September the 19th is a very popular, albeit silly, holiday. It is International Talk Like a Pirate Day and it's devotees celebrate all things piratical on that day. It started as a holiday" celebrated by a small group of friends in 1995, then spread significantly when brilliant humor columnist, Dave Barry took up the cause. 18 years later, this zany holiday is celebrated in multiple countries, many college campuses, on the Disney channel, at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and at Thanksgiving Point. But how can we forget those pirate-loving pets, who long to feel the briny air on their scales or bury treasure (like bones) in the backyard? Here is a tribute to the wildest lot of scurvy pirate pets we know!
Pets go with pirates like a treasures go with maps!
It seems no pirate would be complete without a clever parrot companion perched on his shoulder. So it may surprise you to know that there is little historical record of real pirates actually keeping parrot pets. We owe most of our modern image of the pirate's parrot to literature. Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1881 book, Treasure Island, depicted the pirate captain Long John Silver with his parrot “Captain Flint” ever perched on his shoulder and squawking "pieces of eight!"
While there may not be ample proof that pirates owned parrots, there is certainly reason they may have. According to Pirates of the Caribbean: in Fact and Fiction:
With the longer ocean voyages around the coast of Africa and later with the discovery of the Americas, the trade in live parrots became a regular business.
By the time of the Golden Age of Piracy, there was a well established business in exotic animals. It was not uncommon for royalty in Europe to own live animal menageries. Henry I of England established his Royal Menagerie around 1125. Philip VI of France founded the Paris Menagerie in 1333. Louis XI (1461-1483) founded the Touraine Menagerie and Louis XIV (1643-1714) the Versaille Menagerie. The actions of the Heads of Europe, were most certainly mirrored by the lesser members of the ruling class.
The more exotic the animal, the more in demand and the more valuable the animal would be. A talking bird would fetch a few doubloons in the Royal Courts of Europe, as would New World Monkeys. We also know that if something was of value, then pirates would plunder it. Some pirates were known to emulate the lifestyles of royalty so it can be assumed that this would go beyond a fine waist coat or breeches. Whatever was good enough for the royal courts was also good enough for the well-to-do Pirate. To own an exotic animal would have been a status symbol.
As mentioned above, another shipboard exotic pet were monkeys. The intelligent little primates often proved mischevious and troublesome, however. In a previous Examiner article, "Salt City Steamfest attracts Steampunks to Utah, but what about their pets?" the accounts are given of monkeys aboard ships in the Victorian era.
Like Barbossa's pet Capuchin, Captain Jack (named after Jack Sparrow to mock him after Sparrow got marooned on a deserted island.) in Pirates of Caribbean: Curse of Black Pearl, many real Victorian era ships had ship monkeys. When the Victorian explorers journeyed to Africa, young monkeys were often captured and taken back on board the ship as entertainment and companionship for the sailors. In the account "A Monkey on Board a Ship," taken from a reading primer called, simply, Reading-book (itself published back in 1864, but available as a free eBook from Google Play), a women describes the hi-jinx a Senegal monkey played as a ship monkey. His name (like Barbossa's) was Jack and he once threw 2 smaller monkeys overboard during a fit of jealous over the women petting them.
However, not all piratical pets were as wild and exotic as macaws and macaques. Dogs and cats held extremely practical places in a pirate crew as both pet control and hunting for provisions. According to The Pirate Empire:
Shore-bound buccaneers kept hunting dogs... But dogs had to earn their keep. Rats infested the ships and terriers were expected to help fight this plague. Many ships held periodic stem-to-stern shipboard rat hunts, and dogs joined men armed with clubs and guns to kill them. One Spanish ship recorded 40,000 rats killed during one such event. Rat killing dogs were also entertainment. Contests were held to see how many rats a dog could kill in a set period of time.
Cats helped rid the ship of rats and mice, but cats were also lucky. In England, a black cat was the luckiest sort, and families with a member at sea would often keep a black cat, believing that if the animal was kept happy and well fed it meant that the loved one would return home safe.
Black cats were often kept on ships, and sailors enjoyed having them, as many had owned cats at home. The luckiest sort of cat was a polydactyl (many toed) cat. The extra toes were believed to make these cats better mousers and better at keeping their legs under them on a pitching deck... Many superstitions sprang up around ship’s cats. Throwing or losing a cat overboard would conjure up a deadly storm, and if a ship that lost its cat in this way survived, it was said to be doomed to 7 years of bad luck.
For pet lovers, these claims of cats, especially the much maligned black cats, bringing GOOD luck seem far more sensible than the superstitions that still seem to haunt black pets today (and even keep them from finding homes!).
"3 legs, 1 eye, I be a pirate pet till I die!"
Not all fuzzy pirates have sailed the seven seas. They might not have eye patches, hooks, or peg legs, but like Captain Hook or Peg Leg Pete, some critters are lacking a leg or eye... but are far from lacking the spirit and spunk needed for a life of adventure! Valkyrie (aka Kyrie) is an African pygmy hedgehog who was one of the rescues who had the honor of being a cheerleader at last year's Puppy Bowl. (In fact, she is the hedgie seen in the Animal Planet press photo seen here in his article about the Puppy Bowl sponsors.) While missing a leg, this bonnie lass certainly has the pirate spirit. according to her owner, Jennifer, "She isn't afraid of anything, is the first one to run on her wheel at night, and will glare at me if I interrupt her wheeling time. She was totally unafraid at Puppy Bowl and bravely nosed the purple football around. She also shoved around fellow cheerleaders and bit the volunteer handling her." Another HedgieMom, Kat, says "I have a tripod hedgehog and she'd definitely plunder the carpet all day!" Even Alison Weller, of Utah's own Storybook Hedgehogs has seen her share of pirate hedgehogs. Alison, who is the first and currently only USDA licensed hedgehog breeder in the state, but also rescues many hedgies from terrible situations. Currently, she has "Odd the pirate" who is missing an eye "and he is ever so pirate-like in appearance and attitude." She also reminisces about her "peg leg boys" who unfortunately have since passed on.
But maybe you are looking for a readymade pirate pet to welcome into your home right now? Well, there are plenty of them out there, just waiting for someone to be their forever firstmate! Here are just a few you might want to bring home as part of your crew:
- Patches - a sweet one-eyed kitty in Sandy, UT who has a curious and friendly nature... and a perfectly piratical name! Adopt her through Best Friends Utah!
- Oscar - a truly gorgeous cat, with long black fur, surely bringing luck to your ship and home! But his own luck has not been so great... Oscar had to have his tail amputated (but what is a few missing limbs to a pirate!?) and has FIV. However, with proper care you can change his luck and this pirate will live a long healthy life. Adopt him through CAWS in Salt Lake!
- Rico - if you are looking for something more iconic, this handsome Blue-Fronted Amazon might be the parrot for you! About 25 years old, Rico is expected to live to be 70 or more, so he's got a long future ahead of him. He is very smart and wants to be entertained by your joint adventures, savvy?! Adopt him through Best Friends in Kanab!
- Sexy Girl - this very sweet African grey is looking for smooth sailing with someone who will cherish her like the treasure she is! She is very good with everyone, even kids, cats, and dogs... but is going blind and needs someone special to love and care for her. African greys are brilliant animals that live a long time. They require a lot of commitment. Are you the right pirate for this parrot? Adopt her through Utah Critter Sanctuary & Ferret & Parrot Rescue Shelter in Layton!
- Roo Roo - she gets around just fine... her missing toes don't slow this siren of a chinne in the least, no hook or peg required! But she does want to be an only child (unlike most chinchillas, who do better with a buddy) and needs a patient captain to tame her wild ways. But she is beautiful and soft as a mermaid's kiss! Adopt her through NOLA Chinchilla Rescue, La Porte, TX!
- Max - This happy little miniature American Eskimo is missing a leg, but doesn't mind a bit. He is ready to go off in search of buried treasure with you (or just as pleased to curl up in your lap and watch The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything!). If you want to bring home this buccaneer, you will need to arrange to get him from California... but booty that awesome is worth a quest! Adopt him from Eskie Rescuers United, San Diego, CA!
How to celebrate ITLAP with your favorite pet
So Talk Like a Pirate Day is officially upon us. How do we celebrate with all paws on deck? Here are some spectacularly seaworthy ideas for a variety of crew critters:
- Give your pet some pirate themed toys. With Halloween just around the corner, this is easier than it normally would be. Give your rats, ferrets, or sugar gliders a pirate ship to play in. Give your parrot a pirate parrot pinata to shred to their hearts content, filled with healthy treats. Give your fish a pirate treasure bubbler for extra oxygen and entertainment in their aquarium. Give your scurvy dog a scurvy dog of a pirate captain to chew on and chase around the yard!
- Play dress up and take pictures! Okay, we admit it. This is much more fun for you then for your pets. But who doesn't want to see a ton of pets dressed as pirates on Facebook the next day?! And as we said, Halloween makes finding pirate themed items at the store much easier. Certainly dogs, cats, and ferrets (yes, that hanging ship comes complete with a ferret t-shirt with a skull and crossbones) have plenty of options. But if you are willing to get really silly the internet (such as Etsy) can provide you with garb for guinea pigs, tortoises, toads, sugar gliders, and more.
- Dig for treasure... like mealworms! If you have a ferret, hedgehog, sugar glider, omnivorous tortoise, or other foraging pet you probably already know the pleasure of a dig box. But if you don't, try it! Some
(like ferrets) don't much care if there are treats to hunt for... they just like to dig! Others, it's all about the treasure. For a ferret you can use a big deep box full of long grain white rice (avoid instant rice), macaroni, beans, play sand, peat moss, shredded paper, ping pong balls, or plastic eggs. Hedgehogs prefer a shallow pan with strips of fleece, ping pong balls, marbles (too large for them to put in their mouths), or something like that... and well stocked with hidden mealworms! Use your imagination, and, as always research to be sure you are using safe materials for your species of pet.
- Walk the plank... and go for a swim!Your pet might enjoy a little trip to Davy Jones' Locker... provided the water is nice! Take your dog swimming in a lake or even just for a run in the sprinkler if the weather stays warm (or out in the rain, if it gets crazy stormy as it has been recently. Just please stay safe!). Give your reptile an extra long soak in a baby bath warm tub. Even those who are desert climate, like Russian tortoises and bearded dragons, benefit from a good long soak as often as once a week, and some enjoy it immensely (others merely tolerate it.)!
- Curl up with a good mate and a good movie. If your pirate pal is more of a landlubber, an evening at home in your lap, on your shoulder, or at your feet might be the perfect way to celebrate. Check out Pirates of the Great Salt Lake, The Pirates!, Pirates of the Caribbean (of course), Hook, or any number of old pirate movies out there. Spend some time watching movies, snuggling, petting, or basking under a UVA/UVB light, depending on your preference.
Whatever you do, shiver me timbers! Have a happy Talk Like a Pirate Day with all ye scurvy mates whether they be havin' two legs or four... or three!