Britain’s historic love affair with animals

Britain’s historic love affair with animals revealed New research highlights how the British pet obsession dates back to Victorian times –


Nine out of 10 owners now consider their pet part of the family Animals commonplace in the 2011 census ‘Pet mania’ began in Victorian Britain

New research has revealed the true extent of the British love affair with our animals – with 90 per cent of pet-owners admitting that they think of their pet as part of the family.[1] The findings from, the UK’s favourite family history website[2], also detailed how a third (33 per cent) of pet owners today claim to prefer their animals to real life members of their family.[3] One in six (15 per cent) consider their pet more important than their cousin and six per cent of owners even went as far to state that they like their pet more than they like their own partner.[4] It would appear that dog owners are the most keen to make their pet a bona fide family member, with 16 per cent choosing to include their four legged friend in the 2011 Census. A number of these even listed their dog as their ‘son’ on the official form.[5] Yet this animal infatuation is by no means a 21 st century phenomenon with pets also listed in the 1911 Census. For example, Arthur and Elizabeth Delve from Smethwick found it fit to record the existence of their ‘faithful Irish terrier Biddy’. Biddy, it was noted, was a ‘magnificent watch and a demon on cats and vermin.’ Another canine in the 1911 Census is ‘Roger the Watchdog’ who resided in Dulwich. Here, his journalist owner James Little listed his age at five and a rather fitting profession of, ‘looking after the house’. Paintings of pets were particularly popular in Victorian Britain when wealthy women were known to sit for pictures with perfectly groomed lap dogs. Interestingly, this trend still persists today with one in twenty (five per cent) of owners confessing they have commissioned a professional portrait of their animal[6]. Furthermore, in their recent family portrait, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge showed how they consider their own four-legged friends to be members of the family by including their dogs Tilly and Lupo in the photos. On top of immortalising pets in portrait form, many Brits today also leave behind a much more permanent token of affection for their animals. Nearly one in ten (nine per cent) of dog owners love their pooch so much that they are planning on leaving money or assets to them in their will.[7] The whole notion of keeping animals in a domestic setting was one popularised by Victorian society, particularly the upper echelons. Queen Victoria herself was instrumental in bringing exotic dog breeds including the Chow and Pekinese over to the UK. As the desire for pets grew, so did the trend for pampering our pooches, which continues today. Historic pet related professions that appeared throughout the 19 th and 20 th centuries include:

Animal trainers– Men like George Armstrong from Devon and Charles Kyte from Bridgewater could be employed to ensure that your puppy was perfectly behaved. Both are listed as dog trainers in the 1911 Census Dog biscuit maker– Alongside wife Lucy, John Atton from Burton on Trent made sure that no hounds went hungry. He lists his profession as dog biscuit maker in the 1911 Census Animal artists – A picture of you and your beloved pet was considered a staple of any Victorian drawing room. Many specialised artists are listed in the census records including artist animal painter John Calow from Glasgow in 1851

Miriam Silverman, UK Content Manager, from comments: “It seems that we are, and always have been, a nation of animal lovers, with pets widely considered to be members of the family.” “Our extensive collection of historic records means that in addition to finding your human ancestors online, you may even be able to locate an old four-legged family member too.” To search for your ancestors and their pets in the census, log on to, where all UK Census records on the site are free to access this Bank Holiday weekend (23 rd –26 th August).


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