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Seven Famously Obscure Pets from History

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Animal companionship is nothing new to humankind. Throughout history, people have sought out furry (and not-so-furry) friends to spend their days with. However, it wasn’t always just cats and dogs. Famous pets throughout history have ranged from the ordinary to the extraordinary, but all have incredible stories. Below, we’ll talk about seven of the most fascinating famous pets in history. 

1)Thomas Jefferson’s Grizzly Bears

One of the most ferocious pets on this list, US founding father Thomas Jefferson had two grizzly bear cubs as pets! Captain Zebulon Pike gifted them to the US president in 1807 after purchasing them in the southern part of the Continental Divide. While the cubs were supposedly gentle at first, they quickly began to outgrow any enclosure Jefferson put them in. They could frequently be seen wandering around the president’s lawn, which gave him a poor reputation among political opponents.

Once Jefferson could no longer handle the two grizzlies, he donated them to his friend Charles Willson Peale, an artist and museum owner in Philadelphia. While he took them in with pride at first, the bears eventually destroyed their enclosure and tried to attack Peale’s family, resulting in them being put down. 

The grizzly bears Jefferson had as his famous pets led to more running than dancing, 1912 drawing (Public Domain)

The grizzly bears Jefferson had as his famous pets led to more running than dancing, 1912 drawing ( Public Domain )

2)Josephine Bonaparte's Pugnacious Pug

Although Josephine is often overshadowed by her husband Napoleon in history, Josephine was an interesting person in and of herself. Josephine was known for several of her unique and famous pets that often ruled their home, including Napoleon himself! While she is typically most famous for her pet orangutan, she also had a pug named Fortune. 

While most pugs are docile, Fortune was incredibly protective over Josephine. Some records even state that Napoleon once shared his dislike for the dog with a friend, claiming that Fortune stayed in their bed on the night of their wedding. Josephine told him that he could find another place to sleep if he wished, but that Fortune would be staying in their bed. Napoleon also stated that Fortune would frequently attack him by biting him while having sexual relations with Josephine, but Josephine refused to budge on her stance regarding the pup. 

Josephine Bonaparte’s pug Fortune was able to defeat Napoleon in their shared bed (Public Domain)

Josephine Bonaparte’s pug Fortune was able to defeat Napoleon in their shared bed ( Public Domain )

3)Tycho Brahe’s Drunken Moose

Tycho Brahe , an ancient astronomer from the 16th century, had one of the most interesting pets on this list. Brahe was the proud owner of a tame moose, which he often treated like a dog. Supposedly, the moose would follow him around as a faithful companion, amazing those who got to meet the large creature. However, there was something even more unique about Brahe’s moose: it loved to drink. 

Brahe would host parties at which his moose was the main form of entertainment, drinking beer in large gulps until it became fully drunk. His guests would laugh as it stumbled around, running into furniture within the castle. Unfortunately, the entertainment was taken too far when the moose died after climbing the castle stairs and falling down them in a drunken stupor. 

Tycho Brahe’s famous drunken pet moose was party entertainment. It would stumble around inebriated, until it eventually fell down some stairs and died. (Mia Bruksman / CC BY SA 3.0)

Tycho Brahe’s famous drunken pet moose was party entertainment. It would stumble around inebriated, until it eventually fell down some stairs and died. (Mia Bruksman / CC BY SA 3.0 )

4)Marquis de Lafayette’s Alligator

Scales and sharp teeth didn’t stop the Marquis de Lafayette from keeping an alligator as a pet! This story has led to some confusion in passing, as some individuals believe the gator belonged to John Quincy Adams . However, it is not entirely clear if the alligator was fully gifted to him or if it simply stayed at the Adams’ residence while the marquis was visiting. While there have been many myths about the alligator, early records simply state that the gator was placed in the East Wing of the White House, but odds are it stayed there for a while before the marquis departed. 

5)Andrew Jackson’s Foul-Mouthed African Grey Parrot

Andrew Jackson , the 7th president of the United States, had an African Grey parrot for over 17 years. The parrot, named Poll, originally belonged to Jackson’s wife Rachel Jackson. After she passed in 1828, Jackson became the bird’s sole caretaker for 17 years until his death. Although Jackson was supposedly soft-spoken in his older years, many who attended his funeral were shocked to discover quite the opposite. Poll had been brought to the funeral and began squawking and cussing nonstop in the voice of his deceased owner. Eventually, the cursing became so incessant that Poll was removed from the service out of respect for the mourning guests. 

African Grey parrots are incredibly intelligent birds, with large vocabularies, up to 1,000 words. Unfortunately, Andrew Jackson’s famous pet parrot mostly knew curse words (H Zell / CC BY SA 3.0)

African Grey parrots are incredibly intelligent birds, with large vocabularies, up to 1,000 words. Unfortunately, Andrew Jackson’s famous pet parrot mostly knew curse words (H Zell / CC BY SA 3.0 )

6)Audrey Hepburn’s Sweet Pet Deer

A more recent famous pet in history was Audrey Hepburn’s deer. The fawn, later named Pippin, was given to her in 1959 on the set of her film Green Mansions. The animal trainer on set believed if Hepburn took the deer home with her, it would learn to follow her more naturally. While that certainly did occur, their bond also flourished into something stronger, and Hepburn decided to keep Pippin at her home throughout the rest of the shooting. Sometimes, they would even sleep or go shopping together. After the movie concluded filming, it is believed Pippin was given back to the animal trainer to live out its adult life at an animal sanctuary. 

Audrey Hepburn grocery shopping with her famous pet deer (Diane Person / CC BY NC SA 3.0)

Audrey Hepburn grocery shopping with her famous pet deer (Diane Person / CC BY NC SA 3.0 )

7)Salvador Dali’s Surreal Ocelot

Salvador Dali was famous for going against the grain, but did you know he did this with his pets too? One of the most fascinating parts of Dali’s personal life was his ocelot, Babou. If you aren’t familiar, ocelots are wild cats that are native to Central and South America. While they bear some resemblance to domesticated cats, their fur pattern is more like that of a leopard. According to the story, the Colombian head of state gifted the ocelot to Dali in the 1960s, and Babou hardly left Dali’s side after that. He would frequently take Babou with him to go on walks, dine in public restaurants, and even attend special events. 

The artist Salvador Dali and his famous pet ocelot (Public Domain)

The artist Salvador Dali and his famous pet ocelot ( Public Domain )

Choose Your Pets Wisely

Clearly, people throughout history were not strangers to unique and sometimes shocking pets. Although the fate of some of these animals is uncertain, they definitely provide some interesting stories from the past. If you take anything away from this list, let it be this: be thankful your neighbors don’t own moose or alligators!

Top image: While dogs and cats have been common pets for centuries, many other animals have been famous pets to historical figures. This Ptolemaic mosaic from Hellenistic Egypt in Alexandria, dated between 200-150 BC, features a beloved dog. Source: Public Domain

By Lex Leigh

References

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Dorre, H. February 19, 2018. John Quincy Adams's pet alligator was a crock . Plodding through the Presidents. Available at: https://www.ploddingthroughthepresidents.com/2018/02/john-quincy-adams-pet-alligator-is-crock.html   

Grizzly bears . Monticello. (n.d.). Available at: https://www.monticello.org/research-education/thomas-jefferson-encyclopedia/grizzly-bears.

Mancini, M. May 9, 2013. Tycho Brahe: The astronomer with a drunken moose . Mental Floss. Available at: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/50409/tycho-brahe-astronomer-drunken-moose  

Meier, A. July 7, 2016. The curious fates of famous artists' pets . Hyperallergic. Available at:   https://hyperallergic.com/296229/the-curious-fates-of-famous-artists-pets/  

OMGFacts. (2017, February 22). The true story of Andrew Jackson’s swearing parrot . Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/omgfacts/the-true-story-of-andrew-jacksons-swearing-parrot-6189abaa3155  

The Audrey Hepburn deer - pippen! August 28, 2015. Everything Audrey Hepburn. Available at: https://www.everythingaudrey.com/audrey-hepburn-deer-pippen/  

Woodward, D. January 23, 2013. Salvador Dalí's Ocelot . AnOther. Available at: https://www.anothermag.com/design-living/2472/salvador-dalis-ocelot  

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