A pawsitively adorable exhibit about NYC's pets is coming to New-York Historical Society

See cute dogs, cats, horses, birds and more through history.

Emma Pilkington
Written by
Emma Pilkington
A priest and his dog on a city stoop
Photograph: By William Davis Hassler / Courtesy of New-York Historical Society | Father Teizen and His Dog Brownie

Step outside any New York City skyscraper in the heart of Manhattan during the peak of rush-hour traffic, and you will find very loyal corporate-employee owners walking their chihuahuas and great danes across city blocks. Occasionally, on a sunny day in Central Park, you may find a cat in a harness, a bunny sitting peacefully upon somebody’s lap, or a man with 20 leashes around his wrist strolling casually by. 

All that is to say, New York City residents have always cherished their pets, and the New-York Historical Society is here to document that. In the new special exhibition titled Pets and the City, they’ll feature an array of artwork—primarily obtained from the New-York Historical’s Museum and Library collections—that document the multidimensional roles animals have played to serve and coexist alongside human beings. See the exhibition from October 25 to April 27, 2025. 

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Through photographs, memorabilia, film and television clips, the exhibition explores how the relationship between humans and their pets has transformed alongside the ever-changing New York City landscape. 

“I hope visitors come away from this exhibition with a deeper appreciation for the profound impact pets have had on our city’s culture and society and a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of our animals,” Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical, said in a press release. 

A girl sitting in carriage being pulled by a horse in the park
Photograph By: Burr McIntosh / Courtesy of New-York Historical Society | Pony Cart

Here are a few exhibition highlights

Pets as essential to early American societies 

Back to America’s earliest days, pets were essential. The exhibition begins with an exploration of pets as vital to early Indigenous communities and settlers to the American region. This section zooms back in time highlighting the significance of Mohawk people using clan animal drawings to sign their name in documents from 1788 and the ritualization of the hunting process—both of which emphasize animals as much more than just a food source. 

Pets and the nuclear family 

As the exhibit moves through time, family portraits from the late-18th and early-19th century show how pets were vital to the urbanization of New York City. As New Yorkers witnessed their surroundings develop, domesticated animals served as warm reminders of the natural world, easing the transition process. The exhibition features a multitude of family portraits that reveal pets as fixtures in domestic spheres, as well as portraits and videos of pets from all over the world. 

Pets as merchandise and medalists  

Moving into the late-19th and early-20th century, the exhibition hones in on the use of pets for commercial practices. Whether it was cats featured on trade cards targeted towards women or pets as central to children’s toys and games, domesticated animals became a golden ticket for businesses to make a profit. With the arrival of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and national cat shows, you’ll get to see how pets have expanded outside of the family home and into national entertainment and commercial spheres. 

A boy and his cat both eating cereal from the table
Photograph By: William Davis Hassler / Courtesy of New-York Historical Society | Boy Eats Cereal With Cat

Pets as working animals

Both historically and in the present day, people have relied on animals to improve their daily lives. Check out historic photos and contemporary equipment that trace the origin story of Seeing Eye and bomb-sniffing dogs, as well as paintings, drawings, and photographs that explore the main form of transportation centuries before: The horse. Though it’s hard to imagine today, at the end of the 19th century, almost 200,000 horses populated the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. 

Pets as pests 

While Pets and the City focuses on how humans have used animals in a multitude of ways, the exhibition also places emphasis on the pets themselves through an exploration of animal rights legislation in New York City. From the 1866 anti-cruelty law and the founding of the ASPCA to present-day animal rights organizations and animal cafes, the exhibition provides viewers with an understanding of the nuanced relationships between individuals and their pets—and how they continue to change in contemporary society.  


Keep an eye out for a variety of programming, including a family guide available for children available throughout the run of the exhibition. Family-friendly events are also featured, including Little New-Yorkers, Sunday Storytime books, and craft activities. Be sure to also check out their special Halloween event during the month of October. 

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