the top of dogs while the dogs ran wildly around a circle. The practice started in Australia in the 1920s.

But the Davids recreated the practice in America and received a lot of publicity for it. They famously trained 12 capuchin monkeys for two years, raising the monkeys and the dogs together to forge a bond between the species, before starting the races.

The animals “loved doing it, their competitive spirit was intense,” the narrator claims. The monkeys would scream wildly while hurtling around the track, whipping the dogs with their monkey tails. Loretta David noted that the monkeys, who received peanuts for winning, had to be strapped to the dogs because they, the monkeys, were sometimes too excited during close races. It’s all very fascinating and does not sound like animal cruelty at all.

Which brings us to that goofy patent.

Created by Renee Renfro in 1932, it was a harness and support mechanism that kept the monkey tethered to the dog. Its neck was pulled close to the dog and sinched, to mimic the posture of a man racing a horse, but also limiting the movements of the monkey. The monkey’s tail was looped through the dog’s portion of the harness and its feet were affixed to the side. That monkey wasn’t going anywhere except for a ride around the track.

Monkey jockeys fell out of popularity in the later 1930s, but their place in the pantheon of Weirdo Americana will never be disputed.

Head over to the Guardian for a glimpse at even more weird, old, useless patents.

David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: [email protected]

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