Only 1 Greyfriars Bobby, apart from the other 1

LP Columnist Barry Freeman
LP Columnist Barry Freeman
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Has there ever been a more heartwarming tale of the bond which can be forged between people and their pets than that of Greyfriars Bobby?

Wee Bobby, who died 144 years ago Thursday, became the talk of Edinburgh, Scotland and – ultimately – the world after spending the last 14 years of his puff guarding the grave of his owner.

The loyal Skye Terrier had been the pet of John Gray, a night watchman for Edinburgh City Police.

Mr Gray died in 1858 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard in the Old Town of Edinburgh. So far so ho-hum. But what followed could have been scripted by Disney (and later was, with certain bits ramped up for maximum tear-jerkery). In the weeks after Mr Gray’s death, the behaviour of Bobby, seldom straying far from his master’s grave, became the talk of the parish, first, and then the city. When a story about his vigil appeared in The Scotsman, his fame spread across the whole country.

By 1867 Bobby was of such renown that when the issue of his dog licence – or lack thereof – came to light, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh himself, Sir William Chambers, stepped in and settled the bill.

After 14 years Bobby died and was buried a few yards from the grave he had attended so long. Yet his story had only just begun. The following year Lady Burdett-Coutts, then one of Britain’s richest women and an early patron of the RSPCA, forked out for a bronze statue to commemorate the dog. Her elegant tribute – since 1977 Edinburgh’s smallest listed structure – remains to this day, a stone’s throw from Greyfriars Kirkyard, and a ‘must-see’ for tourists.

Bobby’s fame has reached every corner of the globe, thanks largely to the bestselling 1912 novel Greyfriars Bobby by Eleanor Atkinson and a hit 1961 Disney film of the same name.

And the fact that in 2011 a respected academic exposed this whole yarn as a scam of the highest order? That the first Bobby – almost certainly a stray – died in 1867 and was surreptitiously replaced by local businessmen keen to keep visitors flocking to Greyfriars?

Dr Jan Bondeson, a senior lecturer at Cardiff University, blew the gaff in his book Greyfriars Bobby: The Most Faithful Dog in the World.

The good Doc, however, was under no illusions. “It won’t ever be possible to debunk the story of Greyfriars Bobby. He’s a living legend, the most faithful dog in the world, and bigger than all of us.” As George Orwell observed: “Myths which are believed in tend to become true.”