If you think your pet lizard makes you weird, it really doesn't. Rich people have always had a thing for raising and showing off extravagant pets, and the animal companions some of history's more eccentric people procured from near and far sometimes went into the downright bizarre. In this article, I'm going to tell you about the most peculiar recorded cases of this phenomenon.
King George I’s human pet
The human pet's story starts at some point during the summer of 1725, in the woods near the German village of Hamelin of Pied Piper legend, when the villagers spotted a strange hairy creature walking on all four and eating grass.
The creature would scamper away when approached, but was eventually captured when the villagers cut down a tree it was hiding in.
It was at this point they realized it was actually just a excessively hairy and odd looking human boy who apparently had been living a feral existence in the wild for all of his life.
The boy could speak no language -- he grunted. And he was not happy about his capture. Not knowing what to do with him -- he would probably die in the wild -- the villagers put him in the local prison.
A few weeks later, rumors of the strange wild boy reached King George I of England who was visiting his Hanover homeland. You know where the story is going by now. Of course the king decided to take the boy into his court.
He named him Peter the Wild Boy and dressed him up in exquisite clothes. The king and his court was fascinated by Peter and entertained themselves by trying to get him to learn their human ways. Even the way he ate food -- making a big mess of things -- was considered an amusing novelty. For a time the whole of London was obsessed with the king’s "human pet," and even Jonathan Swift and Daniel Dafoe wrote about him.
Peter had a handsome pension attached to him for the rest of his life to guarantee his welfare. He ended up in jail again after wandering off from a farm, but a freak fire led to his rediscovery and return. He lived to an estimated 70 years of age and would only ever learn three words: "Peter" and "King George."
While in the 18th century he was considered a wild boy, today it’s believed the boy actually suffered from Pitt-Hopkins syndrome, a rare chromosomal disorder.
Lord Byron’s enormous pet entourage
If you think you’re an animal lover, you haven’t heard of Lord Byron. The famous Romantic poet was a true animal lover and he surrounded himself with a great deal of furry little friends.
Percy Shelley -- a poet and Lord Byron’s close friend -- wrote about his substantial menagerie. He mentioned that Byron had, among others; ten horses, eight giant dogs, three monkeys, five cats, a crow, an eagle, and a falcon.
Oh, and that’s not all.
He also had five peacocks, two guinea hens, an Egyptian crane, a half-tamed wolf he called Lyon, a crocodile, a badger, a heron, a fox, a goat, and -- because he was frustrated with Trinity College's ban on dogs -- a fully grown bear.
Did I mention that he kept most of his animals indoors at his homes?
But he had a favorite among them all: a black and white Newfoundland dog called Boatswain. When the canine died of rabies, the Lord spared no expense and memorialized the dog’s face in marble. In his 1811 will, Byron even requested that he be buried with him.
The Maharaja of Junagadh's 2000 dogs
Sir Muhammad Mahabat Khanji III Rasul Khanji, India’s Maharaja of Junagadh, had no less than 2000 dogs, and they weren't just any other old kind of dog. He made sure his high-pedigree canines lived almost as extravagantly as himself -- with each one of them having a private room, a telephone, and a butler! The doggies were often dressed in evening jackets too.
And the most bizarre part?
In 1922, he organized a wedding ceremony for one of his dogs and a golden retriever. This was a real wedding attended by India’s most powerful men and politicians and cost £20,000 at the time, roughly the equivalent of a cool million USD today -- the most expensive dog wedding in history.
Theodor Roosevelt’s White House zoo
Another American president who liked to keep his animals at the White House. But in this case, it was quite a bit more of an affair than a family dog or two.
That’s why people nowadays refer to his pets as the White House Zoo. In fact, no former president kept more animals in the White House than Teddy Roosevelt. Would you be surprised if I told you that President Trump is the first one in 100 years not to have a pet?
So, what did Teddy’s odd zoo consist of?
Naturally, dogs. But this one goes without saying since almost all presidents had dogs in the White House.
Besides dogs, there were more than eighth horses, including his personal favorite - Bleistein.
Cats and a few rabbits were also part of the group. But not all of the animals were so fuzzy. The president liked to keep snakes as well. It was actually his daughter Alice and his son Quentin who had pet snakes, five in total.
The menagerie also included guinea pigs, kangaroo rats, a flying squirrel, and a piebald rat.
And that’s not all. The zoological garden had some wild animals as well - five bears, a lion, a hyena, a coyote, a zebra, a wildcat, and a raccoon.
Prince Rupert of The Rhine and his hunting poodle
Anyone who says hunting dogs have to be big, fast, and scary has obviously never heard of Prince Rupert and his rare white hunting poodle called Boy. Puritan propagandists believed the little doggo was satan in disguise and immune to bullets!
Prince had Boy trained to urinate on cue -- the cue was the name of the enemy’s commander, Pym. And Boy loved going to battle!
Boy was notorious for the time due to the propaganda and the Pavlovian power of peeing exerted by his owner.
Unfortunately, it turned out the poodle wasn’t invincible after all -- he was killed at the battle of Marston Moor in 1644.
Lucius Licinius Crassus' pet eels
Romans were kind of eccentric, at least by today’s standards, and cats and dogs were too boring for the Roman aristocrats and their lavish villas.
Lucius Licinius Crassus was particularly fond of the moray eels. He kept them as pets in his garden ponds and he always made sure they were well taken care of.
Crassus even embellished his fishy friends with opulent necklaces and earrings as if they were maidens. On top of this, he would mourn whenever one of his beloved eels passed away.
Gérard De Nerval's pet lobster
While most people consider lobster a delicious albeit expensive dish, for some they are beloved pets.
This was the case with Gérard De Nerval, the prominent French Romantic poet. His pet lobster was called Thibault, and the poet didn’t like to keep him confined to an aquarium.
Thibault roamed freely alongside his owner, who would even take him to walk around the public gardens of Paris. Gérard would put his pet lobster on a blue silken leash and take him everywhere. This was no problem for the lobster since they can survive out of the water for several days.
The quirky poet said he thought lobsters make perfect pets because they are "peaceful creatures who know the secrets of the sea and they don’t bark."
Salvador Dali’s pet ocelot
You could never say that Salvador Dali, master of Surrealism, conformed to the norm, and his choice of pets further confirms it. The well-known Spanish artist had a pet ocelot called Babou.
Babou lived an extraordinary life. He traveled with Dali, and he’s seen more than some people see in their entire lifetimes.
He would take it on luxury cruises, and one time even to a Manhattan restaurant. One woman expressed great fear of the ocelot, and the genius artist simply replied it’s a regular cat that he had "painted over in an op-art design."
Babou has even served as inspiration for an ocelot of the same name in the popular TV show Archer.
Tycho Brahe’s drunken elk
Tycho Brahe was a 16th-century Danish nobleman and astronomer who among other things discovered the supernova in 1572, became so fabulously wealthy that at one point he owned 1% of all Danish wealth, hired a psychic dwarf as his court jester, gave himself a brass prosthetic nose after losing his real one in a duel (...over math), and even had a heated feud with Galileo himself.
The man was an eccentric genius of legendary alcoholism and made an impression on everyone he met -- James VI of Scotland after meeting him wrote a poem comparing him Apollo and Phaethon. So of course he had a pet elk.
But it wasn’t just any elk -- this one followed Brahe everywhere like a loyal dog, and it liked getting silly drunk on beer. When Brahe attended parties, the elk would wander freely and make friends with people, all the while taking in so much beer that he sometimes got more drunk than Brahe himself.
According to Brahe's biographer Pierre Gassendi, the elk met its sad end at a party when "the moose had ascended the castle stairs and drunk of the beer in such amounts that it [fell] down."
Thanks for the entertaining post, Michael!