Boots and Jerry

Leitzel cradling Boots and Jerry when they were puppies

Animals that traveled with the circus were expected to do their part. They either performed in the show, or they assisted the crew setting up and tearing down the tent city. There were two notable exceptions: a French bulldog named Jerry and a Boston terrier named Boots. Their only responsibility was to enjoy themselves. Still, they became as famous as any animals in the cast. It was for one simple reason, they were Lillian Leitzel’s beloved pets.

As Leitzel’s demands went, permission to travel with her pets was among the mildest. It’s unlikely she even asked permission. She probably just showed up one season with two puppies and dared anyone to tell her they could not come with her.

Leitzel’s fondness for animals was legendary. So the affection she lavished on her own dogs was not surprising. In her own words, they were “the two most spoiled animals in existence.” She pampered them like a doting grandparent. They wore jewel-bedecked collars and had the run of the backyard. A visit to Leitzel’s tent was incomplete without petting the pair that were famous for chewing on the laces of visitor’s shoes.

As with everything connected to Leitzel, her pets were publicity magnets. They became celebrities. They were often prominently featured in newspaper and circus advertising photos of Leitzel. Boots was even featured in a series of short stories. Most importantly, they were a stress reliever and a comfort to their mistress.