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7 of history’s most famous pets

Category: News

April is National Pet Month in the UK, a chance to celebrate your pets while promoting responsible ownership. 

As a pet owner, you’ll know about the benefits our domesticated friends offer already, from companionship to keeping you mentally fit and physically active. 

But do you know all there is to know about some of the most famous pets in history?

If not, keep reading to find out. 

1. Major, the first shelter dog in the White House

Joe Biden moved into the White House following his 2021 inauguration as the 46th US president. He brought his two German Shepherds, Champ and Major, with him. 

Major had the distinction of being the first shelter dog to find a home in Pennsylvania Avenue’s most famous residence. 

Rescued from the Delaware Humane Association’s shelter in late-2018, Major moved into the White House with the Bidens, where he remained until 2021. Failing health meant that a quieter environment, away from the limelight, was preferable, and Major now lives with family friends. 

Commander, a new German Shepherd puppy, moved in at the end of 2021. He is now regularly walked by Dale Haney, the superintendent of the White House grounds who has walked all the president’s dogs since Richard Nixon’s time in office.

2. George Washington and Madame Moose

The history of US presidents and their dogs goes all the way back to 1789 when George Washington took the oath of office to become the first US president. 

Washington was a keen dog-lover, with spaniels, sheepdogs, terriers, Newfoundlands, and dalmatians all running around his Mount Vernon estate. 

And with names like Tipsy, Drunkard, and Madame Moose, workers and visitors to the estate would undoubtedly have heard some strange calls resounding around the grounds!

3. Queen Victoria and Looty

Of Queen Victoria’s many dogs, the most famous was arguably Looty, a Pekingese. Seen as sacred by the Chinese imperial court, the breed has a heritage that can be traced back 2,000 years. 

Looty was gifted to Queen Victoria by Captain Hart Dunne of the 99th Regiment who acquired the dog from the Summer Palace in Beijing. The British and French entered the Palace in 1860, during the second opium war, and took Looty as revenge for the death of several British diplomats. 

Victoria was said to be delighted with the gift. A huge lover of animals, Queen Victoria’s patronage is responsible for the “R” in RSPCA. 

4. Lord Byron and his menagerie

Lord Byron is best known for poems including ‘Don Juan’ and ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’. He is also famous for his eccentric collection of animals. 

Byron’s favourite pet was his Newfoundland dog, Boatswain, who was immortalised in marble and granted his own tomb. But fellow poet Percy Shelley provided this list of Byron’s other animals following a visit to his friend: 

  • 10 horses
  • 8 enormous dogs
  • 5 peacocks 
  • 5 cats
  • 3 monkeys
  • 1 eagle
  • 1 crow 
  • 1 falcon

He is also said to have kept a wolf named Lyon. 

When Byron was forbidden from taking his beloved Boatswain to Trinity College Cambridge with him, Byron found no mention of bears in the college’s statutes and proceeded to take a bear with him. The animal could often be seen walking around Trinity College grounds.

Byron was an esteemed and rakish romantic poet, certainly, but not a promoter of responsible pet ownership.

5. Audrey Hepburn’s dog, Mr Famous

Audrey Hepburn’s Yorkshire Terrier Mr Famous appeared in 1957’s Funny Face

He travelled the world with Hepburn and was often photographed alongside his owner. He appeared on multiple magazine covers during Hollywood’s Golden Age, whether in his owner’s arms or the basket of Hepburn’s bike.

Mr Famous was so famous, in fact, that he started the Hollywood craze for Yorkshire Terriers in the late 50s.

6. Salvador Dalí takes an anteater on the Metro

While Dalí is arguably the most famous of the surrealist artists, it was his close friend and founding father of the movement, André Breton, who wrote the Surrealist manifesto. Breton had the nickname “le tamanoir” (the anteater). 

It has been suggested that it was this friendship that was behind Dalí’s decision to acquire a pet anteater. 

In 1969, Dalí was photographed emerging from the Paris Metro with his anteater on a leash.

Dalí had several other animals, including a pet ocelot, Babou.

7. Anne Boleyn and her lapdog

Anne Boleyn named her lapdog Purkoy (a medieval iteration of “pourquoi” the French for ‘why?’) due to its quizzical expression.

When Purkoy sadly died from a high fall, none of the palace staff dared break the news and the job was left to King Henry VIII.

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