It’s all in the genes: is there a genetic component to the desire to have pets?

For the past four years I have volunteered as a pet bereavement support worker for the Blue Cross animal charity. This service takes around 13 000 calls and emails a year from people who have lost their pets. When individuals get in touch they often express a whole range of emotions. They can be confused, angry, lonely, guilty and, unsurprisingly, most are incredibly sad. Many describe a “special bond” that was built up with their pet – a dependable, non-judgemental companionship. And for those of us, who struggle at times with our mental health, it’s certainly true that pets can be a real godsend. They have this ability, somehow, to help us live in the moment and forget the problems of the past or the worries of the future.

Other theories put forward to explain our love of pets include the desire to be caregivers and our wish to relate to another species. Pets (especially dogs with their need for regular walks) also keep us active and engaged in the community. And some research suggests that pets can even help lower our heart rate [1]. Of course, it’s true that there can be some negative consequences to pet ownership [2] yet for many of us, the reasons to share our homes with companion animals prove compelling. What’s more, over the last few years, there is also evidence emerging for a genetic component to the desire to have pets.

Research has noted that pet-keeping seems to run in families. Certainly, this might be an environmental or learned response. It may be that people who have grown up with pets simply repeat the experience in their own homes since that is what they’ve been used to. We can imagine this would be especially likely if the experience was a positive one. And yet, according to some research done in the US[3] it seems that some people are still predisposed to seek out companion animals even if they weren’t brought up with them. To investigate this, the researchers looked at the extent to which genetic and environmental factors contributed to the frequency of playing with pets among adult twins. They found that identical twins showed significantly greater similarities in their pet play behaviour than non-identical twins. This, the researchers believed, revealed that genetic factors play a significant role in our interactions with pet animals.

A few months ago I heard about a lovely project being run by researchers from Royal Holloway and the University of Manchester looking at the role of pets in family histories. This prompted me to ask my 93 year old mother about her childhood pets (actually they were all cats, as she wasn’t allowed a dog, despite constantly asking for one!) According to her father, “a dog would upset the cats too much.”

My mother’s father was actually a huge fan of moggies and very tender-hearted over them. The cat shown in the picture with my mother below was rescued by him. He had noticed some men loading kittens into a small rowing boat near where he worked at a saw mill on the River Itchen. My granddad rescued them all and kept one (I’m not sure what happened to the others but hopefully they were OK!)

My mother with Blackjack in the garden at Macnaghten road, Bitterne, Southampton (1932).
My mother with Blackjack in the garden at Macnaghten road, Bitterne, Southampton (1932).

My grandparents’ cats were not spoilt by today’s standards. Not being neutered they got into frequent fights – the cat calls at night were blood curdling according to my mum – and they were only fed scraps, but they were definitely an important part of the family. Southampton was bombed heavily during the war and my mother recalls how her father would insist on rounding up their three cats before entering the air raid shelter. He would never take cover himself until they had all been accounted for, much to my grandmother’s apparent annoyance!

Yours truly with some poor, random cat I grabbed off the street whilst on holiday in Polperro, Cornwall. 1969
Yours truly with some poor, random cat I grabbed off the street whilst on holiday in Polperro, Cornwall 1969.
And at home with our own cat Dandy in 1968. Notice the cat pockets on the dress!
And at home with our own cat, Dandy, in 1968. Notice the cat pockets on the dress!

Many years on and I can say that companion animals have certainly been intricately woven into the life of my mother, who has never in her 93 years been without a cat or dog. This affection continued in myself and is also very evident in both my daughters. The eldest of which, Sophie, rescued her cat, Leon, within two weeks of moving into her home. In fact, I think she got Leon before getting a bed! My youngest daughter, Jasmine, works for a national dog charity and can’t wait to have her own pets.  So, is this a result of our genes, our upbringing, or both? I guess we will never know for sure, but whatever the cause, none of us can imagine our life without the joy pets bring to it.

Daughter Sophie with Leon, demonstrating three generations of cat loving! Newcastle, 2020.
Daughter Sophie with Leon, demonstrating three generations of cat loving! (Newcastle, 2020).

Do you have a long line of pet enthusiasts in your family history? Please let me know about it in the comments or via email. If you have some pictures that would be great too. Also, if you can, please do share your pet family photos with The AHRC Pets and Family life project.

Oh and my Mother finally did get her dogs! Here she is with Mandy and Cindy.

Mother in 1958 with poodles - Mandy and pup Cindy
My mother in 1958 with her poodles – Mandy and pup, Cindy

Read more about our incredible relationships with our four legged friends in the book Monumental Tales. Available from: Lutterworth Press and Amazon.

References

  1. Glenn N. Levine , Karen Allen, Lynne T. Braun, Hayley E. Christian, Erika Friedmann, Kathryn A. Taubert, Sue Ann Thomas, Deborah L. Wells, and Richard A. Lange. (2013) Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk. Circulation, 127:23, 2353–2363.
  2. Laing M., Maylea C.,“They Burn Brightly, But Only for a Short Time”: The Role of Social Workers in Companion Animal Grief and Loss. (2018) Anthrozoös, 31:2, 221-232.
  3. Kristen C. Jacobson, Christy L. Hoffman, Terrie Vasilopoulos, William S. Kremen, Matthew S. Panizzon, Michael D. Grant, Michael J. Lyons, Hong Xian & Carol E. Franz(2012)Genetic and Environmental Influences on Individual Differences in Frequency of Play with Pets among Middle-Aged Men: A Behavioral Genetic Analysis, Anthrozoös, 25:4, 441-456.

 

 

A London pet trail (about 4 miles, partly by Underground)

Our capital city is full of unexpected and quirky wonders and some of these are pet related! In the trail below you can encounter a small selection of cat and dog statues, as well as many other memorable sights along the way.

A London pet trail
A London pet trail

Please note that a good old–fashioned A-Z map book or your phone’s sat nav will be invaluable to help locate the statues.

Start at Trafalgar Square where arguably you can see your first cats – albeit not pet ones! These lions were designed by Sir Edwin Landseer who certainly took the commission very seriously. It is said he spent countless hours watching the big cats at London Zoo and after one of the zoo’s lions died he requested it be moved to his studio where he made many sketches and models of it. Unfortunately, the poor beast began decomposing before Landseer had finished his studies and some think this may explain why the Trafalgar Square lions actually have paws more like those of domestic cats than their wild relatives. The Landseer lions were finally finished and installed in 1867.

Walk west via Pall Mall, turning left into Waterloo Place and then into Carlton House Terrace, where at the foot of a large tree near number 9 you can see the grave of Giro. 

Giro's grave: 9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG
Giro’s grave: 9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG. (Picture: Jackie Buckle)

Looking a little wonky in its plastic and wooden housing, the grave’s inscription states:

“GIRO”
A true companion!
LONDON FEBRUARY 1934
HOESCH

Giro was the pet dog of Leopold von Hoesch, who was German ambassador to Britain from 1932 until his unexpected death in 1936. Hoesch initially represented the Weimar Republic and was well-liked by British politicians. However, after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 he reluctantly found himself representing the Nazi party.

Sadly, like his owner, poor Giro was not to survive long in the UK. Just two years after being brought from Germany the dog was electrocuted after chewing through some cables at the Embassy. He was buried in the garden of 9 Carlton House Terrace and given the endearing little tombstone we see today.

From Giro’s grave walk south-west on Carlton House Terrace towards Carlton Gardens. Turn left onto The Mall and about halfway along find a bronze frieze by Paul Day featuring the Queen Mother and two of her corgis, Rush and Minnie.

The Queen mother and her corgis on the Mall, London SW1A 2BJ
The Queen mother and her corgis on the Mall, London SW1A 2BJ. (Picture: Jackie Buckle)

The Queen Mother seems to have been just as fond of corgis as the Queen and is said to have instigated many of the routines that are still used around the royal dogs today. For example, she determined that each should have its own wicker basket to nap in and that these baskets should be placed on shelves to avoid draughts!

Walk down The Mall towards Buckingham Palace, and from there up Constitution Hill to Hyde Park Corner and on into Hyde Park itself. Find the Animals in war Memorial at the very easterly edge of the park beside the A4202 and Park Lane, just south of Marble Arch.

Dog from the Animals in War Memorial, Park Lane, just south of Marble Arch.
Dog from the Animals in War Memorial, Park Lane, just south of Marble Arch. (Picture: Jackie Buckle)

It’s hard not to be moved by this huge and multi-faceted tribute. Built from bronze and Portland stone and unveiled in November 2004, the memorial bears two poignant inscriptions:

“This monument is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.”

“They had no choice.”

Time to give those legs a rest! Take the tube from Marble Arch (just north of the Animals in War memorial) to Mornington Crescent (3 stops east on Central line, 4 stops north on Northern line). Outside the station, look left down Harrington Square to see the Carreras cats on the right hand side of the road.

See the Carreras cats at Greater London House, 180 Hampstead road, London NW1 7AW.
See the Carreras cats at Greater London House, 180 Hampstead road, London NW1 7AW. (Picture: Jackie Buckle)

When I first visited this stunning art deco building with my daughter we were both slightly blown away. Built in 1926–28 to an Egyptian Revivalist style by the Carreras Tobacco Company,  it is a real delight for cat lovers. Perhaps most eye-catching are the  large and imposing black cats who appear to be guarding the entrance, and are stylised versions of the Egyptian god, Bastet, but the colourful columns and the huge cat face motifs are also a sight to behold.

It is hard to believe it, but when the factory was converted into offices in 1961 the Egyptian detailing was covered up. Thankfully it was restored during a renovation in the late 1990s, and replicas of the giant cats (that had been removed in the 1950’s) were again placed outside the entrance. Let’s hope they stay there for a long time to come.

From the cats walk south-east on Harrington Square towards A400. Turn left onto Lidlington Place and then turn right onto Eversholt Street. Turn right into Euston station at Lancing Street. Here, in the courtyard, you can find Captain Flinders and his ever loving cat, Trim.

Statue of Flinders with Trim in the station concourse, King’s Cross, London NW1 2DU.
Statue of Flinders with Trim in the station concourse, King’s Cross, London NW1 2DU. (Picture: Jackie Buckle)

Captain Matthew Flinders was an English explorer from Donnington, who circumnavigated  and mapped an area of land in the Southern Ocean called New Holland, giving it the name that we now all recognise – Australia. He is a bit of an unsung hero here in the UK but in Australia he is rightly held in high esteem, being celebrated in statues and over 100 geographical features and places.

One of the many things to admire about this intrepid explorer was his regard for his cat, Trim. Trim, who accompanied Flinders on several voyages, clearly endeared himself to the Captain, who wrote about him at length, including, for example, this touching tribute:

“His head was small and round – his whiskers were long and graceful, and his ears were cropped in a beautiful curve. Trim’s robe was a clear jet black, with the exception of his four feet, which seemed to have been dipped in snow… He had also a white star on his breast, and it seemed as if nature had designed him for the prince and model of his race.”

On July 19th 2014, some 200 years after Flinder’s death, a statue was unveiled by Prince William with descendants of the navigator in attendance. The statue, by acclaimed sculptor Mark Richards, shows Flinders in a typical working pose, kneeling over one of his charts, dividers in hand and with Trim, of course, at his side. Then, in January 2019, there was cause for more celebration when the coffin of Flinders, long considered forever lost, was discovered, having been identified by its well-preserved lead coffin plate during an HS2 dig.

From Euston station walk south on the A4200, then diagonally across Russell Square park and onto Montague Street. Turn right into the British Museum which is on Great Russell Street. There are, of course, many wonderful things to see at the excellent and free British Museum but, judging by the considerable crowds, one of the most popular exhibits by far is that of the Egyptian cat mummies (Rooms 62-63). Certainly this is a fascinating exhibit, but if you are more of a dog person, never fear, for in Gallery 22 you can visit a famous and very beautiful dog too – The dog of Alcibiades.

Lexi the dog checks out the Molossian Hound at Petworth House (similar to the original on show at the British Museum)
Lexi the dog checks out the Molossian Hound at Petworth House (similar to the original on show at the British Museum) (Picture: Jackie Buckle)

This statue is a Roman copy of a bronze Molossian hound from Ancient Greece. Molossian hounds are now extinct but many of today’s larger breeds such as Mastiffs, St Bernards and Great Danes are thought to be their descendants. This particular example was discovered in the 1750s when the Englishman, Henry Jennings visited Rome, rescued it from a pile of rubble and brought it back home. In 1778, Jennings reluctantly had to sell his beloved statue to pay off gambling debts and so the dog went to stay with Charles Duncombe in Duncombe Park, Yorkshire, which in 1925 became a girls’ school. Here the pupils apparently liked to pat their huge dog for luck and wipe their dirty hands on him to save washing them!

From the museum walk north-east on Montague Place towards Russell Square, wander through the square to the far side and turn right onto Southampton Row. Turn left onto Cosmo Place and find Queen Square gardens straight ahead of you. Here in the corner, not far from the old telephone box, find Sam the cat.

Sam was a pet of local nurse Patricia (Penny) Penn (1914-1992), who campaigned tirelessly to protect the area from development. I think she would be pleased to see that the gardens have been beautifully kept and tended. Stop to rest for a while with Sam before the one mile (twenty minute) walk to our next statue. Don’t worry it’ll be worth it!

Sam the cat, Queen Square Gardens, Holborn, London WC1N 3AU. (Picture: Jackie Buckle)
Sam the cat, Queen Square Gardens, Holborn, London WC1N 3AU. (Picture: Jackie Buckle)

Walk south down Boswell Street and turn right into Red Lion Street. At the end of this street turn left into High Holborn and, after a short while, go right into Chancery Lane. Here it gets a little complicated so sat nav/map at the ready. Turn left into Bream’s buildings, right into New Fetter lane, slight left onto Nevill Lane, slight right towards Great New Street,  slight right onto East Harding Street and finally slight left into Gough Square. Phew!

And there you will see the bronze statue of a very fine cat indeed – last but by no means least – is the excellent Hodge.

Seek out Hodge in the courtyard outside Dr. Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square, London EC4A 3DE. (Picture: Jackie Buckle).
Seek out Hodge (described by Johnson as “A very fine cat”) in the courtyard outside Dr. Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square, London EC4A 3DE. (Picture: Jackie Buckle)

Hodge was the much-loved pet of Dr Samuel Johnson, a prolific writer and, famously, the creator of a dictionary of the English Language, a mammoth undertaking that occupied him for over eight years. Johnson was a caring man, showing empathy for his fellow humans as well as his feline friends. In fact, Boswell, a close acquaintance of the writer, seemed rather bemused by the affection Johnson bestowed on his cat. Boswell writes:

“I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge…his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature.”

The statue of Hodge by Jon Bickley is shown sitting on top of Johnson’s dictionary and next to some empty oyster shells. It is one of London’s talking statues and so, if you have a mobile phone, you can swipe a plaque on the statue’s plinth and hear the voice of the late, great, Nicholas Parson’s telling the cat’s story.

That, then, is the end of our trail. How fortuitous that just 1 minute’s walk from Hodge is one of London’s oldest pubs, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese (unfortunately closed on Sundays) You can sample the famous Taddy Porter ale here. When I last went in a group of Japanese students were valiantly working their way through their glasses of the black stuff with a mixture of giggles and grimaces. An acquired taste perhaps but I quite liked mine.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy wandering around our lovely capital city, pet spotting. And if you happen to take any photos, please send them in and we’ll add them to the website.

To find out much more about all these lovely statues and the fascinating stories behind them, please see the Monumental Tales book which is available from the publishers, Lutterworth Press and from Amazon.

Four talking hounds

Tucked away in a quiet, shady courtyard near to the bustling city centre of Leeds are four lovely hounds sat around a large and ornate bowl. The hounds form part of a fountain and the water spouts in their mouths almost make them look as though they’re smoking! Not only do these hounds form part of a water display, they can also talk!

The Talbot Hounds (picture: Jackie Buckle)
The Talbot Hounds (picture: Jackie Buckle)

The idea behind talking statues seems to have taken shape in Copenhagen when the statue of Hans Christian Andersen was given voice in 2013. Now there are examples all over the world. In the UK, the project was masterminded by the arts project Sing London along with Antenna Lab and the University of Leicester. The organisers wanted to make it really simple to interact with the statues – scan a code with your phone and prepare to take a call from a stone hound or other historical figure. (I can confirm that the process is indeed idiot-proof having successfully used my phone to converse with Hodge the Cat in London!) The statues have been animated by a host of well-known actors and they each have a different story to tell.

But what of our hound dogs? How did they come to be in Leeds? In fact, the dog fountain was initially made for a mock-medieval mansion called Castle Carr near Halifax. Sadly the story behind the mansion is not a happy one.

The architect Thomas Risley was commissioned to build the house by Captain Joseph Priestly Edwards and construction began in 1859. The mansion really was huge, with a 60ft long banqueting hall and a giant fireplace guarded by two stone Talbot hounds. This breed of dog has long been extinct but it is thought that they were an ancestor of our modern day beagle. In medieval times “Talbot” was a common name for hounds, as can be seen in various old hunting books, and to this day pubs still bear the name “Talbot” or “Talbot Arms”, with their inn-signs often illustrated by a hound dog. Certainly Edwards seems fond of the breed as he also had the stone fountain we now see in Trevelyan Square created as part of Castle Carr’s impressive water gardens. But sadly Edwards never got to see his grand home in all its glory since he and his eldest son were both killed in a railway accident before it was finished.

The Talbot Hounds (picture: Jackie Buckle)
The Talbot Hounds (picture: Jackie Buckle)

After Edward’s death another of his sons saw that the building was completed but although the house functioned as a hunting lodge on occasion, it seems never to have been used as the Edwards family home.

In 1949 Castle Carr was put up for sale. This amazing old house failed to attract a single buyer and so fell into disrepair. In the early 1960s, unloved and unwanted, it suffered the final indignity of being demolished for its materials. However, once a year the beautiful gardens are opened to visitors and at least, as we have seen, the four Talbot hounds were rescued from the rubble and given a new home.

More talking animal statues can be found in the book – Monumental Tales

The wolves (and dogs) of Inverness

Town House, Castle Street/High StreetInverness IV1 1JJ, Scotland.

The Town House in Inverness was constructed around 1880 in the beautiful Flemish-Baronial style. However, until recently its grandeur was largely hidden beneath a covering while it underwent extensive refurbishment. As part of this restoration, a pair of wolf statues were carved by stonemasons, Derek Cunningham and Ivan Navarro, to replace two stone dogs that had once graced the house, but were believed to be lost forever.

Strangely, the very same day part of the covering was removed from the front of the Town House, the two original stone dogs were found! They’d been stored away in some wooden crates at a Highland Council depot.

Commenting on the surprise find, Provost of Inverness, Helen Carmichael, said: “This is a truly remarkable discovery… It is as if the dogs wanted to be found and returned to their rightful place.”

The fearless K9 memorial mascot atop a paw of one of the wolves by the entrance to Inverness Town Hall and (Credit: National K9 Memorial Trust)
Troy, the fearless K9 memorial mascot sits atop a paw of one of the wolves by the entrance to Inverness Town House (Credit: National K9 Memorial Trust)

A new information board outside the Town House notes how wolves once roamed the Highlands and how the statues can serve to remind visitors of the area’s beautiful, wild landscapes. (Research is currently taking place into reintroducing wolves into the highlands, too).

But what of the two elusive dogs? Well, they have not been forgotten. After checks to ensure they were structurally sound they have been installed up high above the Town House entrance – from where they can survey their beautiful city.  As the information board states, the dogs came out on top, in the end!

The dogs take pride of place atop Inverness Town House (Credit: National K9 Memorial Trust)
The dogs take pride of place atop Inverness Town House (Credit: National K9 Memorial Trust)

Thank you to Mhairi, current custodian of Troy, the K9 memorial mascot, for her photos and for alerting me to this information.

 

A hidden gem and a discovered dog

Down a little path, by some flats and opposite a rather inviting looking pub called The Fox under the Hill is one of those intriguing secret gems you can find all over London – unexpected, understated but wonderful! This is the Old Blue Cross Pet Cemetery.

It all began in 1897 when a kennels was opened on Shooters Hill to take in the pets of soldiers serving in the Boer War. The kennels were later taken over by the Blue Cross which opened a hospital there. During wartime, it provided a safe place for service men and women to leave their pets while they served abroad. According to the cemetery’s website, hundreds of dogs were kennelled there, not to mention cats and even guinea pigs!

The Old Blue Cross pet Cemetery
The little stone at the front is in memory of Ikkety Man, aged 13 years, whereas the stone on the left commemorates Nick who sadly only made it to two. Nick died in 1949. (Picture Jackie Buckle).

What remains is a quiet oasis of 240 little gravestones set within a lovely walled garden filled with flowers. Many of the stones are for pets of service personnel from the world wars, however the earliest stone dates from 1906, and while it’s not possible to bury your pet here now, those wishing to pay tribute to their departed companions can buy a plaque for the cemetery wall. Reading the inscriptions on these plaques and gravestones can bring quite a lump to the throat:

“In mind a constant thought, in heart a silent sorrow.”

“Sometimes the smallest things take up the biggest space in your heart.”

“Polly. A dear little cat. The house without you is not a home.”

The Friends of the Pet Cemetery have transformed the site into a green oasis over recent years with flowers, bird boxes and quiet places to sit and reflect. (Picture: Jackie Buckle)
The Friends of the Pet Cemetery have transformed the site into a green oasis over recent years with flowers, bird boxes and quiet places to sit and reflect. (Picture: Jackie Buckle)

On August 10th I went along to the cemetery to see the wonderful way in which it has been restored and beautified by The Friends of the Pet Cemetery  (FOPC) and to witness the unveiling of three special plaques. The previous day had been a typical British summer’s day, i.e. gale force winds and torrential rain! But thankfully, while it was still pretty breezy, the sun was shining and a good number of visitors attended the event, including some on four legs.

Cavalier at the cemetery
Not all those visiting the cemetery were humans. (Picture: Jackie Buckle)

The first unveiling was performed by the Mayor Cllr Mick Hayes. I am always a bit star -struck around Mayoral types. I think it’s the impressive jewellery that does it. Anyway, after an eloquent speech in which Cllr Hayes paid tribute to the role animals played in conflicts for their country (over 16 million served in WW1 alone) a plaque was unveiled which bore a moving inscription from the Animal War Memorial Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne Australia:

They gained no crosses as a soldier may
No medals for the risks they ran
They only, in their puzzled, patient way
“Stuck to their guns”

The Mayor Cllr Mick Hayes with Liz McDermott, Chair of The Friends of the Pet Cemetery
The Mayor, Cllr Mick Hayes with Liz McDermott, Chair of The Friends of the Pet Cemetery. (Photo: Jackie Buckle)

Next came one of those special stories where things just seem to come together perfectly. Nicola White is a mudlark. Now, despite what I thought at first, that is not some kind of mud dwelling, singing bird(!) but is actually someone who scavenges beside rivers for items of value.

One day, when Nicola was searching on the Thames beach, near Greenwich, she came across a circular item, much corroded. Nicola took it home and, thinking it was a coin or shopping trolley token, left it on a work bench for several weeks. It was only later when she got round to cleaning it up that she saw what it really was: a dog tag for a certain Bonzo Tabner of 21 Pelton Road, Greenwich.

Nicola White: Mudlark
Nicola White, a mudlark, working by the Thames describes how she found a little metal circle that she thought was a coin or perhaps a supermarket shopping trolley token. (Photo: Jackie Buckle)

With the aid of the internet, in particular Ancestry.com and good old Facebook, Nicola managed to find out that Bonzo had been a much-loved pet during the Second World War, and amazingly, she even traced his owner, a very old lady, who did indeed remember her dog, Bonzo.

Intrigued, Nicola went on to discover a book by Clare and Christy Cambell called Bonzo’s War. In it the Campbell’s reveal much of what it was like to be a domestic pet during the Second World War. It’s a fascinating, if at times heartbreaking read, since under misguided official advice, 2.9 million dogs and cats were put to sleep in the autumn and winter of 1939. The thinking behind this was that pets would not be able to cope with the aerial bombardment, the noise, possible gas attacks, and all round chaos of war. There were also concerns that animals would be fed food needed for humans.

In fact, it was soon realised that many animals did cope and that dogs, in particular, were of great assistance in helping the rescue services find people buried in the rubble following bombing raids.

Clare and Christy Campbell
Clare and Christy Campbell, authors of the book, Bonzo’s War (get a copy on Amazon) unveil a plaque that remembers wartime pets and commemorates the animals killed at the start of the war. (Photo: Jackie Buckle)

Nicola got together with Clare and Christy and they raised funds for a plaque to remember these pets who lost their lives. At the unveiling, was 85 year old Tony Weedon whose dog ‘Fluffy’ had been one of those euthanised. Tony was just 5 years old when he and his mother had gone to the vets, along with so many other pet owners trying to do-the-right-thing. Despite this being 80 years ago, Tony revealed how he still finds what happened upsetting, today.

The inscription on the plaque includes an anonymous quote from the end of he war:

“Dogs have dug into wrecked homes looking for their owners.
Cats have mewed for days outside piles of rubble, telling rescuers their owners are buried there.
Animals have quietened distressed children.
Yet when the history of war is written these things will not be recorded.”

Now they are.

(I happened to mention Tony’s story, this weekend, to my own mother, who is now 93, and she told me how she and her father had taken their cat, Dandy, to the vets at the start of the war in Southampton for ‘a bad eye.’ As they left, Dandy safely cradled in her daddy’s arms, my mother had seen a heap of dead dogs piled up just outside the surgery wall. She has never forgotten it.)

So, there were indeed plenty of poignant moments at the Old Blue Cross Cemetery event, and yet it was also very uplifting. Uplifting to think that we have not forgotten these animals and never will. Uplifting that while times have moved on and many things have changed, we still love our pets just the same, they still play important roles in our lives and we are still, very much, a nation of animal lovers. I suspect we always will be.

A True Pal
Finally, I can’t help but smile at this gravestone. I’m not sure you’d ever describe me as little, but I’d be very happy to be remembered as A TRUE PAL 🙂 (Photo: Jackie Buckle)

 

New PM but same Chief Mouser?

Yesterday Boris Johnson became our new Prime Minister. Needless to say he received wall to wall news coverage – it was Boris, Boris and more Boris. Will he stick to his pledges on Brexit? What is his domestic policy agenda? And, perhaps most importantly, what are his feelings on cats?!

At least that was the question occupying the thoughts of many of our most popular news outlets. The BBC, Sun, Mirror and Daily Express all set to wondering whether Larry, the moggie currently living at Number 10, would be allowed to stay on.

There has long been a cat in residence at 10 Downing Street. During the Blair years it was a beautiful black and white long-haired version called Humphrey. However, when Humphrey mysteriously disappeared the Blairs were accused of having had him put down! Downing Street insisted that this was not the case but that he had simply been sent to the country for reasons of his deteriorating health.

After Humphrey, Number 10 had a feline-free spell for a while until it was noticed that they might have a little bit of a rodent problem when a rat was seen scurrying across Downing Street during a live TV broadcast! Perhaps somewhat embarrassed, PM David Cameron and his family went forthwith to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home to adopt former stray, Larry.

Battersea  Dogs and Cats Home erected a plaque outside Larry's former pen
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home erected a plaque outside Larry’s former pen (Picture: Jackie Buckle)

Larry settled in well at his new home, greeting visiting dignitaries nicely (even allowing President Obama to stroke him) while engaging in the occasional turf war with Palmerston, the Foreign Office cat. However, some did ponder just how popular he was with the PM.

During Prime Minister’s Question Time on the day of David Cameron’s resignation the soon-to-be-ex PM was forced to roundly refute rumours from Jeremy Corbyn that he and Larry did not get on:

“[I have heard] the rumour that I somehow don’t love Larry,” he said. “I do and I have photographic evidence to prove it!”

And here he brandished a picture of said puss curled up on his lap!

DavidCameron

According to The Sun, aides at Number 10 have now confirmed that Larry will indeed stay on. Phew! So, while Boris has just carried out what is rumoured to be one of the most ruthless cabinet reshuffles in history – Larry has retained his role as chief mouser. A role, it must be said, that he is rumoured to be not very good at. There again, when has not being good at your job hampered the ambitions of those in parliament 😉

Patriotic Larry survives latest cabinet reshuffle (Picture Getty Images)
Patriotic Larry (Picture Getty Images)

If you’d like to read more about the UK’s parliamentary cats and their history, you can do so in the book Monumental Tales

Churchill’s feline legacy

Churchill was a big fan of animals of all shapes and sizes and he maintained something of a menagerie at Chartwell with black swans, pigs, horses, cats and dogs, not to mention a Butterfly house. Towards the end of his life, he was given a ginger cat with white chest and socks as a birthday present from his private secretary, Jock Colville.

Churchill was very fond of the cat, whom he named Jock after his secretary, and would take him along when he travelled between Chartwell and his London home in Hyde Park Gate. Below you can see Jock on Churchill’s lap where he was a guest of honour at Churchill’s grandson’s wedding!

Churchill and Jock at the wedding of Churchill's grandson and Minnie d'Erlanger
Churchill and Jock at the wedding of Churchill’s grandson and Minnie d’Erlanger. (Photo credit: Anthea Sieveking)

After Churchill died in 1965, Chartwell was given over to the National Trust to care for in perpetuity by Churchill’s family. However, the family made a special request. They asked that a marmalade cat with white bib and socks should always be resident at the house. The National Trust have kept this promise and the latest Jock in residence, Jock VI, was a rescue kitten from the animal shelter, Croydon Animal Samaritans.

The beautiful house and grounds at Chartwell
The beautiful house and grounds at Chartwell. (Photo: Jackie Buckle)

In the summer of 2017 my daughter and I went to meet this famous feline and to have  a chat about Churchill and his cats with Katherine Barnett, House and Collections Manager at Chartwell, who is a bit of a cat fan herself!

Jock VI, note the White bib and socks!
Jock VI, note the white bib and socks! (Photo: Jackie Buckle)

Jock was a very friendly cat and according to Katherine he is a big hit with the staff and visitors. His posts are the most liked on the Chartwell Facebook page and when he first took up residence at the house the story was featured in newspapers as far afield as Australia!

He was a handsome cat with a funny little white moustache and he didn’t stop purring the whole time I was there (which might have had something to do with the packet of Salmon Dreamies I had in my pocket!) Certainly, I suspect Churchill would have been very fond of him.

Jock posed patiently for photos in anticipation of a salmon Dreamie or two!
Jock posed patiently for photos in anticipation of a salmon Dreamie or two! (Photo: Jackie Buckle)

In the grounds of Chartwell you can see the graves of Rufus, Rufus II (who were Churchill’s much-loved poodles) and Jock, i.e. the first Jock, who lived at Chartwell until his death in 1974.

Graves for Churchill's pets, Rufus, Rufus II and Jock the cat
Graves for Churchill’s pets, Rufus, Rufus II and Jock the cat (Photo: Jackie Buckle)

Recently, I have heard that Jock’s eyesight is deteriorating. I hope he continues to live a long and happy life in the beautiful surroundings of Chartwell and goes on to charm all the cat-loving visitors he meets.

You can read more about our visit to Chartwell and our encounter with Jock VI in the Monumental Tales book.

 

National K9 Memorial

Around the world and particularly in countries such as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, fallen service dogs are often commemorated with impressive ceremonies and memorials. It may surprise you to know that in the UK, until recently there was no national memorial to dogs lost on duty, save that is for a small plaque at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Plaque commemorating police dogs killed on duty. The plaque features the touching words of Lord Byron from his tribute to his dog, Boatswain.

PC Paul Nicholls, an officer and dog handler with Essex police, thought it was about time this was changed. Paul recalled to me how hard it had been losing his police dog Sabre, and how he desperately wanted to do something to remember him by. This turned into an all-out quest to create a UK national police dog memorial. Paul enlisted the support of local sculptor John Doubleday to create the statue which features a Police Officer with two retired PDs – Karly, a German Shepherd and Ludo, a Cocker Spaniel. Paul was keen to have the handler kneeling to show the mutual respect between human and dog.

On a chilly day in April 2019, in the dog friendly grounds of Oaklands Park Museum a large group of Police dog handlers, their dogs and many others gathered to listen to the words of Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service. The Commissioner spoke of how the police dog role is forever evolving: now, for example, dogs are trained to find digital devices such as mobile phones. She also noted how the dogs are “…fantastic ambassadors for policing,” and how people’s eyes light up when they see the dogs out and about. She spoke of their canine courage and tenacity and also of their sense of fun and desire to work.

Then, after being blessed by the Bishop of Chelmsford and to the strains of I vow to thee my country and the claps of all assembled the beautiful memorial was unveiled. If you go to see it at Chelmsford be sure to also check out the exhibition in Oaklands Park Museum which showcases the history of British police dogs.

Find out more about Police dog memorials in the Monumental Tales book and about Paul’s quest on the K9 Memorial website, which also features a roll of honour page.

PC Nicholls and sculptor John Doubleday showing off the National K9 memorial just prior to its unveiling.
PC Nicholls and sculptor John Doubleday showing off the National K9 memorial just prior to its unveiling.

Finn’s Law: a triumph for police dogs and their handlers

It’s hard to believe but up until June this year if a police dog was injured on duty it was classed simply as criminal damage – much in the same way as damage to a car or radio. Now, thanks to the ceaseless campaigning from PC Wardell a new law has come in to protect service dogs and horses.

PC Wardell began his campaign after his dog, Finn, was stabbed by an attacker while trying to protect him. The wounds were so serious Finn only just survived.

Read more here:

Police dog Finn’s law comes into force

Finn
PD Finn, recovering from his injuries. (Picture: BCH Police Dogs)

The eyes have it

Researchers at the University of Portsmouth have found that dogs have evolved muscles around their eyes, which enable them to make expressions that appeal to humans.

As many dog owners will be all too aware “puppy dog eyes” certainly can pull on the heartstrings and, in the case of my dog, are very effective in eliciting treats!

It is thought this anatomical change may well have helped domesticated dogs to bond with us.

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Look into my eyes. A dog’s gaze can be very compelling (Picture: Jackie Buckle)

See more on this story:

University of Portsmouth Dog Cognition Centre