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Refugees, Freud and animals

2015 October 7
Freud with earlier Chows in Austria. (Image from Freud museum)

Freud with earlier Chows in Austria. (Image from Freud museum)

The United High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) recently wrote about a Husky puppy  called Rose who had travelled from Syria to Greece with her human carer, Aslan Al Hakim.’We’ve seen many like him carrying their animals with them on the long journey from Syria, across the Mediterranean Sea and through Europe,’ the UNHCR wrote.  ‘When forced to flee home because of war, many people would never dream of leaving their pets behind’

This is no new phenomenon. For example,when Freud, who had lived with Chow dogs for many years, finally managed to leave Austria in June 1938, he boarded the Orient Express together with his current Chow Lun who at Dover – in keeping with the law at the time – was taken to a quarantine kennel at London’s Ladbroke Grove. Freud visited Lun frequently. Sadly by time she was out of quarantine his jawbone cancer was so advanced that the skin became gangrenous and the smell was so strong that the dog cowered on the far side of the sick room.

Freud was not the only Jewish refugee to flee with a companion animal.The National Canine Defence League (now Dogs Trust) had established a special fund to pay for the quarantine of dogs of refugees from Europe. Dogs included Marjko a three year old St Bernard from Vienna. The League commented in May 1939, ‘We have never encountered such heart-reading grief about the fate of dogs, nor have we ever seen so much tearful joy when we promise to see that the dogs rejoin their exiled owners the the quarantine of six months.’

Some of the recent online comments on the story of Rose and Aslan as covered in the Independent suggested that love of companion animals was peculiarly British – and thus the story of the Syrian refugees could not be genuine…Surely it  shows not only the way in which animal and human identity is blurred but the commonalities between living beings of different cultures ?

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