Lord Byron's Famous Epitaph to His Beloved Dog Boatswain

The 19th century romantic poet Lord Byron had a great love of animals, especially for his Newfoundland dog named Boatswain. After the dog's passing, Byron created one of his most famous poems Epitaph to a Dog.

Lord Byron, famous for his poetry and infamous for his lifestyle, truly loved animals. In addition to all the dogs, cats and horses he had during his lifetime, Byron owned a bear, monkeys, a fox, a badger, a goat and many types of birds including an eagle, falcon, peacocks and an Egyptian crane. When he was not allowed to have his pet dog Boatswain live with him at Cambridge University, he bought his bear to live with him instead since there was no mention of bears in the statutes.

Boatswain, only five years old, contracted rabies. Despite the chances of being bit and infected with the deadly disease, Lord Byron nursed his dog until he passed in 1808. Although deep in debt at the time, Byron honored his dog with an impressive marble monument and poem. The poem is inscribed on the monument.

Epitaph to a Dog

When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown to Glory but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor's art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below:
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master's own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonour'd falls, unnotic'd all his worth,
Deny'd in heaven the Soul he held on earth:
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.
Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debas'd by slavery, or corrupt by power,
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye! who behold perchance this simple urn,
Pass on, it honors none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend's remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one—and here he lies.

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A Royal Palace with Many Pampered Dogs

The maharaja (prince) of Junagadh, India owned 800 dogs and pampered every one of them.

Each dog had their own room in the lavish palace of the maharaja, and each had their own personal servant. They were often dressed up in formal evening suits so they could go on rickshaw rides around town. The eccentric maharaja would even spend large amounts of money on grand birthday parties. Probably the most extravagant event was the wedding of his favorite dog Roshanara to a royal golden retriever that belonged to the Nawab of Mangrol. Kathleen Walker-Meikle, author of The Dog Book: Dogs of Historical Distinction, described the event:

"Perfumed and in brocade and pearls, Roshanara was brought to the Dubar Hall in a palanquin while Bobby was greeted at the train station by a military band and the maharajah on an elephant with 250 brocade-dressed dogs (also on elephants). The breakfast was attended by 700 guests from Indian princely families, who were entertained by dancing girls singing for the dogs and Mendelsohn's "Wedding March." Alas, the wedding night was interrupted by the majarajah himself, who sent Bobby to the kennels so he could have his beloved Roshanara on his bed as usual."

The dogs also had their own hospital with a British doctor to tend to their ailments. When a dog passed away, a state mourning was declared. Oil portraits of his favorite dogs, including one of the wedding, are still exhibited in Junagadh Palace.

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Interesting Facts About the History of Dogs

It is believed that dogs were most likely the first animals to be domesticated, and it is a fact that they have accompanied humans for over 20,000 years to possibly 40,000 years.

This may be the world's first image of dogs, likely dating back more than 8,000 years. Two dogs appear to have leashes on them.

Interestingly, some believe that wolves began following nomadic tribes to feed on the remains of the animals the hunters killed, and in return, they would protect the humans from danger.

Seeing how useful wolves could be, humans trained the cubs to hunt, farm and guard. Those that proved to be the best were the ones chosen to mate, eventually resulting in the hundreds of breeds of dogs we have today. It took thousands of years of domesticating before dogs were specialized and separated into breeds.

There is evidence in the Bible that abusing dogs was considered acceptable. In fact, to call a human a dog implied that they were of very low status. In the New Testament, it meant that the person was considered evil.

The ancient Egyptians loved cats but they also loved dogs. It is believed that they were likely the first civilization to keep dogs as pets, not as working dogs.

In ancient Asia, Pekingese and Japanese Chins were treated like royalty. They had their own servants and were even worshiped in the temples of China for centuries.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, many purebred dogs were abandoned, leading to uncontrolled mating and unwanted mongrels roaming the streets. To help this problem, monasteries began breeding purebred dogs to sell to the rich and placing heavy blocks around the necks of mixed breed dogs to keep them from mating with purebreds.

Some anthropologists think it's possible that the mongrels who did roam the streets after the fall of Rome were the source of legends of werewolves because they terrified villagers.

Dogs were present in the Americas before the arrival of European colonists, but these dogs were not derived from North American wolves. Instead, scientists believe the American dogs likely originated in Siberia and dispersed into the Americas alongside people.

Despite the many different dog types today with their own unique personalities, it is a fact that all dogs still posses some traits and behaviors with their wild relatives. Just to name a few interesting ones... they defend their territory by marking their space with urine, they bury bones and toys to keep safe from others, and they spin around before laying down to make them a comfortable spot.