Category: Animals – Dogs

The Learned Dog, Lily: A Whist-Playing Victorian Canine

A Spaniel on a Cloth by Friedrich Leopold Hermann Hartmann, 1869.

Recently, while researching Victorian pleasure gardens, I came across a listing of acts scheduled to appear at Cremorne Gardens in 1857. Among the humourists, contortionists, and tight-rope walkers were various animal attractions. Most notable of these was a little English spaniel billed as “The Learned Dog, Lily.” According to the 17 July edition of the Morning Chronicle, Lily’s “whist playing, arithmetical calculations, and general shrewdness” formed one of “the great attractions” of the gardens.[…]Continue Reading

The Jersey Pug's Funeral; and Other Dog Funerals of the Late Victorian Era

“If this sort of thing keeps growing, it won’t be long before we shall hear of dog undertakers, and perhaps marble cutters who devote their time and talent to the construction of monuments to pet dogs. There is no calculating the extent to which infectious folly will go.”

The Saint Paul Globe, 25 November 1888.

Sous le Berceau by Eva Gonzalès, 1879-1880.

Of all the animals buried and mourned in the Victorian era, it was dogs who received the lion’s share of the funerary honors. The Hyde Park Dog Cemetery opened in London in 1881 and the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery in New York—the oldest pet cemetery in the United States—opened in 1896. One might think that this indicated a normalization of dog burial and mourning. However, as late as 1901, there were still those who railed against the idea of funerals for dogs, calling the practice ridiculous and absurd. One French bishop even went so far as to formally denounce the dog funeral fad in a religious publication, decrying “the lack of decent feeling on the part of modern society women.” 1[…]Continue Reading

A Victorian Wife's Best Friend: The Role of Cats & Dogs in Cases of Spousal Abuse

Her Favourites by John Charlton, 1881.

The nineteenth century news is filled with reports of hero pets rescuing their masters and mistresses from various catastrophes. Dogs routed burglars and saved children from drowning, while cats meowed the alarm when the house was on fire or when a family member had stopped breathing in their bed. Both cats and dogs were also known to intervene in cases of spousal abuse. For a battered Victorian wife, this animal intervention could sometimes mean the difference between life and death. […]Continue Reading

Charles Dickens and Timber Doodle, the Flea-Ridden Dog

Dog of the Havana Breed by Jean Jacques Bachelier, (1724–1806).(Bowes Museum)
Dog of the Havana Breed by Jean Jacques Bachelier, (1724–1806).
(Bowes Museum)

In the mid-nineteenth century, Charles Dickens had a small, shaggy Havana spaniel named Timber Doodle. Dickens had acquired Timber during a visit to America and the little dog soon became his constant companion, even accompanying him on his travels. It was during one of these foreign excursions that Timber suffered from a very severe infestation of fleas. The solution was extreme. As Dickens relates in an 1844 letter:[…]Continue Reading

The Dog on the Train: A Victorian Fox Terrier at King's Cross Station

My Best Friend by Robert Douglas Fry, (1872–1911).
My Best Friend by Robert Douglas Fry, (1872–1911).

An 1879 edition of the Huddersfield Chronicle reports the story of a little fox terrier named Wasp and his owner who, at the time, was a student at a college in London.  Wasp was devoted to his master and would follow him wherever he went—including on the train to school each morning.  While his master attended classes, Wasp would remain in the courtyard of the college, dozing in a patch of sun and “to all appearances asleep.”  Despite appearances, however, Wasp was always watching anxiously for his master’s return and those passing through the courtyard would often observe “one watchful eye unclose gently to spy if his master were soon coming.”[…]Continue Reading