There are men and women who shaped history, but how many of them were shaped by their pets?
National charity Blue Cross has done some research, and drawn up a list of famous and influential people who credited animals for some of their achievements. Florence Nightingale, for example, found her calling to the medical profession after nursing a dog back to health – and went on to revolutionise the nursing profession, saving countless lives in the process.
Pets are not often a very well-documented part of influential people’s biographies, but Blue Cross’ research was still able to uncover interesting facts about some of them, and the role they played in their owners’ lives.
- Albert Einstein
Who knows where the world of science would be if it hadn’t been for Einstein’s beloved housecat, Tiger. The physicist would spend hours watching his feline friend as he meditated his most seminal theories, which shape physics and astronomy to this day. His assistant once spoke of the enjoyment and curiosity that Tiger fired up in him – perhaps helping him reach the scientific breakthroughs, which earned him such as prestigious place in the history books. His passion for problem solving extended to his pets, too. A widely shared anecdote tells how he found a typically left-field solution to a seemingly simple problem: his two cats’ constant requests to be let in and out of his study. He is said to have cut two cat shaped holes – one little and one large – so each cat could come and go unimpeded by the other. German-born Einstein was an animal lover to his core, and felt very strongly that people should show compassion and kindness to animals everywhere.
- Edward Elgar
Elgar is one of Britain’s most celebrated composers – responsible for compositions that will have brought a tear to the eyes of many at graduation ceremonies, and that have raised raucous ovations each Proms night. And much of his music was inspired by or dedicated to dogs throughout his life. The most famous of these was Dan, the Hereford Cathedral organist’s bulldog, with whom he spent a great deal of time composing his music, and who formed a memorable part of a piece that proved to be a turning point in English classical music: The Enigma Variations (which feature 14 people – and Dan swimming in the River Wye). The story goes that, while the friends were out together, the bulldog accidentally fell into the river and paddled a short way upstream to find a landing place. When it was suggested to Elgar that he set the anecdote to music, he replied: “I did. Here it is.”
- Florence Nightingale
This trailblazing nurse may have never entered the medical profession had it not been for the life-altering time in her teens when she nursed a lame dog back to health, saving its life in the process. When Cap the sheepdog was back on all four paws, she had a dream in which God appeared to her and told her she must study to become a nurse. She did exactly that, and ‘the Lady with the Lamp’ went onto save the lives of wounded soldiers during the Crimean War, when she also instilled basic hygiene disciplines that reduced the death toll from 42% to 2% – and set medicine on its path to modern standards.
- Andy Warhol
If it wasn’t for the pets he had throughout his life, entire swathes of Andy Warhol’s work might not exist. His very first book 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy featured sketches inspired by his many feline companions. But, arguably it was his dogs that gave him the most moral support – as well as a fair bit of artistic inspiration. Warhol’s dachshund Archie would go everywhere with him, and due to his shyness, the artist would often deflect attention to his canine companion when in situations he found difficult or awkward. He eventually got a second dachshund, called Amos, to keep Archie company – and together the dogs became a regular part of his public persona. They also featured prominently in the famous series of prints which also included Marilyn Monroe and tins of Campbell’s.
- Freddie Mercury
From dedicating his debut solo album Mr Bad Guy to his feline brood and “all the cat lovers across the universe”, to wearing a waistcoat adorned with paintings of his beloved pets in his poignant last video for These are the Days of Our Lives, Freddie Mercury’s love of cats was plain to see throughout his career. The Queen frontman rescued two of his cats from Blue Cross, one of which was Delilah, famously his favourite of all – and his musical muse. One track was named after her and the lyrics read: “Oh my oh my oh my you’re unpredictable; You make me so very happy; When you cuddle up and go to sleep beside me.” Mercury also persuaded the band’s guitarist Brian May to build in an effect on his guitar to replicate a meowing sound which featured in the band’s music – so his love of cats undoubtedly had an impact on Queen’s sound as well as its lyrics.
- Anna Sewell
This horse-loving author was one of our very first forthright animal welfare activists, a cause she fought for throughout her life and which shone through as a theme in Black Beauty, which remains to this day one of the UK’s top three best-selling English language books of all time. The book, published later in her life in 1877, was a lesson in compassion towards animals, but went beyond that to invoke readers to treat both humans and animals with kindness and respect.
Her love of horses began after she was disabled at a young age following an accident and it was at this time that she began to learn about the animals, and eventually come to depend on them to help keep her mobile. She never fully recovered her ability to walk, and over time she came to play a leading voice in pushing for the ban of cruel “bearing reigns” that were popular at the time, as well as calling out cases of neglect and overwork.
- Winston Churchill
Churchill’s time in office was shaped by both his fortitude and the tender compassion he had for all creatures great and small – a characteristic which went as far back as his childhood, when he sold his bicycle to buy a bulldog he named Dodo, and even writing to his pets while he was away at school. In government, Churchill campaigned tirelessly to return home the horses sent to fight in WWI. He was a huge admirer of their grace and beauty and the power they had to soothe the soul, saying, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
He had a cat, Nelson, whose composure and spirit he admired so much that he credited it with “doing more for the war effort” than he himself had. His most profound relationship, however, was with his poodle Rufus, in later life. The little brown dog was rarely away from his side and Churchill lavished him with affection. When Rufus died he was bereft – and when he was given another chocolate poodle to help, named him Rufus II. After the loss of Rufus II he never got another dog again because he felt the pain of losing another pet would be too much for him to handle.
- Anne Frank
Posthumously published, The Diary of a Young Girl became one of the most famous books in the world and a seminal work in helping generations understand the horrors and brutality of the Holocaust. The book contains several references to cats both before and during their life in the annexe in Amsterdam. While she and her family were in hiding, she befriended two cats, which belonged to the owner – they provided a welcome distraction and entertainment during a tense and trying time for the family, and featured often in her diaries.
- Elizabeth Taylor
Best known for being a glamorous movie star and one of the women who (alongside the likes of Katharine Hepburn) changed the lot of future generations of women in Hollywood, Elizabeth Taylor was also a dedicated humanitarian. But she also did a great deal to improve the treatment of animals in film. National Velvet – the movie that propelled her to stardom when she was just 12 – mirrored her own experiences and the bond between a horse and her owner. The special bond she had with the horse in the film was clear to see on screen and sparked in Taylor a lifelong effort to promote kindness and compassion towards animals. Arguably, if it hadn’t been for that very special relationship between the two, the world would never have been introduced to the young starlet in the way they did.
- Abraham Lincoln
He may be best known for fighting for the abolition of slavery, but this 16th president of the United States, was also a huge cat fan, who would take in strays at the White House and shower them with kindness (all the while leading his nation through civil war and promoting humane moral values across the globe). In the home stretch of the American Civil War, whilst visiting future president General Ulysses Grant, he was said to have spotted three kittens in a telegraph hut and gave orders to ensure they were properly cared for. His wife was known to describe the cats as Lincoln’s “hobby” – a respite from the cruelties of war and stress of statesmanship.
“At Blue Cross we believe every single pet rescued, rehabilitated or rehomed becomes a potential life-changer,” a spokesperson said. “They are our motivators, confidantes, companions, playmates, teachers, and even healers. Maybe there is a promising future scientist or creative genius out there whose inspiration will be fired up by watching their kitten play – or maybe just a shy child who finds the friendship of a faithful furry friend gives them a new confidence. Pets are always there when we need them. So, for all that they give to us: it’s time to give back to pets in need.
“Blue Cross provides veterinary care, specialist behaviour training and find loving, happy homes for pets in need, as well as providing education for current and future owners and pet bereavement support for those struggling to cope with the loss of a much-loved pet. Pets Change Lives. We Change Theirs.”