The very nature of a true story sometimes begs the storytellers to add interesting little tidbits to improve the end and so forth. So, I’m sure that little Bobby’s story as we know it today, might also have a few airy-fairy bits added to it. Whatever the case may be, it is still a tale which is often told, making Bobby the Skye terrier famous even 150 years after his death. The very fact that I’m writing this post will tell you that I’m also one of his devoted followers. When I visited Edinburgh for the first time, my sole interest was to go to Greyfriars Kirkyard where Bobby’s story really began and ended. (The graveyard itself is a most fascinating place to visit, complete with vaults and many a ghostly tale attached, but I don’t want to regress from Bobby’s story for now).
The kirkyard and its vault as well as a few tombstones
According to one of the popular stories, two year old Bobby the Sky terrier belonged to John Grey – some say he was a policeman, others say he was a shepherd who came down from the mountains to seek lodging in Edinburgh during the severe winter of 1865. He and Bobby shared a modest room in the vicinity of Candlemaker Row. The inseparable pair ate a daily meal at the pub not far from their room, where they became well-known to the owner and his family. On a particularly cold rainy day, John Grey and his devoted Bobby failed to turn up. After the inn keeper had not seen them for three days, they sent someone to check on him and Bobby at his lodgings. There a sad sight awaited them, because Bobby’s master had died – presumably from consumption and the cold – and Bobby sat shivering next to the corpse, refusing to move away.
Candlemaker Row and Bobby’s Memorial Fountain in front of the famous pub
John Grey was buried in nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard. On the day of the funeral, Bobby trotted along next to his master’s coffin. After the sad ceremony, Bobby stayed behind at the new grave, sitting on the fresh mound of soil after the few mourners had left. That night, when the keeper locked the graveyard gates, he chased Bobby out. After all, dogs were not allowed to be in the graveyard without their owners and after dark no one was allowed in – not even a small Skye terrier devoted to his master and so his life as a stray in the streets of old Edinburgh began.
Bobby would get in and sit on his master’s grave during the day and be kicked out at night. Fortunately, the inn keeper and his family took mercy on the little fellow and fed him daily. He even readily went home with them, but when nightfall came, Bobby left and somehow managed to sneak into the churchyard to keep a vigil at his master’s grave.
As time went by, even the hardest heart was softened and the churchyard keeper began to turn a blind eye, allowing Bobby to stay at the grave at all times. Yet, Bobby faced execution if he were to get caught and send to the pound. After all, his master had died. Strictly speaking, he was a stray and don’t we all know what happens to strays at most pounds . . . Fortunately, the children in the area began to view Bobby as their dog and so, they bravely faced the Lord Provost and managed to get a license for Bobby. His new legal status allowed him to freely move about, proudly wearing his collar with its license attached.
Bobby lived another 14 years, but on the 14th of January 1878, the keeper found Bobby dead – lying peacefully as if he were just asleep next to his master’s grave. Again, because he was “just an animal” he had to buried outside the churchyard, but not far from his beloved master’s grave.
This little story of devotion and loyalty highlights just how valuable pets are, because they enrich the lives of their humans and everyone who comes in contact with them. I’m sure that everyone who knew Bobby the Skye terrier would agree. Now, in our modern age, his monument stands as a lonely tribute to the loyalty of this little dog, reminding us as humans what our responsibilities are when it comes to caring for animals that we at one time or another voluntarily accepted.
After considering the facts in connection with Bobby Greyfriars, I believe that there will always be a demand for good, well-written animal and bird stories. Such stories will seldom become old hat, or no longer fashionable in view of the ever-increasing avalanche of tales about vampires, werewolves, zombies, shape-shifters and super machines saving the world. The memory of the likes of Lassie, Jock of the Bushveld, Black Beauty, James Herriot’s stories, Richard Adam’s Watership Down or The Wind in the Willows and Peter Rabbit will be remembered as part of an endless list of well-loved stories. One only needs to check on Goodreads to see how often classic stories remain in print or get reviews. Why? I think they are read, not just by the younger generation, but even older ones who read to a loved one, or want to secretly go back to the magical place of a child where everything in the world remains good.
While we sat down at Bobby Greyfriars Pub on Candlemaker Row in the Old City we watched the reactions of passers-by on the opposite the street. They lingered at the little memorial fountain built during the 1980’s by Bobby Greyfriars’ well-wishers from America. Some did more than just watch Bobby the Sky terrier sitting serenely on top of the fountain. They posed for pictures – a normal thing to do – but asking to be lifted up high enough to kiss him on his nose and hug him was unusual. Why? Not only small children, but teenagers who could not reach were lifted up. Older people came by. As a matter of fact, a whole bus load of tourists poured out to pay their respects to the little guy!
We live in a world of extremes. On the one hand, we have wonderful people who do everything they possibly can to improve the lot of domestic animals in shelters, caring for them, often at their own expense and never giving up hope to find each little creature in their care a “furever” home. Some, like me, also visit the memorial fountain of a little dog and remember his loyalty with fondness and awe. Yet there are others who deliberately go out of their way to hurt and maim animals. It seems as if they are unstoppable, but they will face justice somewhere along their way. Meanwhile, the special people who care for animals in distress, way beyond the call of duty will continue their fine work, while others like me will write stories about wonderful animals who enriched our lives wherever or whenever our paths crossed. By doing this we make people all over the world aware of the plight of defenceless animals and create a love for them – domestic or wild – including all sorts of birds Whether we tell a story or read it, the characters become our friends and we remember their loyalty and the pleasure of their company.
Bobby’s shining nose is a replacement. The original one had disintegrated from all the kissing his fans had done. I hope humans will continue to show the same devotion to their live pets as well.
Please note: All the photographs in this post are my own and are not to be used for any financial gain whatsoever.