Friday, January 13, 2012

Betty by the Numbers: Pets

Betty van den Betsy does it again! (via email):

Betty by the Numbers: Pets

Just skid right through the bull- and bear-baiting of the Elizabethan era, past the cockfights of Regency days, and zoom by the dark, dull lives inflicted on pit ponies in coal mines well into the 20th century, and you can agree that the English are famously fond of animals. Betty Neels was clearly no exception, and she foisted critters upon her heroes and heroines with a lavish hand; few happy homes in Neels-land are without their dog and cat, or dogs and cats, or dog, puppies, two cats, a clutch of mice, an elderly donkey, two horses and a pony. There are never fish, and there are few young donkeys.

I hope we all agree with Francesca Arabella and Dr. Bagz den Munnie that pets are marvelous. However unconditional one’s parent’s, child’s or spouse’s love is, there are times when that love feels tested, or at least a bit frayed. Not so with a Labrador retriever, who adores you absolutely every single minute of every single day even if you stepped on her paw and closed her tail in the door and came home two hours after she’s supposed to have her romp and dinner. There she is, abused, mistreated, hungry and in desperate need of a walk, and gazing at you with soft, brown eyes brimming over with love, pure love, for her marvelous, wonderful, adored you.

And then she barfs up the remains of one of your good shoes. And starts to re-eat it.

Not where Betty lives, though! I don’t recall a single intrepid heroine cleaning up after Moggy has rampaged through the local mouse community and then dropped rodent bits in creative places throughout the house, or throwing the full weight of her Junoesque body over a wily, thrashing Alsatian in an attempt to cut its toenails, or getting her forearms pecked to bits by ungracious chickens as she cleans their water dispenser. Nor can I call to mind a scene in which a heroine, or hero, broke up snowballs packed into a spaniel’s luxurious fur (a 30-minute-plus labor with high risk of fingertip frostbite, plus everybody involved and the floor finish up dripping wet and stinking of wet dog), shoved heartworm or other pills into any drooling, resisting creature, or awoke violently at 4:00am as Tabby leapt playfully onto her left kidney to begin a vigorous massage of her spleen. Yes, okay – Annis tickles a donkey’s mouth open and sticks her head in to check for an abcess, so good on you, Annis (All Else Confusion, 1982), occasionally someone wipes a dog’s paws after a rainy walk, and plenty of heroines risk their health and comfort in one-time efforts to rescue lost, hurt or abused animals. But we hear very little about the hair-covered clothes and furniture, the gastro-intestinal issues, and the kitty dialysis that are so very much a daily part of having animals in one’s life.

Not my snowball-afflicted spaniel; perhaps Jolly will deal with it.

Pet owners know, and non-pet owners may take it from the rest of us, that all the nasty bits are worthwhile. That said, despite a deep adoration for the many, many animals of my childhood and adolescence (rumor has it I learned to walk by clutching a patient lab named Archie), I haven’t been a pet owner as an adult. Not home enough, don’t like vacuuming, can’t bear the vet bills... and then the Jonkheer located an adoptable Siamese cat in fulfillment of his largely pet-free childhood dreams. “Fine by me,” I said, “but you need to understand that I no longer clean up animal vomit, and that will be your job alone.” Oh, famous last words...

But enough about me. Bring on the heroes and heroines, and their tabbies, Old English sheepdogs, tomcats, labs, moggies and Jack Russell terriers!

Mmmwwaaaaaaawwwww! Baby kitty! In this case, Neptune from Sun and Candlelight (1979), and probably very close to what the Jonkheer’s “favorite girl” looked like 17 years ago. (I believe I run a fairly close second.) Warning: though elegant as all get-out, these things are capable of screeching in a timbre and volume that feels just like red hot spikes being driven through your eardrums.

Let me tell you, this one was a bear to calculate. There are a lot of animals in the oeuvre, and a good bit of variety amongst them. I cannot guarantee the accuracy of any of my previous, or future, analyses of the Novels Neels (Betty Anonymous, stay sharp!), but I’m extra likely to have miscounted or overlooked something on this one. I also have no idea what the standards are for capitalizing the names of breeds, so I’ve applied a random variety of caps and lower-cases. With those caveats:

We’ve got 135 heroes and 135 heroines. Between them, they’ve got approximately 446 critters, including horses and hens (“hens,” “kittens” and similar un-quantified descriptors only count for one each in my “system,” rendering it extra-unreliable), for an average of 1.7 animals per person. The men outstrip the women, averaging 2.1 apiece to the heroines’ 1.2 each. Note that the heroes are also more likely to have household staff.

Two books include no furry friends: Heaven Around the Corner (1981), in which Louisa is fleeing a Mean Person (stepmum) at home and Simon is working near the North Pole, and only shows us his Wiltshire home and household help for the five final paragraphs – one suspects there’s a Norwegian elkhound waiting in the kitchen – and Magic in Vienna (1985), where our heroine is fleeing Mean People (stepmum, step-sibs and half-sibs) at home and our hero is living abroad in a rented flat whose furnishings he finds oppressive. Only ten heroes fail to present animals, so 93% are blessed with non-human companions of one sort or another. The heroines are more likely to be lonely; just two-thirds are credited with critters, while 46 have none. Of course, about 28% of those ladies enter into MOCs and acquire step-puppies as a result. Heroes have more than twice as many dogs as cats. Heroines have 65% more cats than dogs.

Jonkheer Feno Raf Jake van der ter Schloopsa’s household beasts – Beeker is minding the fish and bird for a nephew or something; the others are all Baronial dependents.

The redoubtable Augusta Brown (Tulips for Augusta, 1971) can manage not only private patients, vast bouquets of tulips and large Dutch doctors, back home near Kingstag she handles a menagerie that encompasses one spaniel, two Jack Russell terriers, a donkey, and two cats – one regular, one Persian. Their names, respectively, are Stanley, Polly, Skipper, Bottom, Maudie and Fred. She and Amelia Crosbie should be friends; Amelia (The Silver Thaw, 1980) wrangles Fred the lab, Sorrel the mare, Trooper the elderly workhorse, her dad’s great skewbald and a pair of elderly donkeys who keep the three horses company. Julia Mitchell (At the End of the Day, 1985) manages to catch up to Augusta and Amelia; initially she can claim only a dog, two cats, a pony and a donkey, but then adds on an extra cat in order to match the award-winning six animals. Julia’s friends, by the way, are Gyp, Muffin, Maude, Star, Jane and Wellington.

The hero with the largest home zoo is Alexander van Zeust (A Star Looks Down, 1975), who keeps eight beasts. Well, he has six – two labs, two horses, a cat and a donkey – but then he adopts Beth’s kidnapped Beauty and Sugar. That’d be horse and pony to you.


There are 233 dogs represented across the 135 books. He introduces 179 of them, for 1.3 dogs per hero; she has a mere 54, or 0.4 per heroine. Of her dogs, four are acquired in the course of the story; five of his are. She has eleven generic ‘dogs,’ i.e., breed unspecified, and six mutts; he has 20 ‘dogs’ or ‘puppies,’ 33 mutts, and one Alsatian-retriever mix. If we assume “dog” means mixed-breed, 31% of hers and 30% of his proudly display a polyglot ancestry. Of the purebreds – go ahead and guess which breed’s most popular. Go on – you’ll get it.

That’s right, Labrador retrievers, and by a significant margin. More significant for her than for him; 35% of heroines’ dogs are labs; 21% of heroes’ are, and 24% of all of Betty’s dogs are labs.

Betty had some weird ideas about some things, but on the best dog breed she was spot on. Nowhere, no way, never will you find a more loving, loyal and loveable critter than the magnificent Labrador retriever. Nor one more capable of chewing up everything you own (smaller-than-a-breadbox division) as a puppy, viz: two weeks to about three years old. After that they mellow a bit, though remain speedy and voracious in the presence of food – which they define generously. They may also help teach your youngsters to walk; a mixed blessing indeed.

Now here’s something I find slightly curious: the second-most popular dog for heroes is the Alsatian, at 13.5, or 8% (that’s 12 Alsatians, one German Shepherd (they’re the same thing) and one Alsatian-retriever mix, and never mind that I’m double-counting the A-r mix). Heroines, however, claim zero of these intelligent, effective guard dogs who double as affectionate companions. Are they too butch for the ladies in Betty’s view? Or too – you know – German, there being some affection deficit for Britons of Betty’s generation toward their Frankish former foes?

When not out with Labby, the heroines tramp the fields of Dorset with five spaniels, three Jack Russell terriers, and two each of unspecified retrievers (which could be more labs, actually), English setters, basset hounds and corgis, plus one whippet and one dachshund. The heroes have 11 Jack Russells, ten bouviers (called Bouviers des Flandres in the US) and eight each of Great Danes and bull terriers. Then there are six Old English sheepdogs, requiring a hazardous-conditions bonus for Tweedle and Mrs. Tweedle each year.

The Rev. John Russell, the ‘Sporting Parson’ credited with developing the energetic, aggressive and largely-white terrier, used for fox hunting, that bears his name.

They need to be mostly white so you don’t confuse them with the fox and chase the wrong animal – though it’s a pretty lousy fox-hunting terrier who’d be careering off in a different direction than the fox. Incidentally, there are now separate breeds called “Parson Russell terriers” and “Russell terriers,” an example of the persnicketiness of kennel clubs and those who embrace them (dog shows were a large and often-confounding element of your author’s girlhood).

The heroes’ kennels also contain: four Irish wolfhounds, three St. Bernards, three corgis, two mastiffs and a bull mastiff (slightly smaller than the truly-massive regular mastiff), two each of dachshunds, bulldogs, Gordon setters, greyhounds and basset hounds, plus a spaniel, a bloodhound, a border terrier, a Welsh collie, a Dalmatian, a thoroughly-Dutch keeshond, a thoroughly-Flemish Schippershond and a golden retriever.

There’s a semi-consistent theme to the breeds here. They are mostly types you might still find working today: hunters (retrievers, spaniels, setters, most of the terriers and hounds, including bloodhounds, originally bred to hunt poachers), guardians (Alsatians, bouviers, mastiffs, dalmatians, the honds Schippers and Kees) and herders (bouviers again, sheepdogs, bulldogs and corgis if you’re willing to stretch the point, and that Welsh collie). St. Bernards were bred as rescue dogs, but in household use they’re mostly just good for drooling.

We don’t see these dogs at work for the most part in the book – no labs leap into frosty canals to retrieve fresh-shot ducks – and dalmatians, corgis, OE sheepdogs and a few of the other breeds are not often seen working today. But Betty clearly doesn’t approve the toy breeds; no Lhaso Apsos or Pekingeses make the canon, except perhaps in the arms of an ungracious and lazy employer. The one exception to the worker-dog ethic is the bull terrier. “Bullies,” while descended from fighters and ratters, were bred as “gentlemen’s companions,” and they can be quite the sweetie pies. They’re also awfully useful for household destruction (powerful chewers) and bruising and contusing humans, as their skulls are roughly equivalent to cast-iron wrecking balls (and they’re about as bright).

Note, please, that the Alsatian=manly rule holds with all the guard dogs: heroines get only hunting-type dogs and the occasional herder. What is with that?


Maybe Moggy is enough to protect Loveday Katrina’s hearth, home and person. Heroines own 89 cats, or 0.7 felines each; heroes have 85, just 0.6 apiece – and that’s counting housekeepers’ cats as amongst the doctors’ tribes, since they live in his house. Only three breeds get specific mentions: Augusta ‘Roly’ Brown has a Persian (beautifully fluffy, breathing problems, lots of grooming), Lauris van der Wagema (At the End of the Day, 1985) has a Burmese (beautifully sleek but shrieky), and Marnix van Hessel (Henrietta’s Own Castle, 1975) and Annis Fothergill have a Siamese cat each, while Sarre van Diederijk (Sun and Candlelight, 1979) has the Siamese kitten, Neptune (also beautifully s. but s.). You are welcome to do your own analysis of colors, sexes and ages.

In British use, a moggy is any mixed-breed cat. It may arise from Lancaster slang, in which ‘moggy’ once meant mouse, so cats became moggy-catchers, or moggy-terminators, or some such, eventually shortened just to moggy.


Emma Hastings (Wish with the Candles, 1972) keeps hens. There are a total of 13 donkeys on my Betty bookshelves, including Queenie and her newborn Prince, acquired by Caroline from abusive gypsies in Caroline’s Waterloo (1980). Her husband, Radink, also keeps one of the oeuvre’s 19 horses and one of its five ponies. There are a clutch of mice and a single gerbil in Sun and Candlelight. That’s it, I think. No pet snakes, potty-mouthed parrots or pigs named Henrietta (David Mamet book; Cambridge, Mass. restaurant – look it up. Probably has a great cheese board...).

Actually a French donkey and horse, living at the Musée Vivant du Cheval in Chantilly – don’t tell Betty!


Speaking of names... 207 of Betty’s pets share a name with at least one other, and 95, or 21%, are unnamed, leaving about 144 uniquely-name beasts. The repeating names total 69 as some of them show up over and over – like Prince, which appends to a mastiff, a lab, a bouvier, a mutt, an Alsatian, a horse and a baby donkey. Charlie is also popular: an Alsatian, a Great Dane, a lab, a mutt, a cat named Charles and another named Charlie Brown.

We’ve got six cats and zero dogs named “Mrs.” something (the Missuses Whisker, Simpkins, Mopp, Trot, Mogg and Smith), six Georges (two cats, an Old English Sheepdog, a Great Dane, a dachshund and, unsurprisingly, a lab), six Caesars (a Gordon setter, an unspecified ‘dog,’ a specified mutt, the ubiquitous lab, one cat and one horse), and six variations on Bert, including labs named Bert, Cuthbert and Bertie, a bull terrier also named Bertie, an unspecified dog named Humbert, and a Jack Russell named Albert.

Two horses, two labs and a cat are lovely enough to earn the sobriquet “Beauty,” and there are also five Mabels, including a lab, a St. Bernard and three cats, and five Thomas/Toms – four cats and a dog. Then there are four each of Fred, Henry, Maud/Maudie, Muffin, Percy, Podge/Podger, Smith, Willy/Willie and variations on Moggy (two Moggy, Mrs. Mogg, Moggerty) and Rob (Rob, Robby, Robbie, Robinson).

Is it my imagination, or are pets more likely to be named for unsatisfactory ex-boyfriends and valued household help than for heroes and heroines? For the former, in addition to the previously-noted Fred, Maud and Maudie, Percy, Mrs. Trot, Charlie, and various Berts, we get two or three each of Bess, Horace, Nell/Nellie, Simpkins/Mrs. Simpkins, Toby, Biddy, Digby, Humphrey, Meg, Miep, Monty, Nelson, Solly, Tinker and Watson; for the latter, there are Daisy, Jason, Ben (more a brother or nephew than a hero), Kate, Mary, Max, Sam and William.

If classed together as large, hairy, drooling charmers instead of separately as St. Bernards, Old English sheepdogs, and bouviers, these guys would total 19, putting them ahead of Alsatians as the #2 breed. Please do note that only heroes have any of these critters – that’s right, heroes, or as they’re sometimes called, the folks who pay someone else to clean up after the dog.

Occasionally a pet is named a cutesy “Neptune,” as it was rescued from drowning, “Nelson,” since it’s missing an eye, or “Lucky” since it was rescued at all; there are also the unbearably adorable twin labs Gem and Mini (get it? Gem-mini? Twins? Get it?) My faves are the Greenslade family’s The Blot and Titus. When Jonkheer Max first meets them (on the bumper of his Bentley), the dialogue runs: “’Blot,’ he said. ‘Escutcheon or landscape?’ ‘Landscape,’ said Sophy. ‘We haven’t got an escutcheon.’”


He follows up by asking why the cat is named Titus, and Sophy replies that he likes porridge. Max gets it after a moment, but sadly, I don’t. It’s supposed to be from British history; there were a few generals with Titus in their names who helped invade and subjugate Britain for the Roman Empire in the first century of the A.D. era, but porridge? Why porridge?

Final note: Always remember that only vile step-relatives, cold, mercenary fiancées and nouveau riche vulgarians don’t like a friendly, furry bundle o’ love in their laps.


  1. Lump me in with the 'nouveau riche vulgarians' (HA!) if you like. Casa van Voorhees is pretty pet free (Thank heavens I have a kiddo who is mildly allergic to dogs, thus providing an excellent reason without making us look terribly heartless.) I accidentally killed a goldfish once and never heard the end of it. Our neighbors have a Standard Poodle (without the lame haircut) which is hypoallergenic so the pledges of my affection can trot over there and get their fix.

    My favorite pet names in the canon might be Flotsom...or maybe Moses. (Can't remember which books but I love how cheerfully The Venerable Neels chucked her pets into murky canals for the purpose of plot progression.)

    1. He was in the hall with the three dogs when she went down. JB and Flotsam were standing belligerently on either side of him, eyeing the newcomer with ill-concealed dislike. 'Hullo, Harry,' said Friso. 'Have you a name for your friend? If so will you call him over to you?' She didn't need to call, for the dog had heard her step on the stair and turned to prance on clumsy paws to greet her. She saw that he had been bathed and combed, and carried all the signs of a dog recently well fed. He sat down beside her, facing the other dogs. She put a hand on his head and he grinned. He belonged. 'I thought Moses would be a good name — the water, you see.' Friso smiled. 'A splendid name. JB and Flotsam will think he's yours; they're more likely to accept him in that case. Shall we go and have breakfast? ...

      'How's Moses?' asked Harriet, very conscious of Friso's calm stare across the little table.
      'Eating me out of house and home. Oh, don't worry, he'll be worth his keep — I'm sorry for anyone who tries to get into the house uninvited. The three of them would confound the enemy, tear him limb from limb and bring me the pieces in ...
      (Tempestuos April)

      She packed happily, bade her grandfather goodbye and got into the car with the boys and Moses in the back, and with them there it was easier to be on friendly terms with Colin. There was a good deal of talk and giggling as they ...

      She gave him a bemused look. 'Oh, yes, thank you, Grimstone. Sir Colin has had to go to the hospital — I'm not sure how long he'll be.' She went back to the drawing-room and sat down again with Moses and Madam Mop.
      (A Suitable Match)
      Betty Anonymous

  2. Betty Barbara here--
    Oh wow! Betty van den Betsy--you have outdone yourself this time. That was great stuff. (But the best part was the essay on real-life pet ownership!).
    As to Titus the cat who liked porridge. It's a play on words--Titus Oates was a well-known British historical figure. Wikipedia has a nice article about him HERE.

    1. Betty van den BetsyJanuary 13, 2012 at 1:26 PM

      Yuk! Thank you for that, Betty Barbara, but my goodness. What a vile person for whom to name a beloved pet. I'm going to continue to pretend there's a popular story in English children's histories about one of those Romans distributing porridge to little Saxon children. That Betty Neels was what they call "a woman of parts," wasn't she?

    2. I think it more in keeping with the Venerable Neels as we know her that she was thinking of this "Titus" Oates:
      Betty Anonymous

    3. Betty van den BetsyJanuary 14, 2012 at 5:30 PM

      Well! I was feeling rather more happy about Titus on reading about Lawrence "Titus" Oates, the Antarctic explorer who sacrificed his life for the good of his fellows (noble, but a bit grisly for a cat's name, in my opinion), and then I got to this bit: "A biography by Michael Smith, I am Just Going Outside: Captain Oates – Antarctic Tragedy, (Spellmount Publishers 2002) has revealed that a 20-year-old Oates fathered a daughter as the result of a brief affair with an 11-year-old Scots girl named Ettie McKendrick."

      What the wha........!!!!!

    4. Well! I didn't really believe she meant Lawrence, but it seemed such a nice thought.
      Betty Anonymous

  3. “’Blot,’ he said. ‘Escutcheon or landscape?’ ‘Landscape,’ said Sophy. ‘We haven’t got an escutcheon.’”

    Wow, that's some lovely repartee. Which totally escaped me until I just looked up escutcheon! Am I the only one who'd never heard of "a blot on one's escutcheon" - being a stain on one's honor and escutcheon being the shield behind the family crest. I knew what a blot on the landscape was, but didn't catch the reference from the above. Not sure if that's ignorance or sometimers. Either way, YIKES!

  4. In An Independent Woman, the hero's housekeeper had 2 cats, Portly and Lofty. Those were my favorite Neels cat names, followed by Podge. Podge. Sounds stodgy and pudgy at the same time. Incidentally, in An Independent Woman, Julia's pet cat Muffin had a sex change...twice. Muffin was a he, then a she, then a he. Check it out.

  5. Betty van den Betsy,
    Better and better! This was the funniest yet. (And each time I ask myself, can there be more, will there be more to come?)
    Reading the Dogs section I noticed that the heroes not only get to have the guard dogs they also own most of the larger breeds plus the largest breeds of them all. Is that because they are large themselves (and therefore considered more capable of handling them)? Or because they have larger homes?
    Why do heroines get only hunting-type dogs and the occasional herder? Well, I've given that question some thought. They cannot very well keep large dogs in a bedsitter. Most of the dogs live at home with the family in the beautiful English countryside where goodwill and good people abound. There doesn't seem to be any need for guard dogs. When I think of the British countryside I also think more in terms of herders and hunters. Not only because of watching a zillion episodes of "All Creatures Great and Small", but because hunting is still a great part of country life. And herders are usually good watch dogs as well, aren't they?
    Betty Anonymous

  6. That was really amazing! Great work and its amazing to see those statistics with all the funny stuff. Thank you, very lovely! One of my favourite parts are when the animals and their names...Nelson and Flotsam, so good.

    Betty Mary - I did wonder about that exchange and was too lazy to research but now I know...'escutcheon' what a great word, she's amazing, that Betty.
    Betty AnHK

    1. Betty van den BetsyJanuary 29, 2012 at 6:00 PM

      I got the honor of taking the Jonkheer's favorite girl into the vet on Friday (30 minute drive in rush-hour traffic with a cat in my lap, her cute little velvety front paws on my forearm so she could see out the window and I could have the entertaining challenge of steering and shifting with the same arm -- she'd scream if thwarted, so please don't berate me), and there was an active little human girl in the waiting room. Her grandma just got a cat and was soliciting ideas for names. I wanted to suggest Flotsam, Nelson or Mr. Mogg, but believe in encouraging the young to exercise their imaginations. It looked like "Zack" was in the lead as I paid over my $70 and toddled along, six pounds of irritated feline shrieking from her basket (by which I mean kitty crate -- basket my eye.)

  7. No Lhasa Apsos, ey? I'm rather fond of them myself. Though they are termed companion dogs, let's not forget that their forebears used to be herders. And they haven't forgotten either. They will herd their adopted family members (butting them with their little heads) and guard them too. They are wary of strangers, and if they feel the situation calls for it not averse to nipping them. Which they shouldn't of course. They are small enough to carry if the need should arise and they don't have that typical doggie-scent. And if I didn't have such a "poky little bedsitter"...(Haha.)
    Betty Anonymous

    1. Betty van den BetsyJanuary 22, 2012 at 12:53 PM

      A friend kept a Shih Tzu that I found utterly charming. She was a tough and affectionate little thing with a ridiculous but necessary bow clipping her hair into a fountain-style ponytail on top of her happy little head, and she clearly had no conception of herself as a "toy." She was a friend with strong managerial skills.

  8. I love this kind of information and I'm so glad someone had time to do this for our benefit! What an enjoyable afternoon I am having!

  9. Dear Betty van den Betsy, you are a treasure and I'm sure there are some organizing-type heroines (making short work of the clutter and papers for a crabby but brilliant writer/scientist?) with whom you would bond. In the meantime, any chance you could mail me 3 books on temporary loan: All Else Confusion, At the End of the Day, and A Star Looks Down? Thanks,

    Your favorite sister,
    Betty B. Blemmy

  10. If I'm ever in a position to have a dog (already have a feline owner), I want an Irish wolfhound. Count me in on the "large dog" side of things.