The course of human history would be very different without dogs. What if Boatswain the Newfoundland had not rescued Napoleon Bonaparte when he fell overboard? What if Pickles the Collie had never found the World Cup?! We’ll catch up with those two in future posts, but it’s safe to say our history would be much less interesting without dogs sprinkled through time.
But sometimes it’s the little things that dogs do that really tug on the heartstrings, and affect us in a deeper way we thought possible. We see their actions which can spawn legends, books, stories and even a Disney film. Just like wee Greyfriars Bobby.
The truth behind the story is somewhat disputed, so let’s start with the story most people are told.
The Story of Greyfriars Bobby
There was once a man called Auld Jock who was a night watchman in 1850s Edinburgh. For company, he took on a little Skye Terrier who he named Bobby. The two were inseparable, going to pubs together, walking the streets of the capital on Auld Jock’s rounds every night of the year, and being best of pals.
So when Jock died of tuberculosis on 15 February 1858, wee Bobby was distraught. Rather than finding another owner to take care of him, however, he snuck into the graveyard and lay by Jock’s grave for the next 14 years, eventually becoming something of an attraction to tourists and residents alike.
So great was his fame and importance to Edinburgh that when a dog tax came into law, Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, William Chambers (who gave his name to Chambers Street), paid the license fee and even supplied the cheeky chappie with a shiny new collar, which read “Greyfriars Bobby, from the Lord Provost, 1867 licensed”.
The city’s fondness for the dog meant that he was well fed and taken care of until his own eventual death in 1872. The two are buried in the same graveyard, and you can go see their graves next time you are in Edinburgh.
It’s a charming story, and one which warms the cockles. But if you want your cockles to remain a nice temperature, perhaps read no further and look at these photos of lovely dogs instead.
The Truth of Greyfriars Bobby?
Over the years, doubts have arisen about the authenticity and accuracy of this story, even as far back as Councillor Wilson McLaren in a 1934 article in the Scotsman.
It’s not the fact that there was a dog and a grave that is argued about. Dogs returning to the same spot year after year is not uncommon. A recent story from Japan highlighted a similar incident with an Akita Inu dog returning each day to greet his owner at a train station, 9 years after the owner had died.
One of the reasons many people raise a suspicious eyebrow to the tale of Bobby is that the wee dog would have been at least 16 when he died. The average age for a Skye Terrier - if that is indeed what Bobby was - today is, according to www.petguide.com, 12 to 14 years. When Bobby died, he must have been, at the very least, 16 years old. Not bad a for a stray dog on the cold Victorian Edinburgh streets.
This has led some to consider that there were at least two “Bobbys”, one secretly replacing the other after death.
This may have happened because of the value Bobby was to the local economy. As a tourist attraction, he brought a fair bit of money into that part of the town. And as far as the dog is concerned, the more he kept going to the grave, the more he was fed and looked after.
Historian Dr Jan Bondeson, in his book Greyfriars Bobby: The Most Faithful Dog in the World, believes that for Bobby, it wasn’t grief that kept him coming back to the grave, but hunger and the knowledge he’d be fed by returning each day.
Ultimately, we’ll never know the exact truth and maybe that’s for the best. Who would want to rip apart such a heartwarming story?
Bobby was so loved that, in 1873, a statue of the dog was revealed to the public.
It’s a lovely, simple commemoration that stands feet away from the graves of Jock and Bobby.
The story of Greyfriars Bobby is still told and sung about today. So much does the city still love him that there is an annual commemoration event on the 14th January - the date he died. It's a lovely service but wrap up warm - it can be a bracing experience standing in an Edinburgh graveyard in January!
Whether you want to believe the story in its entirety or not, it’s a wonderful reminder of how dogs – even totsy ones like Bobby – can find a way to survive in a harsh human environment.
In recent years, idiotic tourist guides have started encouraging their groups to rub the statue of Bobby on the nose.
This has had the unfortunate result in turning it gold, making it look like Bobby has a gold cold. It has never been considered good luck to rub his nose, not to any Edinburgh resident ever, as it is clearly destructive on such a small statue.
If you plan on touching his nose, please don’t. It’s now considered bad luck anyway, because if you touch the nose an angry wee Edinburgh wifie will chase you down the street with a stick, and nobody wants that!