Throughout English literature, you can see that British have a love for their pets. Kings and queens can be seen enjoying them in paintings from the Middle Ages. Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603) of Britain is said to have kept a guinea pig as a pet.
Queen Victoria was an avid pet lover. She popularized the Skye Terrier in 1840 and received a Borzoi as a gift from the Russian Czar in 1842. She was also a fan of the German Spitz breed. Although it is not clear how Pekin Bantam chickens reached Europe, one legend has it that they were imported from China for Queen Victoria.
The Wire Fox Terrier was developed in England to hunt foxes, often chasing them into their dens. Queen Victoria’s son, King Edward the VII, owned a Wire Fox Terrier named Caesar. He also kept an African Grey Parrot at Hampton Court.
The first dog food was marketed in England around 1860.
Beatrix Potter, most famous for her book The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was an author and illustrator of children’s books depicting animals, as well as a sheep breeder and conservationist. She was born in London in 1866.
The UK has been a pioneer in legislation protecting animals. The first law protecting animals was passed in 1635 in Ireland, protecting sheep and horses from certain types of abuse. Oliver Cromwell’s government passed laws in England against blood sports such as cock fighting and bull baiting. Martin’s Act, passed in 1822, made it an offense to “beat, abuse, or ill-treat any horse, mare, gelding, mule, ass, ox, cow, heifer, steer, sheep or other cattle.” The first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded by British MPs in 1824. The UK has outlawed animal testing for beauty products, but still allows testing of household products. It has also outlawed debarking, a plastic surgery procedure which prevents dogs from using their vocal chords effectively.
In 1976, Ronnie Lee founded the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) in the UK, an illegal organization which uses violence to prevent animal cruelty.
National Pet Month in the UK is a registered charity, devoted to promoting animal welfare. It is celebrated in April. Each year, events take place during that month surrounding that year’s theme.