Your Heros Need Horses, Your Heroines Need Lap Dogs!

Is the title of today’s blog a true statement? Well, in historical novels, the first part is mostly true. You need to explain how your people get around. If the Main Characters are well off and aristocrats, they will no doubt have a stable of horses for different needs, such as carriages, riding, hunting, and so on. But if your hero is an impoverished third son taking Holy Orders, he most likely will walk everywhere, which explains his trim and muscular physique, and will hire a chaise or borrow a cart when the need arises. Your penny-pinching villain will do the same, and your heroine governess will be lucky to afford the mail coach.

Pets are a different matter entirely. Not much before the Georgian era, which ushered in the Regency, animals were not kept as pets in Europe. While researching for this blog, I learned that archeologists have found a paleolithic era tomb in which the human was laid to rest with his companion dog (and I do not want to think that the dog was likely killed for this honor, but it seems likely) resting in his or her arms, a hand affectionately placed on the animal’s shoulder. This burial is in Northern Israel, and provides the earliest recorded link of the respect and bond between humans and domesticated animals.

But in most of the world, dogs were kept for herding, hunting, and eliminating pests. Cats were welcome for the last task as well. During the hardest times for humans, these servants were the first to go. In fact, cats were a sure sign that the old widow who barely stayed alive at the edge of the woods was, in fact, a witch. So while the companionship of pets would have brought some comfort to many, they also brought an opening for scared neighbors to take some horrible actions.

Regency Romance heroines often have lap dogs, because this was a fashion at the time. If they live in the country, they may have a cat, or have to rescue kittens when the mother cat doesn’t come home. One of my earliest writing teachers felt the use of pets in Regencies was a cliché, and we should avoid it like, well, like the plague. My first Regency romance needed to use an escaping pet to bring the MCs together. I had to think of a smart animal to use in place of a puppy or a kitten.

Understand, this was before I became a crazy bird lady. I don’t know that a parrot or mynah bird would have worked. I chose to use a piglet. (Side note: A Chinese ideograph for “home” combines pig under a roof.) I could not find any sources in my research documenting the keeping of any pigs as pets until very recently. I know there had to be a rare and unusual person or two who did keep a pet pig. But that would not have been normal or usual, and as evolved in my story, the piglet eventually had to be placed in a farm where it would live probably less than a year before transforming into yummy things like bacon, ham, and sausage.

While researching the pig, Uncle Google continuously offered me links to guinea pig information. A guinea pig, or cavy, certainly is a period pet for the Regency era, and would have worked fairly well in my story. Except that they aren’t very affectionate until a relationship has developed, and that didn’t work with my plot.

Parrots would work in the plot, but that would be a border-line cliché. Song birds were not that common as pets until the early 20th century when canaries ruled. Mynahs would have worked, again as period with the trade and administration of government in India, but a mynah escaped would be difficult to recover.

Reptiles? Oh, yes, picture a Regency heroine chasing a monitor lizard or iguana through a hotel. Picture the hero getting up the courage to touch the thing. Seriously, had he a gun at hand he would shoot it, most likely. Miniature horses were kept only by the really rich, royalty, and not the same as the mini horses we have today. Monkeys were period, having been kept by sailors for a few centuries, but not very lady-like. Another issue with both monkeys and parrots would be the constant deposits of, shall we say, guano on the shoulders of the pet keeper.

I want to look further into animals like the hedgehog and more domesticated animals, but that will have to wait for another day. I will take time here to say that I see a correlation to the rise in popularity of pets, dogs especially, to the way children were raised at the time. Not to say there weren’t deep and loving relationships between parents and children, but the mode of the day for the middle and upper class was to pass your children off from birth to others. Wet nurse, nanny, governess or tutor, and so on. These main members of the child’s world might often pass away or leave for reasons unknown. And the nanny or tutor might not be a cheerful or affectionate soul.

Where could a lonely boy or girl turn for unwavering affection, devotion, and companionship? A dog would fill the space admirably. A kitten or cat might possibly do, but dogs were more reliable. Cats were rarely kept in any safe place at night, and could be killed by local foxes or under coach wheels while out prowling. But dogs usually had a bed in the kitchen if not in someone’s bedroom, or at the very least in the stables or kennels. I know from my own childhood that the presence of a pet can make up for the lack of many things, and I believe this held true in other times.

Next week, I will explore more pets and look at the various collections of exotic animals in Regency England.


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