I was cleaning out my desk drawer the other day and came across some stamps with a dog on them. I had purchased 100 of these stamps, put them in the drawer, and they'd gotten buried and forgotten. Besides being happy to find the stamps, it made me wonder about the dog pictured. The dog was Owney, the postal dog, and, according to Wikipedia, the dog logged more than 143,000 miles riding in railroad mail cars.
His home base was Albany, where postal workers who found him one rainy night in 1887 adopted him. He apparently loved the smell of mailbags, and when they were loaded onto a train, he went along for the ride. He also served as a guard, because he would only let postal workers touch the bags. In 1895, he even toured Asia and Europe.
He wore a tag on his collar that said, "Owney, Post Office, Albany, New York" but soon other post offices were adding their own tags. His collar got so heavy that finally, United States Postmaster General John Wanamaker gave him a coat for displaying the tags. In 1887, after allegedly biting a worker, the local postmaster in Toledo, Ohio, ordered him shot.
Postal workers insisted that the little terrier mix be honored by being stuffed and preserved, rather than buried, and in 1904, the dog was displayed at the World's Fair in St. Louis. In 1911 he was presented to the Smithsonian Museum. His remains were given a makeover in 2011, and he is on display now in the museum, wearing his coat, covered with tags and commemorative medals.
Owney isn't the only dog on display at the Smithsonian. There is also Stubby, or to be more precise, "Sergeant Stubby," the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry during World War I. Stubby is part of a Smithsonian exhibit entitled "The Price of Freedom," and, like Owney, he wears a coat covered with various medals and commendations.
Adopted as a puppy by Private J. Robert Conroy, the dog, named Stubby because of his short tail, became a mascot, even though animals were forbidden in camp. He learned bugle calls, and Conroy taught him to "salute," by putting his right paw on his right eyebrow. When the division left for France, Conroy smuggled the dog aboard ship. In France, the story is that Conroy's commanding officer let the dog stay with the unit after Stubby saluted him.
Early on, Stubby, who was probably a pit bull terrier, suffered from a gas attack, and, although he recovered, he was very sensitive to even the slightest whiff of gas. Once, he smelled gas and ran through the trenches, waking up sleeping soldiers, and saving many lives.
During another battle, Stubby was injured, receiving shrapnel wounds in his chest and leg. He was sent to a Red Cross hospital, and after he recovered, he boosted morale by making bedside visits to hospitalized soldiers.
When on duty with his unit, Stubby would help find wounded soldiers, standing over them and barking until help arrived. He once caught a German soldier, biting and holding on until reinforcements arrived. According to the Smithsonian website, "For capturing an enemy spy, Stubby was put in for a promotion to the rank of sergeant by the commander of the 102nd Infantry. He became the first dog to be given rank in the United States Armed Forces."
At the end of the war, back in the United States, Stubby met presidents Wilson, Harding and Coolidge.
When his owner enrolled at Georgetown University to study law, Stubby went along and became the mascot of the Georgetown Hoyas.
Stubby died in 1926 and was stuffed and mounted and given to the Smithsonian.
Owney and Stubby aren't the only animals I've found who've been stuffed as a way to commemorate their lives. Roy Rogers had the horses Trigger and Buttermilk stuffed, as well as his dog, Bullet. Bob, the railway dog, an Australian dog who loved riding trains, was stuffed and displayed in the lobby of a hotel. At a house museum in Vermont, the family cat had been stuffed. It was a very shabby cat after being petted by hundreds of schoolchildren.
I'm ambivalent about stuffing versus burial. I get the point about preserving the image and allowing others to better imagine what the animal was like in life, but at the same time there's an "ick" factor for me. Given the choice,
I think I'd prefer a tasteful statue in marble or bronze.