I was reminded, this morning, of the story of Greyfriars Bobby, a little dog who lived in 1800’s Edinburgh. I’ve told the story a number of years ago but I think it bears retelling.
The reminder came in the form of a package of photos delivered to me by Bev and Mick Wright – two of our very valued clients. They’ve recently returned from a trip to the UK and did a little bit of marketing for us whilst there, as you can see from the accompanying photo!
Bev and Mick took one of our practice bandanas and took a series of photos, from around the country, of suitably adorned dogs. Most of these dogs were of the walking, living, breathing variety. The photo that really caught my attention was of Bobby, who died in 1872 but whose legend has endured for well over a century!
The photo you can see is of a commerative statue that sits outside Greyfriars chapel and the pub that has taken Bobby’s name. It’s a very famous landmark in Edinburgh. It’s also a very frequently visited site – the light colouring over Bobby’s muzzle is the result of people rubbing his nose for luck (there’s a plaque asking people not to do this but, really, who reads plaques?)!!
Although the story of Greyfriars Bobby is one I grew up with, my career as a veterinarian has provided me with a very different insight into what was a fantastic example of the strength of the human:animal bond.
Let me tell you the story!
Bobby died in Edinburgh on January 14th 1872 but his legend has lived on ever since. He was an amazing example of the unquestioning devotion that dogs give to their owners and also provides a number of reasons why we should consider ourselves so lucky now.
Bobby was a Skye terrier – tough little dogs originating from the Isle of Skye, off the northwest of Scotland. He was owned by ‘Old Jock’ Auld, a policeman in the Greyfriars area of Edinburgh (just down from the castle, for anyone who’s been to Edinburgh). Bobby earned his keep as a police dog – all policemen in those days were obliged to have a dog for self-protection as much as anything. Not quite the stature of the German Shepherd police dogs we’re used to seeing these days but terriers are tough as nails, as anyone who has one will tell you!
Jock Auld spent over 5 years as a policeman – a very long stint in what was a very rough part of town, in those days (it’s the university precinct nowadays so pretty rowdy in a very different fashion!). Jock died from tuberculosis in 1857 leaving Bobby behind with his wife and son. As it turns out, though, he had other ideas and Bobby took up residence on Jock’s grave at the Greyfriars chapel.
From the day of Jock’s funeral until the day of his own death, 14 years later, Bobby slept on that grave and spent his days roaming the neighbourhood. He was fed by some of the locals, including an army sergeant from the castle garrison, and spent a lot of time hanging out at the next-door café, which Jock used to frequent. The cafe is now a pub – the Greyfriars Bobby – which I confess I visited many a time in my mis-spent youth!
Bobby lived like this for the rest of his days and became a local legend. He managed to live through a distemper epidemic – something which is now essentially fully controlled by modern vaccines. At one point, he was almost destroyed by council as he didn’t have a dog licence (nor an owner, for that matter). The Lord Provost (equivalent to our mayor) intervened and decided that council would adopt Bobby and that he would pay for the licence himself. In those days, the annual licence fee was seven shillings, which would represent an astronomical fee in today’s money. As a comparison, Jock’s annual salary as a policeman was 13 shillings! Pretty generous gesture on the part of the Lord Provost!!
Bobby survived to a grand old age despite the ravages of many Edinburgh winters (some might say that the summers are almost as bad!). I hate to think what life must have been like for him with no flea or worming treatment, poor/irregular diet and no grooming of that shaggy coat.
In the end he succumbed to old age and was buried in the same graveyard as his master. The graveyard is still there and there’s now the statue, in commemoration of Bobby, which stands out on the roadside in front of the pub and the chapel. It’s a lovely story of a great little dog.
We should think our selves lucky that our dogs have such a wonderful life these days and that they don’t have to put up with parasites, diesease and poor diet. Although Bobby survived a long time, most dogs in those days would have had a short lifespan as a result of diseases which are now well controlled. Although we do far more for our pets now, the relative costs have come down greatly – be thankful that you don’t have to fork out half of your annual salary for dog registration!
Some things are unchanged though, despite the passing of about 150 years. Dogs are still very much a part of the community and are much loved by all of us. They form a huge part of our daily lives and give so much to us without question or judgement.
As a native of Edinburgh, it’s a story I’ve known from a very early age but never taken for granted. I’ll always be inspired by the example of Greyfriars Bobby, the most faithful of little dogs and a real survivor!!