Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriars-bobby-edinIn Edinburgh’s Old Town, at the corner of George IV Bridge and Candlemaker Row, is a statue of Greyfriars Bobby, a loyal little Skye terrier that died on the 14 January 1872 after loyally keeping his late owner company for 14 years.

Legend has it Bobby belonged to John Gray, a night watchman with the Edinburgh City Police. He was a devoted pet, and Gray was a devoted owner for two years, before he died in February 1858 of tuberculosis. He was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, and little Bobby’s vigil began. Depending on which story you listen to, Bobby either spent all of his life sitting on the grave (how he knew which grave was Gray’s is a mystery) or he spent a lot of time at the grave but left regularly to take meals at a nearby restaurant and to spend cold winter nights in nearby houses. Bobby nearly lost his life in 1867, when it was argued that an ownerless dog should be destroyed. Sir William Chambers, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh and a director of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, is said to have purchased Bobby’s license, making him the responsibility of the city council and saving his life.

When Bobby died, he could not be buried within the cemetery itself, as it’s consecrated ground. Instead, he was buried just inside the gate of Greyfriars Kirkyard, not far from Gray’s grave.

In 2011, an academic named Jan Bondeson, whose specialty must be killjoyism, set out to dispel the myth of Greyfriars Bobby. According to her research, Bobby was a stray that was fed by the graveyard’s curator, James Brown, who spun the story of the loyal dog for tourists, who gave him tips to tell it. The original Bobby, says Bondeson, died in 1867 and was simply replaced with another dog. I’m guessing Bondeson’s hobbies include proving to children that Santa Claus and fairies don’t exist.

Whatever the true story, Bobby remains an emblem of the faithful pet. His statue was created by William Brodie shortly after the dog’s death, at the expense of Baroness Burdett-Coutts. The statue is Edinburgh’s smallest listed building and was originally built as a drinking fountain, with a higher fountain for humans and, of course, a lower one for dogs.

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