On the 150th anniversary of the death of Greyfriars Bobby, the little Skye terrier who sat every day by his master’s grave following his death in 1858, a celebration of the dog – and the remarkable power the animals have over humans – was held at the cemetery where they both lay.
Speaking at Friday’s ceremony at Greyfriars Kirk graveyard, Jack Johnstone, regional manager for the Dogs Trust, said: “As the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, it’s a privilege to be here today to pay our respects to Bobby, who symbolises everything that dogs can bring to the lives of humans, not only as pets, but as members of family.”
Bobby belonged to John Gray, a night watchman for Edinburgh City Police in the 1850s, with the pair patrolling the capital’s streets together after dark.
When Gray died from tuberculosis, Bobby’s dedication did not falter, with the terrier waiting by his his owner’s grave for the next 14 years.
The dog’s devotion was felt by the people of Edinburgh. Keepers of the graveyard gave Bobby a sack cloth to lie on next to Gray’s grave and his daily appearances brought joy to city dwellers of the day, with crowds reportedly gathering by the cemetery gates to see the daily arrival of the little celebrity.
In 1867, when a new city by-law was passed that required all dogs licensed in the city or they would be destroyed, Lord Provost Sir William Chambers paid Bobby’s licence and presented him with a collar with the brass inscription “Greyfriars Bobby from the Lord Provost 1867 licensed”.
At the firing of the One O’Clock gun, it is said Greyfriars Bobby headed to Traill's Temperance Coffee House at Greyfriars Place to be fed, just like he had always done with his master. Cafe owner John Traill and his family took Bobby in, but he always returned to his master’s graveside until the terrier died, on January 14, 1872.
On Friday, following the daily canon fire from the castle, a posy of flowers was laid on the grave of Greyfriars Bobby by pupils from George Heriot’s School as a piper played on.
Following the ceremony, Mr Johnstone said: “Dogs Trust was founded in 1891, 131 years ago and 19 years after Bobby was laid to rest. To this day, we continue to campaign for a better future for dogs like Bobby, who was cared for so kindly in his years on the grave of his owner, and we will continue to do so for many years to come.”
The enduring story of Greyfriars Bobby has been brought to the world's attention by a 1912 book by Eleanor Atkinson and a 1961 Disney movie starring Donald Crisp, as well as a more recent film in 2005.
In 1873, a statue of the terrier was placed on George IV Bridge. It is such a tourist draw that people have been asked not to rub the dog’s nose, as custom has come to dictate.
The statue stands close to the cemetery gates. Just inside the marked grave for the terrier can be found. His master is buried close-by, with their bond remaining a source of comfort and inspiration forevermore.