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A WOMAN'S LIFE

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PET KEEPING

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Pet keeping
DOGS - CATS - SQUIRRELS - SONG BIRDS

Medieval women, like women today, were avid pet-keepers. Pets were defined as those animals kept in the inner chambers of a woman's home or personal space which have no other practical purpose than that of companionship. Pets favoured by women were songbirds, small dogs (usually white and hairy), cats and occasionally squirrels! Small long-haired dogs can be seen in many contemporary artworks- manuscripts, effigies and paintings.

Dogs
Although dogs represent fidelity and could be included in paintings in an allegorical sense, some household accounts show expenses for food for companion dogs rather than those used for hunting or hawking. A small dog was seen as an acceptable companion for a lady as long as she did not lavish food on it which was good enough to feed the poor.

Most artworks help distinguish lapdogs from hunting dogs by a red, leather collar with several brass bells attached. Collars like this can also be seen on images of pet squirrels.


Cats

Cats are often seen in manuscript margins and fall into two distinct categories- those which are pets and those which are household cats for catching mice. Household cats were usually tabby- that is striped (hence tabby weave) but the household pet was usually a different colour.

The most favoured by noble ladies were specially imported Syrian cats, ginger or ginger and white in colour. These are mentioned in correspondence many times over- wishing to acquire, the happiness and love that the kitten has brought and the overwhelming sadness at the passing of. Many poets composed elegies for the death of a noble woman's beloved pet and it was noted that mourning for such a pet was quite normal.
Several women had constructed small tombs and these were also noted in personal letters.

Squirrels
There are a number of medieval manuscripts which show women with pet squirrels. Like cats and dogs, they often have a red collar and small bells. The detail from an English manuscript from the 14th century, the Luttrell Psalter, shows an image of the lady out in a covered carriage with her pet squirrel on her shoulder.

The detail from the floor tile shown at left shows a floor tile of a noble woman wearing a coronet with her pet squirrel on her hand.

Song Birds
Song birds were also fashionable pets and pet shops listed an extensive variety of birds which were available. Tthere were guildmakers to regulate the makers of bircages which could be quite ornate. Tax records for bird-sellers and cage -makers appear as early as 1292 in Paris.

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