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Late Lamented Pets

Updated on March 22, 2012

On 13 July 1982, the Daily Telegraph carried a melancholy tale. A village teacher in South Glamorgan had fired his starting pistol to demonstrate what pupils should expect on sports day, and the class's pet hamster died of a heart attack.

The British love of animals was already a legend in 1926, when the American Mercury intrigued its readers with a cablegram from London reading: The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals announces that it will spend $10,000 to erect a cenotaph at Hyde Park Corner" in memory of the birds, beasts and fishes who gave their lives for the empire in the World War".' The fish referred to were goldfish killed in the gas tests.

In 1978, animal lovers jammed the switchboards at ITN to complain about a news item concerning a cat. I t had been read by newsreaderR eginald Bosanquet who ended News at Ten with a report about an emergency call from an old lady. The incident occurred during a firemen's strike of January that year, and the call was answered by an Army Green Goddess fire appliance in London. Soldiers arrived to rescue the old lady's pet cat from a tree, and with their mission accomplished were invited in for tea. They accepted gratefully, then left.

Unfortunately, they ran over the rescued cat on their way back to barracks.

Concern for cats is by no means a British obsession, however. In February 1978, the newspapers carried a macabre report from California where a critically ill woman was found to be tending 170 dead or dying cats in her one-bedroom flat, placing the dead ones in a makeshift morgue of cardboard boxes. They were found after the woman was taken to hospital. A spokesman for the local animal shelter said that one hundred dead eats were found stuffed in cardboard boxes stacked to the ceiling, in plastic bags and on top of tables. The 70 surviving cats were half-starved.

The truly devoted pet-lover may have a deceased creature stuffed by taxidermy so that its likeness at least survives. Some practical hints on the art were offered by a Lieutenant-Colonel Cuthell, late 13th Hussars, in the pages of a 19th-century paper. Although in no sense a news story, the following advice on stuffing birds conjures up exceptionally weird and remorseless scenes: The Head.

If the head is very much larger than the neck, cut the throat lengthwise to remove the head. It is immaterial whether the eyes are taken out before the head is skinned down or after. The gouge should go well to the back of the eye and separate the ligament which holds it to the socket.

Should the gouge go into the eye, it will let out the moisture, which often damages the skin. Some people crush the skull slightly to make it come out of the skin easily, but this I do not advise. Remove the brains by taking out a piece of the skull at the back as you cut off the neck. Pull the eyes out of their cavity and fill up their place with wool soaked in arsenical soap. Anoint the skin of the head and the neck well with arsenical soap, and place in the neck a piece of stick covered with wool, the end of which put into the hole made in the skull for extracting the brains.'

The journal in which these handy tips appeared, incidentally, was the Boy's Own Paper.

Fate had something more dignified in store for His Most Gracious Majesty the Lord Grimsby of Katmandu, whose funeral took place in Lancashire in the summer of 1974. For three weeks, His Majesty lay in state on a silken bed. The owner, David Bates of Preston, said : 'The lying in state was just like that of Queen Victoria. He had a diamond ring on his beak, his favorite piece of jewellery and a little crown on his head. There were silver candelabra, palm leaves and other things around him.' At the funeral, the casket was covered with 1,000 carnations. An oration of poems by Shelley and Wordsworth was read.

The Sunday Times noted: 'At £1,500 this was probably the most expensive funeral a parrot has ever had.'

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