Here is a mystery that really needs solving, and I hope that you can help! Years ago, I purchased this posthumous photography of “Spotty Chicago Hero Dog.” The images had no information on the reverse side, although the 8″ x 10″ black-and-whites looked like unused newspaper photographs. The seller had no information on the pictures, either.
Spotty the Hero Dog won a “Lassie Gold Award.” For you youngsters, the rough-coated collie Lassie was the star of a young adult novel, Lassie Come-Home, published in 1940. The novel became a movie in 1943, and Lassie (who was really a male collie named Pal) became so popular that a series of movies followed. Then came the television show Lassie, which first aired in 1954 and continued for twenty years. Pal did not live forever, of course, but his descendants played subsequent Lassies. Not only was Lassie the centerpiece of a media machine, but Lassie products proliferated, too: dolls, spin-off children’s books, lunchboxes and posters and other items. As a little girl, I watched Lassie, although I always thought that Timmy, the boy who had the thankless job of starring against Pal in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was sort of a drip.
In 1957, the popularity of the heroic Lassie character led to the creation of the Lassie Gold Awards, intended to commemorate dogs that had done something exceptional, including protecting or rescuing people. It’s not clear whose idea led to the awards, nor is it known who nominated or selected the winners. The first award in 1958 went to posthumously to a dog that had died in World War II. So Spotty here was an early recipient of the award, which included a large gilded bronze medal with Lassie’s picture on one side. One medal hangs above Spotty and a $500 Savings Bond, apparently part of the award, is visible to its right. However, I think that the Lassie medal may be the larger one in the open case in front of Spotty’s coffin.
I searched for a list of recipients of the Lassie Gold Award, but I have been unable to find one. One 1964 newspaper article I found noted that by 1964 more than 200 dogs had received it. The award seems to have continued into the 1970s.
So who was Spotty? I may have found him, but let me know whether you think I’m right and if you have more information. Here is the heroic Spotty that I found.
This is an image of Spotty nursing a head injury after saving his owner, Vivian Piorcharz, from a pair of robbers. Circulated by the United Press as a human interest piece, this one was published in the 21 March 1958 edition of a local newspaper in Harlingen, Texas. Returning to the original photo and using a magnifying glass, I think that I make out her name on the Lassie medal. Also, there are mounted clippings just visible to the left and right of the coffin.
So what happened to Spotty? If this is he, the faithful dog didn’t survive long after his heroic deed. Perhaps he died from a head injury. The white markings on the face of the corpse don’t exactly match the photograph, but perhaps Spotty’s body was dolled up a little.
I’ll keep looking for more information. Don’t hesitate to let me know if you can fill out more of the story!