Category Archives: Dog hero

Sgt. Stubby and Owney the Post Office Dog: The Meaning of Mascots

My friend Bernard Unti recently made me aware of a new animated film Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero.  It tells the extraordinary story of Sgt. Stubby, a Boston bull terrier who followed his newly enlisted owner to France during World War I and, miraculously, survived to return to the U.S.  The website for this film is really wonderful, with lots of activities for kids and materials for teachers and families.

I quote the excellent film website here: “Stubby saw action in 17 different battles and received critical wounds during a chemical attack. When he recovered, his heightened sensitivity gave him the ability to detect incoming attacks and alert Conroy and his brothers-in-arms. He could also discern English from German speech, leading medics to wounded Americans on the battlefield. After catching a German spy in the Yankee Division’s trenches, Stubby was promoted to the rank of Sergeant, the first dog to be promoted in combat.”

Sgt Stubby
The dog lived a long and happy life (he died in 1926) as a mascot for the 102nd Infantry Regiment, marching in parades and having his portrait taken.  He met three presidents and also became the mascot of the Georgetown Hoyas.  He rode on a “Be Kind to Animals” float in a parade organized by the American Humane Education Society in Washington. Conroy lived in Washington, D.C. and, when Stubby died, he arranged for him to be mounted by a Smithsonian taxidermist, who mounted the preserved hide over a plaster cast of the dog’s body.  Scrapbooks documenting Stubby’s life, and the dog’s “uniform” seen in the photo above, were turned over to the National Museum of American History. Here’s a link  to the catalog record for Sgt. Stubby. Nowadays, he is on exhibit as part of the displays about World War I.  (That extraordinary spiked collar he is wearing was actually a pretty common type used on bulldogs.  Its origins are in collars made to protect the throats of hunting dogs centuries earlier, but the spikes and studs were more of a convention by the time Stubby came along.)

The story of Sgt. Stubby made me think about a second dog mascot, from a generation before Stubby,  whose preserved body is also in the collection of the Smithsonian.  Owney, whose portrait you see below, was a rough coated terrier mix who initially belonged to a mail carrier. Born around 1887, the dog became the mascot of the U.S. post office in Albany, New York.  Owney began to travel with the mail bags of the Railroad Mail Service and logged over 140,000 miles before his death in 1897.  Mail carriers often took him to the photographer for a portrait, sometimes together and sometimes alone, as in this example from Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  Notice that Owney is on a mail bag.

Owney

Portrait of Owney, around 1890.  Cabinet card photography by Wheeler Jeweler and Photographer, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  Collection of May Thurston, Animal image.

Owney did not meet as happy an end as Sgt. Stubby.  He allegedly attacked a postal clerk and was killed in Toledo, Ohio. (There are several variant stories about this, but it looks like he was being mistreated at the time —  a black mark on the Toledo post office forever, in my book.). And Owney’s body, like that of Sgt. Stubby, was taken to a taxidermist.  Today, Owney’s body is on display at the National Postal Museum.  The Museum’s  blog has a lot of excellent information about Owney, including an account of the conservation that made him “fuzzy” again.

Screenshot 2018-04-15 20.35.13

Owney and his jacket, National Postal Museum.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about these two dogs and the paths that led to their lives as mascots for communities of work — soldiers (it is a type of work) and postal workers.  Both dogs “worked” alongside men who found some company and, clearly, some pleasure in their presence.  All accounts seem to agree that both dogs seemed to know that they were special, that they had public lives beyond their lives as dogs.  And the uniforms with medal and bags are also interesting to compare.  Sgt. Stubby’s medals were military, while Owney’s uniform was covered with mail bag tags and custom medals created by the mail workers who knew him.

Taxidermy of pet dogs is, and was, relatively rare (despite all the stories I’ve been told over the years).  Doting pet owners were, and are, much more likely to spend money on a gravesite and tombstone than a mount of their beloved companions.  A mascot is something else, however, because it is a public symbol representing a community.  in a way, preserving the dog was preserving the community.

I’d be interested to know from readers of this blog whether there are other mascot dogs that have been turned into taxidermy mounts after their deaths.  In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero — and to visiting both Stubby and Owney on my next trip to Washington!

 

2 Comments

Filed under Dog hero, dog photography, dogs, mascots, material culture, pet history, pets, taxidermy of pets

A Mysterious Hero Dog of Chicago, 1958: Your Help Needed!

Pets Blog 1 July 15_0032

“Spotty the Hero Dog,” posthumous photo,Chicago, IL, 1958. Photographer unknown.

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.

Spotty crop copy

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!

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Dog hero, dogs, material culture, memorial photography, pets