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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.