Five Artists &Their Bonkers Pets

Luminaries who thought outside the [litter]box.

Happy National Pet Day! Here at Fab we love our kittehs and doges, but we also love how great artists challenge us to reimagine what’s possible in the world. We can’t recommend that you try keeping all these pets at home, but we do heartily recommend living vicariously through these five eccentric animal lovers. If you ask us, living another, weirder life from time to time is what art and pets are all about.

Lord Byron

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When the famed romantic poet was just a roguishly handsome undergrad at Trinity College, Cambridge, he took exception to the college’s ban on pet dogs. In a capital-C classic episode of sticking it to The Man, the young Byron brought a bear to school and defied the authorities to point to any rule banning pet bears. Long story short, the bear stayed. Byron kept all kinds of pets throughout his life, his most beloved being a Newfoundland dog named Boatswain, whom he personally nursed back to health after it was bitten by a rabid dog. Trust a romantic to show you how to love your pets.

Gerárd de Nerval

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The story, possibly apocryphal, goes that one day the French poet Gerárd de Nerval was seen walking his pet lobster Thibault in the gardens of the Palais-Royal in Paris, a blue silk ribbon tied around the arthropod’s neck. Let’s just give that a minute to sink in before we move on.

When asked to explain this eccentricity, Nerval replied, “Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog? Or a cat, or a gazelle, or a lion, or any other animal that one chooses to take for a walk? I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. They know the secrets of the sea.”

Salvador Dali

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Nerval and Thibault set a surreal precedent. But no one out-surreals Salvador Dali. The mustachioed artist was known to stroll the streets of Paris with a pet anteater, and he doted on an ocelot named Babou. You may say Dali just had a penchant for making a scene. We say he was living his art.

Josephine Baker

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Josephine Baker was remarkable in so many ways. We could go on and on about how she battled through the barriers of racism to become a jazz and pop mega-star in 1920s Paris, how she received something like 1,500 marriage proposals, how she refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States, how she was a spy (a serious, for-real spy!) for the Free French during World War II. If somehow that isn’t enough for you, she also had a pet cheetah named Chiquita, a goat named Toutoute, and a pig named Albert, who liked the finer things so well that the frame of Baker’s dressing-room door once had to be broken to let the poor pig out.

Frida Kahlo

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For sheer fecundity and beauty, none of these artist’s menageries holds a candle to Frida Kahlo’s. She had a deer named Ganizo, a spider monkey named Fulang Chang, a Xoloitzcuintle named Mr. Xoloti. Then there was Bonito, an Amazon parrot who would do tricks at the dinner table, and a whole aviary of parakeets, macaws, hens, sparrows, and, our personal favorite, an eagle named Gertrudis Caca Blanca. The only thing more fecund and beautiful was Kahlo’s imagination.

–Jim Longley

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