Our thoughts // 08.09.2023

Famous Pets: Wojtek the Battle Bear and 5 other heroes


Humanity has shared an affinity with animals throughout history. At Whistle Punks, we love an underdog story, and tales of bizarre famous pets who became heroes fill our hearts with animalistic adoration.

Animal lovers rejoice! September is the celebratory month you probably never knew you needed. Almost every day this month is devoted to a different animal companion, giving us plenty of excuses to show our love to our furry, fishy or feathery friends.

Besides being ‘Happy Cat Month’, you can also look forward to National Iguana Awareness Day, Farm Animals Awareness Week, International Rabbits Day as well as the greatest holiday of the season – Meow Like A Pirate Day.

There’s even a ‘Pet Rock Day’ to celebrate the companion with the lowest maintenance, easiest grooming schedule and cheapest diets.

Regardless of the shape, size or mineral composition of your favourite companion animals, the following famous pets have all found fame throughout history and earned a place in our hearts forever.

Wojtek the Battle Bear

We have a lot of respect for bears. On the surface, you see the fluffy and scritchable (no, autocorrect, that is not a spelling error) ears, boopable snoot and a mass of huggable fur, lolloping about in search of honey and a tree to scratch its back on.

They can also be utterly terrifying.

In the interests of finding a bear ‘that can do both’, we’d hazard a guess that one of the more unexpected sights during World War 2 was a massive 200kg brown bear by the name of Wotjek, a well-loved member of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps.

Raised as an orphaned cub by the soldiers, Wotjek was given the official title of Private in order to get his rations and was eventually promoted to Corporal – we do feel sorry for anyone who missed out on that promotion, but they clearly didn’t show the same hunger for the job that Wotjek did.

Wotjek had his own paybook, serial number and rank, and played a vital role in the company. Not only was he uniquely adapted to carrying heavy munitions, he became a local celebrity and did wonders for the soldiers’ morale.

Wotjek was a socialite, often found sharing a beer with his comrades, marching alongside them, or keeping them warm during cold nights.

In wartime, when even bare necessities were hard to come by, Wotjek the Battle Bear was testament to the enduring kindness of strangers and the distinct love we have for animals.

He enjoyed a happy retirement at Edinburgh Zoo.

Babou, Salvador Dalí’s Ocelot

The life of surrealist artist Salvador Dalí was about as colourful and confusing as his paintings.

The man famous for pictures of melting clocks and telephones shaped like lobsters continued the surrealism into almost everything he did: from arriving at a lecture in a diving helmet, to driving from Spain to France in a car filled with cauliflowers.

It makes sense, then, that Dalí’s famous pet wasn’t something so pedestrian as a dog or housecat.

Instead, Dalí was often found at home or in public with an ocelot named Babou. Wildcats by nature, ocelots are adept hunters with coats that resemble jaguars and leopards, and make terrible pets for anyone who isn’t Salvador Dalí.

To alleviate people’s fears when out in public, Dalí would often state that Babou was a normal cat that he had painted – a statement that would be scarcely believable if it had come from literally anyone else!

Poll the potty-mouthed parrot

Famous pets in the UK government tend to be on the more straightforward side: Downing Street has Larry the cat, Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, and the Royal Family’s corgis are a national treasure in their own right.

Over in the USA, however, things are a little more… varied. Thomas Jefferson had two bear cubs, John Quincy Adams kept an alligator, and James Buchanan had an eagle, proudly taking the top spot of ‘most American American in America’.

Then there’s Poll, an African Grey parrot who belonged to US president Andrew Jackson. Whilst no doubt a loyal companion throughout his time in office, Poll really came into the limelight after the seventh president’s passing.

During his funeral, Poll launched into a slew of cuss-words and bad language. Ever the disruptor, she had to be removed from the building after causing disquiet with her parrot-potty-mouth.

Parrots will often mimic their owners, so we’d argue that this was a touching tribute to the president’s verbal flair, but there’s a time and a place for a parrot!

Hachiko, the world’s most loyal dog

Some famous pets gain fame vicariously through their owners. However, some become famous through heart-warmingly pure means, like Hachiko – Japan’s most famous and well-loved dog.

Hachiko’s story is both sad and uplifting, so prepare yourself for an emotional rollercoaster.

Eizaburo Ueno adopted Hachiko, a Japanese Akita, when he was a puppy. Over the years, Hachiko would walk his owner to the train station to get to work and then come to greet him at the same station on his way home.

This adorable tradition continued until Eizaburo suddenly passed away at work. Hachiko moved in with a neighbouring family, but continued walking to the train station every day to greet his master. Dutifully, he would sit at the station for hours, though Eizaburo never arrived.

This incredibly good boy became a local celebrity before the story of his unflinching devotion touched the hearts of people the world over, who would visit specifically to meet the dog and give him treats.

There are now multiple statues, mosaics, and even a museum devoted to Hachiko. His story was also made into a Hollywood film starring Richard Gere.

No, he didn’t play the dog.

Nicolas Cage and the fish tank of octopuses

We’ve included this because that’s probably the greatest movie title of modern times. Bizarrely, it wouldn’t surprise us if Nicolas Cage starred in this movie.

Interestingly enough, it would seem that Nicolas Cage does have a bit of an obsession with octopuses, or ‘octopi’ depending on your preference (both are grammatically correct).

He is rumoured to have spent an eye-watering amount of money on an octopus in the mid-eighties which he named ‘Cool’, in the hopes that it would somehow make him a better actor. To this day, no one is quite sure how.

As to the success of that theory, it’s entirely subjective – however, if there was one animal we’d take with us to steal the Declaration Of Independence, it would be an octopus. Just saying.

Rufus the Harris Hawk

Wimbledon tennis championships are held in London every year, but what else is London famous for aside from expensive pints? Pigeons. If there’s one thing that could potentially ruin a good game of tennis, it’s a pigeon dropping presents on the punters from a height.

Enter Rufus, the Harris Hawk whose primary role is as a deterrent to pigeons. For the last 15 years, Rufus has ensured that Wimbledon is a bird-poop-free zone by providing gentle encouragement to any birds in the vicinity to leave, doing so with elegance and ease.

He also works at Westminster Abbey, as well as freelancing at hospitals and airfields, acting as a feathery bouncer of the aviary world.

man playing tennis at Wimbledon

A clear court - thanks Rufus!

All animals deserve our care, especially when we take into account examples like these where they’ve genuinely gone above and beyond for us! This September, take the chance to give your dog a good scratch, give your cat a treat, or generally pamper any other animals you come across (within reason - don’t approach any bears).

Does your pet belong on this list? Feel free to share pictures of your soon-to-be famous pets with us!

Words: Staff Writer