Lotus Rose, a miniature Peke, graced the cover of the 25 February 1968 Observer Magazine. She may look cute and healthy, but in reality she had bouts of pneumonia, a heart condition and her teeth needed attention, too. All because she was a victim of the ‘British passion for ever smaller pets’.
‘Maybe the reason we are so devoted to pets is that we are nostalgic for the green fields and the simple life,’ observed the writer Frank Manolson. ‘In many other countries successful people retire to town. In Britain they hanker after a country cottage. Pet keepers may feel that their animals are a link with the promised land.’
As well as dogs, they spared a mention for cats, too. ‘If a cat is determined to scratch your favourite sofa down to its springs, it is best to resign yourself and enjoy the performance.’ There was also a rigorous guide on how to choose exactly the right type of dog by Judith Ball – . ‘Don’t necessarily select the most appealing puppy in the litter,’ she wrote. ‘Pick one that isn’t afraid of you or shy. If you have any doubts about how big it will grow, look at its feet: the dog is likely to grow to match them in size.’
Though the Cocker Spaniel makes an endearing pet, ‘the show bench produced a pretty, narrow-headed idiot’. If it’s smaller creatures still that you’re worried about, then how about a Cairn Terrier? ‘An absolute demon with any kind of vermin… and vociferous as an alarm dog.’ Which is more than can be said for a Basenji, which makes ‘a barking noise somewhere between a laugh and a whisper. Unusually, too, it washes itself like a cat – and is very clean’.
The Chihuahua – the smallest dog in the world at 15cm tall – was ‘fairly robust, lively and highly intelligent’ and ‘in a native setting, the breed hunts wild pig’. How successfully was not stated.