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Where are the famous dogs? Where are the famous animals?

We were having a conversation the other day about famous dogs. There are surprisingly few famous dogs. Then I realized it’s not just that. There are very few famous animals, period.

If you exclude racehorses and the pets of heads of state, these are all the famous animals we could think of:

dogs: Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Balto
cats: Trim, Grumpy cat, Morris the cat
horses: Clever Hans, Traveller
sheep: Dolly
groundhogs: Punxsutawney Phil
octopuses: Paul
gorillas etc.: Harambe, also that chimp that learned sign language
dolphins: Flipper
cows: Mrs. O’Leary’s
lions: Cecil
elephants: Jumbo
dinosaurs: Sue

That’s only 18. 18! Or 19 if you count Dolly as 2. Just 18 or 19 from the entire animal kingdom. I’m sure we’re missing a few, but still. I wouldn’t have thought that there were so few famous animals (again, not counting racehorses and royal or presidential pets, which I’d consider to be special cases).

P.S. Fictional animals don’t count.

P.P.S. Lots of good suggestions in comments. The #1 missing item above is Laika. You don’t have to believe me on this, but we did discuss Laika in our conversation. It was just my bad to forget to include him her when typing up the blog post.

From comments, some others in addition to Laika:

horses: Bucephalus, Incitatus, Mr. Ed
lions: Elsa
gorillas: Koko

89 Comments

  1. Euan Ritchie says:

    Sounds US centric! Two famous dogs from the UK: Greyfriar’s Bobby (has statue in Edinburgh), and possibly Boy who I think was highest ranking dog in English military history.

    Also there was the Russian dog that went to space.

    The octopus that “predicted” world cup results enjoyed at least temporary fame.

  2. Jeff says:

    Another category would be TV cowboy horses. At least some of those were non-fictional in the sense that they didn’t have a stage name. The line is blurred when a TV horse is portrayed by different actual horses over time, but Flipper was more than one dolphin.

  3. Witold says:

    Koko the gorilla? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koko_(gorilla)
    Wojtek the bear? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wojtek_(bear) or is it my Polish bias?
    Ham the astrochimp I think was very famous back in the 60s
    And of course Laika!

    But, most importantly, the Toronto skyscraper-climbing raccoon.

  4. gec says:

    I would be remiss if I didn’t submit my late colleague Li’l BUB for consideration:
    https://www.youtube.com/user/LilBubBub

    She might be from space, but I think she still qualifies as a cat.

  5. Daniel says:

    Off the top of my head, I’d add Laika, Koko, and a ton of racehorses.

  6. whales: Shamu

    But like some of the other actors, there was more than one Shamu with that stage name.

  7. Jeff says:

    Also, the bear that played Ben on Grizzly Adams.

  8. jhap says:

    Chicagoians will remember the famous alligator: chance the snapper
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chance_the_Snapper

  9. Here are some more:

    https://www.insider.com/most-famous-animals-of-all-time-2019-10

    dogs: Laika (c’mon — the first dog in space!)
    gorillas: Koko (it wasn’t a chimp learning sign language)

    Those I’d heard of. But it also filled me in on ones I hadn’t heard of in Andrew’s list.

  10. Adede says:

    Dogs: Benji

    Rabbits: Peter Rabbit

    Cats: Garfield, Tom
    Mice: Jerry

  11. Adede says:

    Pigs: Babe
    Spiders: Charlotte

  12. Adede says:

    “P.S. Fictional animals don’t count.”

    I’ve got some bad news for you about Rin Tin Tin.

  13. Anonymous says:

    “Fictional animals don’t count”

    Real animals don’t count either: here’s looking at you Clever Hands.

  14. Kent Johnson says:

    horse: Mr. Ed

  15. Ben says:

    I gotta submit a retraction on Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. At the time I sent it in I didn’t know it it was real, but I went and checked after and Wikipedia says it’s fake news.

    Ofc., even though I knew about the problems before publication, I didn’t actually submit the retraction until it was published and I got to reap the professional benefits.

  16. DMac says:

    How about Incitatus – the horse Caligula wanted to make into a consul?

  17. Oliver says:

    Larry the Downing Street cat occasionally makes it onto the front pages of newspapers in the UK.

  18. Vince says:

    Elsa (lion popularized in Born Free)

  19. Dave says:

    Secretariat and Sea Biscuit? They both have movies about them.

  20. Z says:

    Declining in relevance, but Eddie from Frasier

  21. Cass1an says:

    “Laika” is not the only space dog – Belka and Strelka are also well known in Russia (mostly because they’ve returned and Laika didn’t)
    Obviously Hachikō. Also Balto
    Isn’t Lassie “fictional”? Otherwise there is a lot of televised dogs
    Lions – lions of Tsavo
    Fiona the hippo and Heidi the opposum
    Turtle Old George
    Panda Pan Pan (the stud)
    Dolphin – Pelorus Jack
    Mike the headless chicken

    • Andrew says:

      Cass:

      Yes, Lassie is fictional, but I was thinking that the dog that played Lassie in the movie was famous enough to count on his own. And Balto’s on the list already. The others I hadn’t heard of. Which doesn’t mean they’re not famous, they just aren’t famous to me!

      • jim says:

        “famous enough to count on his own”

        A male dog named “Lassie”? They always say “good girl!” in the show! :)

        • Carlos Ungil says:

          “All the dogs portraying Lassie have been male. A female collie was hired to play the lead in Lassie Come Home, but when an opportunity came to film “Lassie” negotiating some rapids, the female reportedly would have nothing to do with the rushing water. Rudd Weatherwax’s collie “Pal” was substituted, and not only stole the stunt but won the role. Weatherwax continued to use male collies in the role for a good reason: both sexes shed in the summer (when most movies and television shows traditionally film most of their episodes), an event called “blowing coat,” but since the male has thicker fur, he wouldn’t look so scrawny during filming. Also, fans tend to think of Lassie as a “big heroic dog.” Female collies are usually 10-15 pounds lighter than their male counterparts, therefore a male dog playing Lassie would look more impressive.”

          http://www.lassieweb.org/lassfact.htm

      • Cass1an says:

        “And Balto’s on the list” – oh, my bad
        “Which doesn’t mean they’re not famous, they just aren’t famous to me!” then we should weight whether this discovery is more revelatory about the fame and animal kingdom in general or about your knowledge of them ;) :P
        One more objective definition of “famous” could be a feature film about said animal (probably documentaries should count as well, but they are usually harder to track). By this criterion Hachiko, Belka & Strelka and Lions of Tsavo certainly qualify (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ghost_and_the_Darkness having the most famous cast).

  22. Isaac says:

    Alex the parrot! Also there have been plenty of New York animals that have gotten their fifteen minutes of fame – pizza rat, the mandarin duck in central park (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/03/nyregion/hot-duck-mandarin-central-park.html), etc.

  23. Bob says:

    Trigger (Roy Rogers’ horse)
    Misty of Chincoteague (There is a book and movie. But there was a horse.)

    Trivia question. Name a state or property that both of these animals have—one that is relatively rare.

    Hint: That unusual property is described in the Wikipedia article about each horse.

    • Bill Jefferys says:

      Yes, Trigger (If you hadn’t said it I was going to). Roy also had a German shepherd, Bullet. His wife, Dale Evans, also had a horse, Buttermilk.

      • Jay Livingston says:

        Jeff, in an early comment, mentions the category of cowboy’s horse. Besides Roy and Dale, there’s Gene Autry (Champion), Tom Mix (Tony), Hopalong Cassidy (Topper), and of course the Lone Ranger (Silver) and Tonto (Scout). The problem is that these may not have been real individual horses but horse-roles played by several different horse-actors.

  24. Argos in The Odyssey! My favorite of the famous dogs.

    And Christopher Smart’s cat Jeoffry (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45173/jubilate-agno):

    For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
    For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
    For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
    For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
    For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
    For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
    For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
    For this he performs in ten degrees.
    For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
    For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
    For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
    For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
    For fifthly he washes himself.
    For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
    For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
    For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
    For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
    For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
    For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
    For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
    For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
    For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
    For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
    For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
    For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
    For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
    For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
    For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
    For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
    For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
    For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
    For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
    For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
    For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
    For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
    For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
    For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
    For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
    For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
    For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
    For he is tenacious of his point.
    For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
    For he knows that God is his Saviour.
    For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
    For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
    For he is of the Lord’s poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually—Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
    For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
    For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
    For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
    For he is docile and can learn certain things.
    For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
    For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
    For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
    For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
    For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
    For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
    For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
    For the former is afraid of detection.
    For the latter refuses the charge.
    For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
    For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
    For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
    For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
    For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
    For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
    For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
    For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
    For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
    For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
    For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
    For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
    For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
    For he can swim for life.
    For he can creep.

  25. Keiko says:

    Don´t you remember me? The orca from Free Willy.

  26. Jonathan (another one) says:

    What about college mascots?
    Cow: Bevo
    Dogs: Handsome Dan, Uga
    Buffalo: Ralphie
    Eagle: War Eagle
    Pig: Tusk

    Also: horse – Trigger

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      You beat me to the punch with Bevo (although, like Lassie, there have been several Bevo’s — 15 so far).

      • Cass1an says:

        “The date of Phil’s prognostication is known as Groundhog Day in the United States and Canada, and has been celebrated since 1887.”
        “The lifespan of a groundhog in the wild is roughly six years.”

        However: “The practices and lore of Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions are predicated on a light-hearted suspension of disbelief by those involved. According to the lore, there is only one Phil, and all other groundhogs are impostors.[4] It is claimed that this one groundhog has lived to make weather prognostications since 1886, sustained by drinks of “groundhog punch” or “elixir of life” administered at the annual Groundhog Picnic in the fall.”

  27. Peter Dorman says:

    A number of signing chimps have gained individual fame. Perhaps best known is Nim Chimpsky because of his name as well as the extraordinary documentary made about his life. I had a memorable personal encounter with Washoe, who taught signing to other chimps.

    Alex the parrot is a notable addition to the list — not just famous but legendary, yes?

    Did Mozart’s talented starling have a name?

  28. Robin Morris says:

    For the UK and Australian readers of a certain age: Skippy the Bush Kangaroo
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skippy_the_Bush_Kangaroo

    (Though Skippy was actually played by a number of different kangaroos; not sure if that counts.)

    • Thomas Lumley says:

      I would have said Skippy was fictional, and I’m not sure the kangaroos that played him count as famous.

      In New Zealand, Sirocco the kākāpō (and more widely among Stephen Fry fans: “Sorry, but this is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. You are being shagged by a rare parrot”)

    • Lauren says:

      I (Aussie in Andrew’s group) suggested Skippy over lunch, complete with the theme song. It was rejected as you said because Skippy was actually played by a number of kangaroos.

      Trim (Matthew Flinder’s cat) made it in as a famous Aussie icon though!

  29. jim says:

    Bias for recent animals!

    Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis, Pliocene)
    Dakota the Dino-Mummy (hadrosaur, Cretaceous)
    Sue (T. Rex, Cretaceous)
    Laia (Pliobates cataloniae, Miocene)
    Hobbit (Homo floresiensis, Pleistocene)

    OK, so they’re not all *famous*, but known just the same. :)

  30. Joe says:

    Leaving out the race horses is kinda like trying to assemble a list of famous college student but excluding athletes. Yes, there are other paths to fame but you’ve excluded the big one.

    I’d say also:
    -Tillikum (the Seaworld orca who killed 3 people and was the focus of the widely watched Blackfish); Shamu might also count among orcas.
    -The Taco Bell Dog (officially Gidget the chihuahua — maybe I was watching too much TV at the time but he’s as recognizable to me as most celebrities)
    -Moose (who played Eddie the dog on Frasier — and apparently received more fan mail than any other cast member)

  31. Carlos Ungil says:

    Islero: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islero

    Copito de nieve: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowflake_(gorilla)

    Many other zoo animals are local celebrities, notably giant pandas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_giant_pandas

    In the “acting” field, even though in that case one could say it’s really the character who is famous: Cheeta (Jiggs in the first movies), Beethoven (Chris in the first movies), Rex (BJ and later Rhett Butler in the original series).

  32. George says:

    It was just my bad to forget to include him when typing up the blog post.

    Her

  33. Peter Dorman says:

    Forgot one more: Hoover, the talking seal at the New England Aquarium (1971-85). “Hey! Get over here!”

  34. Mark Hadfield says:

    Shrek the sheep, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrek_(sheep), world famous in New Zealand

  35. John Richters says:

    Harvey: The demon-possessed dog who instructed David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) to commit those murders. Bad dog.

  36. Simon Gates says:

    What about Nipper the HMV dog?

  37. Hi Andrew-

    Re horses: you missed, at a minimum, Trigger and Old Paint
    Dogs: What about Boo? (“Me and You and a Dog Named Boo,” Lobo, 1971)

  38. David P says:

    Wasn’t there a snake named Satan?

  39. Sean Mackinnon says:

    Do you count social media famous? Because there is a whole hidden world of famous social media dogs. Exhibit A, with 404,000 followers:

    https://www.instagram.com/coconutricebear/?hl=en

    …I’m biased because I own a Samoyed, lol.

  40. Dzhaughsn says:

    How about first pets, such as Checkers, Socks, the Obama’s portie whats-his-name,

    Not really famous, but the head of the FDIC Seidman had a dog named William Proxmire.

  41. Andrew says:

    Dzhaughsn,

    Read the post. I explicitly excluded pets of heads of state!

  42. Bill Jefferys says:

    Are the actual animals that played in TV/Movies fictional or real (since they were real animals)? Like the Lone Ranger’s horse Silver, and his sidekick Tonto’s horse Scout?

  43. Steve L. says:

    In Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, the gorilla Bushman the Brave, who was taxidermied at the Museum of Natural History.

  44. Jeff Walker says:

    Andre the Seal. At least in Maine. And a movie was made about him although it was filmed in BC or somewhere out west and Andre was played by a sea lion.

  45. Phillip Middleton says:

    Debbie the Bloop … Lost in Space … probably as important as Chim-Chim.

  46. Seth A Green says:

    Admittedly I had forgotten the dog’s name, but I knew the story: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hachik%C5%8D

    I wonder also if dogs who play dogs in movies count? The air bud dog was a good dog.

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