by Kathy Wolfe

We love our pets! Nearly 70% of us have an animal in the home, and, according to a survey, 90% of pet owners think of their pets as members of the family. For some, pets go way beyond cats and dogs, as you’ll see as you read these Tidbits’ facts.

American soldier Lee Duncan was on a World War I battlefield in France when he happened upon a litter of German Shepherd puppies abandoned in the trenches. Duncan brought the pups back to America and began training them. One of the dogs became Rin-Tin-Tin, starring in 22 Warner Brothers films from 1922 to 1932. Rin-Tin-Tin’s descendants – Jr., III, and IV – were also stars, with Rin-Tin-Tin IV starring in the celebrated TV series, “The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin,” from 1954 to 1959. Duncan was a natural-born trainer, training more than 5,000 war dogs for the U.S. Army K-9 Corps during World War II.

    Actor George Clooney gifted his girlfriend a Vietnamese potbellied pig, which grew to 300 lbs. (136 kg). Max was frequently seen on Clooney’s movie sets, was allowed to sleep in his master’s bedroom, and grunted and squealed when his breakfast was late. When Clooney’s romance went south, Max stayed for the next 18 years, until the pig’s death at age 19.

Actor Nicolas Cage has owned several exotic pets, including an octopus for which he paid $150,000. His two albino king cobras, Moby and Sheba set him back $276,000. Cage kept a supply of antidote in his home in the event that he was bitten by the cobras, considering that he would have just 15 minutes to live without it. His menagerie also included a five-foot-long Asian water monitor lizard, a shark, and a crocodile. Cage was forced to surrender them all when faced with a $14 million IRS settlement for unpaid taxes.

Zinn Music Shop

    The Roman Emperor Nero was the owner of a pet tigress named Phoebe, a fighting brute he rescued from a match at the Coliseum. She was housed in a luxurious golden cage in the emperor’s palace, but was often allowed to roam free and dine at the table with guests. Those who offended or opposed Nero ran the risk of becoming Phoebe’s dessert.

      A white Japanese white Akita dog has been memorialized for his incredible loyalty to his owner. In 1924, Tokyo University professor Hidesaburo Ueno took Hachiko to live with him in Tokyo. Every day, Hachiko met Professor Ueno at the train station after the commute home from the University. The dog always turned up at the exact time of the train’s arrival.    In 1925, while delivering a lecture to his class, Ueno suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died at work. For nearly ten years after his master’s death, Hachiko waiting at the station for his return. As commuters recognized the pattern, Hachiko was fed and given treats, and the Akita became a national symbol of loyalty. A bronze statue of this devoted canine stands at Tokyo’s Shibuya Station.

    Oprah Winfrey’s five spaniels will have no trouble surviving if anything happens to their owner. These canines are protected by a $30 million trust, a small fraction of her estimated net worth of $2.5 billion.   

Monkeys have been the pet of choice for several celebrities, but not with the best outcomes. Michael Jackson purchased his chimp Bubbles from a research clinic, and brought his pet along with him on tour, with Bubbles even enjoying tea with the mayor of Osaka, Japan. Jackson frequently dressed Bubbles in a costume identical to his own, taught him how to moonwalk, and put him to bed in a special crib on Jackson’s ranch. When Bubbles became large and aggressive, he was moved to a Florida primate sanctuary. A relative gifted singer Justin Bieber with a capuchin monkey, Mally, on his birthday, and Bieber took his pet on tour to Germany. Unbeknownst to Bieber, the capuchin is an endangered animal in Germany, and authorities confiscated the animal, and charged Bieber $8,000 to cover the costs of moving Mally to a zoo. Elvis Presley had numerous pets, including donkeys he kept in an empty swimming pool and a turkey named Bowtie, but his favorite was his chimpanzee, Scatter. Scatter accompanied the King on tour, but was unruly and out of control, biting the crew and even swigging whiskey when left unsupervised. The chimp was sent back to Graceland, where it’s alleged that a cleaning lady poisoned him after being bitten severely.

    Taylor Swift might be described as a “cat lady,” as she is the happy owner of three felines, all of which are named after television/movie characters. Cat #1 is Olivia Benson, named after actress Mariska Hargitay’s character in the “Law & Order” TV series. Kitty Meredith Grey takes her name from the female doctor in “Grey’s Anatomy,” played by Ellen Pompeo. Her third cat is Benjamin Button, named for Brad Pitt’s character in the 2008 movie, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

    Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife Josephine kept a primate, a female orangutan, that joined her at the dinner table attired in a white cotton dress. The ape supposedly had flawless manners and had a love of turnips. Josephine also kept an emu, black swans, and several kangaroos.   

    In 2020, the Guinness Book of World Records introduced a new category to their line-up, that of “Most Followers on Instagram for a Cat.” It came as the result of Nala, a Siamese-tabby mix owned by Varisiri Methachittiphan, affectionately known as Pookie. Pookie rescued 5-month-old Nala from a Los Angeles animal shelter and, upon the advice of her sister in Thailand, began documenting Nala’s adorable charm on Instagram in 2012. Her postings were an instant hit, and by 2019, Nala had more than 4.2 million fans on the site. The number now tops 4.5 million, and the feline has a net worth of $100 million. In addition to the enormous amounts of paid advertising she generates, Nala has her own cat food line. In 2019, the cat was also named TikToker of the Year, getting the better of four human competitors.   

    Actress Audrey Hepburn met her pet fawn, Pippen, on the set of “Green Mansions,” a 1959 film with a script that called for Hepburn’s character to followed around by a small fawn. In the off-hours, in order to foster a relationship with the animal for the film, Hepburn took Pippen home and fed her from a baby bottle. When filming was concluded, Hepburn kept the deer, giving her a bed in a custom-made bathtub, although Pippen sometimes slept in Hepburn’s bed. Pippen was a guest at parties, and was also taken to the grocery store.