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What Breed Was Tray?

Everyone knows that dogs have been our constant companions for thousands of years and that they were the first animal ever to be domesticated by us. Reading Professor Alice Robert’s book, Tamed – 10 species that changed our world, gave me an even deeper understanding about our connection to dogs and how linked they are to us. It’s no surprise then, that when Evie and I started this journey, to get Mary Anning the recognition she so rightfully deserved her faithful dog, Tray, would very much be part of that narrative.

This little sketch of him curled up, probably by the fireside after a long day out on the beach fossil hunting, is so evocative of how she must have felt about her little companion. It’s easy to imagine her doodling this drawing by candlelight, in the foot notes of one of the many papers she wrote, the documents and letters that would never be published. It gives us a glimpse into her life and shows how important this little dog was for her own comfort and wellbeing. 

Victorians and their dogs

We don’t even have to imagine how saddened she was by his death in 1833 in a landslide that nearly killed her too. She wrote a heartfelt letter to her great friend Charlotte Murchison telling her the sad news of Trays death.

But what breed was he? It’s clear from the sketch by Mary that he was a spaniel of sorts, but whether a pure-bred spaniel, it’s hard to tell. So, Evie and I decided to do an internet search, looking for images that could help us in our investigation. We discovered an astonishing multitude of sepia tinted images of Victorian photographs of owners and their dogs, hundreds of them. It’s clear to see the Victorians were as obsessed about their dogs as we are today. Strikingly though, as we scrolled through an endless haul of images on Pinterest, we noticed the Victorian’s had one thing we don’t' have! 

The ability to be able to look beyond breed. Only a handful of these dogs would pass muster at the Kennel Club today. The majority are a beautiful cacophony of mutts, cross breeds and mongrels, all adored and loved, even Queen Victoria herself (bottom left corner) had a favourite crossbreed and was photographed with him many times. 

And then something really sad caught our eye whilst we surfed the internet. All the news reports about the massive increases in purchases of ‘Pandemic Pets’ and the concerns of many animal welfare organisations on what happens when lock down is over. When people no longer have the time for their newly enquired pets. 

A dog is for life

Even the famous Christmas slogan launched by The Dogs Trust is now being reused, ‘A dog is for life, not just for Lockdown’ shows us just how worried some of the UK's biggest dog welfare organisations are. They are warning people that lockdown is not a time for impulsive buying of animals without full consideration of the future of the animal when ultimately, as lockdown comes to an end, that will mean for many of us, a return to fulltime work.

“We are worried about this rather terrifying picture of a nation of people who are careless and impulsive when it comes to choosing where and how to buy a dog,” commented Bill Lambert, Head of Health and Welfare at the Kennel Club in a recent interview with Financial Times.

Concerns about impulse buying

Other charities including the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home have also been voicing their concerns about the impulsive buying of pets and asking people not to rush into getting new pets right now. If Christmas and Valentine’s Day is anything to go by there is a very strong chance that these ‘Pandemic Pets’ will be abandoned once life goes back to normal and people no longer spend as much time at home.

Owen Sharp, chief executive of Dogs Trust also said in the same interview that he had already “seen examples of people looking to return dogs because they’re going back to work”. 

So, in our quest to find Tray’s origins Evie and I learnt this:

  • ‘Who cares what breed Tray was, he’s a cross breed just like Jacob and was loved by Mary’ – Quote from Evie
  • ‘You’re a plonker if you buy any animal on impulse’ – Quote from me.
  • And If you really want a dog remember this - Every 6 minutes, Dogs Trust get a call from someone wanting to give up their dog, and during the pandemic, internet searches for puppies leaped by 50%. So, adopt don’t shop and as the charity says: “Paws and properly consider bringing a dog home, to make sure it’s their forever home.”
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