Pets That Made History – MyHeritage June 20, 2019

I saw this on MyHeritage this morning – Pets That Made History:

I added a few I found elsewhere after the quoted section below, including one with a North Carolina connection!

As any pet owner knows, our furry (or feathery, or scaly) friends can be just as much a part of our families and lives as our human relatives.

In honor of Take Your Dog to Work Day, June 21st, we’d like to share with you the amazing stories of some of the most famous pets in history.

Incitatus, the Horse that Almost Ruled Rome… Maybe


We know horse lovers might sometimes spoil their equestrian friends, but if the historians are right, Emperor Caligula of Rome took it to a whole new level. Roman historian Suetonius wrote that Caligula was so enamored of his horse, Incitatus, that he wanted to appoint him as a consul of Rome — one of the highest positions in the empire. Suetonius also claimed that Caligula endowed his horse with excessively lavish quarters and belongings: a stable of marble, an ivory manger, purple blankets, and a collar made from precious stones. Another Roman historian, Cassius Dio, wrote that Incitatus was fed oats mixed with gold flake.

There is reason to doubt this story — historians of that era were not bound by modern concepts of objectivity, and they might have been trying to display Caligula in an unflattering light. It’s also possible that Caligula did treat his horse lavishly, but that he did so as a prank or ironic commentary on the competence of the Senate.

Either way, the horse definitely never became a consul.

Unsinkable Sam


They say cats have nine lives, but how many have used up three of them on different shipwrecks?

This seafaring feline first set sail on the German battleship Bismarck on May 18, 1941, presumably with his owner. The ship was sunk 9 days later, and only Sam and 115 of the 2,100 crew members survived. The crew of a British battleship, HMS Cossack, found the cat floating on a board, rescued him, and named him Oscar — the naval code for “man overboard.”

5 months later, the Cossack was damaged by a German torpedo. 159 of the crew members were killed. Surviving crew members were transferred to HMS Legion — Oscar among them. He was brought to shore at Gibraltar, and became known by a new nickname: “Unsinkable Sam.”

He was then transferred to HMS Ark Royal — which was also subsequently torpedoed on November 14, 1941. Sam was found floating on a plank, and his rescuers described him as “angry but quite unharmed.”

Sam was eventually sent back to the UK and spent the remainder of his days in a seaman’s home in Belfast.

Historians aren’t convinced it was the same cat who survived the three shipwrecks, but hey, it’s a great story.

Cher Ami, War Hero Pigeon


Back in the days before email and cellphones, messenger or homing pigeons were the fastest way to send a message over a long distance from a place with no telephone lines. Pigeons have a remarkable navigation ability: when you take them to a distant place and release them, they’ll almost always find their way home. This talent made them perfect letter carriers — especially during World War I.

Cher Ami (French for “dear friend”) was one of 600 homing pigeons given to the US Army Signal Corps by British breeders and trained by the Americans. Over the course of several months during the final year of the war, Cher Ami flew a total of 12 important missions.

His final mission took place on October 4, 1918, during the Battle of the Argonne. Major Wittlesey, the officer in charge, realized that his battalion was being shelled by their own men, so he sent Cher Ami with a note attached to his leg to tell the soldiers to hold their fire. Cher Ami sustained a serious injury to his chest, lost most of one leg, and was blinded in one eye, but that didn’t stop this bird. She delivered his message and saved the lives of more than 200 soldiers.

Cher Ami was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government and given a wooden leg, but he died less than a year later. He was preserved by a taxidermist and put on display at the Smithsonian Museum.

Smoky the War Hero Yorkshire Terrier


It’s not only cats and birds that have braved enemy lines. Smoky was a tiny Yorkshire terrier who was found on a battlefield in New Guinea during World War II. Living on soldier rations, she helped her owner, Corporal William Wynne, by warning him of incoming fire — and at one point by running a telegraph wire through a narrow tunnel for 70 feet.

Smoky was widely recognized and celebrated for her service after the war: she appeared on variety shows and performed tricks at army hospitals until her death in 1957.

King Alexander’s Monkey

Plenty of primates have risen to fame (or infamy, as the case may be), but have you heard of the monkey who indirectly caused the deaths of 25,000 people?

King Alexander of Greece was out for a stroll with his dog Fritz on October 2, 1920. A monkey belonging to someone at the palace attacked the dog, and while King Alexander was breaking up the fight, another monkey approached and bit the king in his leg and upper body.

The wounds became infected, and King Alexander eventually died. He was only 27 and had ruled for just three years since his father, King Constantine I, abdicated the throne. King Alexander’s death set off a series of events that eventually led to the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) — which Greece lost. Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “It is perhaps no exaggeration to remark that a quarter of a million persons died of this monkey’s bite.”

Are there any famous (or infamous) pets in your family history? What do you think your pet might become famous for? Tell us in the comments!

Here’s my contribution to the list:; article is mostly about George the Python.

A Purple Heart is one of the military’s most somber honor, given to members of the military wounded or killed in action. Occasionally, Purple Hearts are awarded to animals, including, according to the USO, Sergeant Stubby the dog, Sergeant Reckless the horse, and one ten-foot Burmese python named George.

I saw a video – before seeing the Southern Living article. It was an honorary Purple Heart. She, yes George was female although many still referred to George as “he”, lived out her days at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences until she died in 1989.

In an interesting twist to George’s story, there was a Kickstarter campaign in 2016 to publish a graphic novel about George – The graphic novel is still available ($15.00 + shipping and handling – $4.99 if I wanted a copy of it):




About ICT Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's
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