My family just returned from a wonderful ten day trip to England that we took to celebrate a family birthday. Among my most clear and positive impressions of the Brits is how much they love their pets and how much more inclusive they are of their pets in all aspects of their lives. We all have seen pictures of Queen Elizabeth with her beloved corgis but her love affair with her dogs is merely characteristic of the way all of her countryman seem to feel.
It made me so happy to see them walking their dogs on leash all over London while every single house or flat window seemed to a have a cat in it peering out at you. All of the parks, even St. James's Park right in front of Buckingham Palace, permit dogs to walk there with their guardians and you see them in the parks in great numbers. Never once did I see a "No Dogs" sign like those that appear in almost all parks in the US. There were dogs racing to chase balls on the green in front of Kensington Palace, dogs snoozing on the benches along the Thames and dogs riding on the Tube. Even the most venerable and sedate of stores, Liberty of London, has a sign posted on the front door that says "Dogs Welcome." I guess there is truly nothing that more defines England than Liberty.
It was clear that the British not only love their pets but also have a level of welcoming comfort with their pets' presence in all aspects of their daily lives that we seem to lack in our country. It is a funny thing too because generally we think of the British as being more formal and tradition-bound than we are but their traditions seem to include a recognition that pets are essential parts of people's lives if they are to be happy. They display none of the undefined and unfounded fears about cats and dogs being in public places and there are none of the strict rules that prevail here forbidding the presence of dogs. I am sure they would be incredulous at the idea of people being forbidden to feed community cats outdoors like Henrico has attempted to do.
Probably the sight that most impressed me about the British love for their animals happened when I was walking through Canterbury Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Being a lifelong Episcopalian, I was touched by the experience of visiting the cathedral that is, in essence, our church's mother ship. There, I came upon the tomb of William Courtenay, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 14th century. The tomb, like so many of them, had a marble carving of Archbishop Courtenay lying on the top of the tomb. And, what should be carved in the marble at his feet but his dog! It was a small dog that looked like a little terrier with a happy sweet look on his or her face and a bell collar. All I could think was how much this great and powerful man must have loved his dog to have made sure that his four legged companion was represented on his tomb for all eternity.
There is much to love and be proud of about our country but we could certainly take a lesson from our mother country about their enjoyment of, and comfort with, the presence of their pets, and those of other people, in public places and in all aspects of their lives. In closing, you may enjoy this story that was told about Winston Churchill when he was Prime Minister: One evening at Chequers (the retreat of the Prime Minister), the film was Oliver Twist. Rufus (Churchill's beloved brown poodle), as usual, had the best seat in the house, on his guardian's lap. At the point in the movie when Bill Sikes was about to drown his dog to put the police off his track, Churchill covered Rufus's eyes with his hand. He said, "Don't look now, dear. I'll tell you about it afterwards."
Robin Robertson Starr is the chief executive officer of the Richmond SPCA. To read her biography or that of our other bloggers, please click here. Before posting a comment, please review our comment guidelines. Please note that our comment policy requires both your first and last name to be used as your screen name.