We recently learned that dogs have been around for at least 15,000 years and that for pretty much the whole of their history, have been a companion species to humans. In fact, many scientists think that companionship with their two legged friends is the reason dogs evolved in the first place, having started out as wolves 5 - 7 million years ago. Now our science knowledge is slightly on the, er, rusty side, but we’re inclined to agree: there are fewer things that go better than dogs and people! In the years since their arrival, dogs have saved lives, advanced science, and generally been all round awesome. In fact, such is the contribution of dogs to the success of humankind that we are minded to propose a canine Mount Rushmore dedicated to the hound heroes of history. It’s a crowded field since there have been many, many brilliant dogs, but if there were to be a Mount Barkmore - and we think there should be! - these are the four furry faces we would most like to see carved thereon. Woof!
Togo the Trekker, a Siberian husky
Many of us are familiar with the story of Balto, whose heroic efforts to cover the last leg of the 1925 mission to deliver life-saving serum to the diptheria-stricken people of Nome, Alaska, has been documented many times. Far less famous, but arguably even more heroic - and don’t get us wrong, we are big Balto fans - was Togo, who, with his human partner, Leonhard Seppla, pulled the sled an astonishing 264 miles, compared to the team average of 31. Even more remarkable is that Togo was 12 years old when he made his death-defying journey, and was working in temperatures as low as -30 degrees without the benefit of a warm and cozy parka! His incredible tenacity and peerless instincts were tested countless times on the way to Nome and perhaps no incident was more remarkable than when the team became stranded on an ice floe. Their only hope of escape involved Seppala tying a leash to Togo, and throwing the dog across five feet of water, so that he might drag the ice floe on which the sled was resting. Once thrown, Togo duly tried to pull the floe, but the line snapped. What happened next was incredible: with a degree of ingenuity far surpassing that of many humans, Togo snatched the line from the water, wrapped it around his shoulders like a harness, and pulled his team to safety. Amazing!! Following the Nome mission, Seppala and Togo took part in many friendly races, and eventually made their way to Poland Spring, Maine, where Seppala set up a breeding kennel and he and Togo explored the Maine wilderness, often sleeping under the stars. Togo died in 1929 aged 16, but it took until 2001 for his legacy to be recognized with a statue in NYC’s Seward Park, more than 75 years after Balto was commemorated by his statue in Central Park. Both dogs are exemplars of service and dedication, but Togo’s unique skill and courage has given him a unique place in our hearts.
Bobbie the Wonder Dog, a collie-shepherd mix.
Something of a hometown hero, Bobbie might perhaps be more accurately called Bobbie the Wander Dog, although his travels were anything but aimless. But let’s back up! The story of this intrepid adventurer begins in Silverton, Oregon, a mere 40 miles from King Duke’s HQ, where Bobbie lived with his family, the Braziers. Towards the end of summer 1923, the family, Bobbie included, took a trip to Wolcott, Indiana, to visit their family. Not long after their arrival, Bobbie got into a little scuffle with some local dogs, and in the ensuing melee, took to his paws and fled. Days passed with no sign of Bobbie, and the Braziers had no choice but to return home to Silverton, leaving instructions for how to reach them should Bobbie reappear. Months passed with no word from Wolcott, and the family was resigned to a future without their beloved dog. Imagine their surprise to hear scratching at the door 6 months after leaving Indiana, and upon opening it, finding Bobbie! This incredible homing hound had trekked some 2,500 MILES across the nation in freezing winter conditions, and, we assume, without the benefit of a map, boots, or a coat, to find his way home. Such was his feat that Bobbie became nationally famous within weeks, even starring in a silent movie in 1924! He died 3 years later in 1927, and was buried in the Oregon Humane Society’s pet cemetery, where people visit his grave to this day. His remarkable life is commemorated by a huge mural (and statue) in downtown Silverton. Wanderful indeed!
Sinbad the Sailor Dog, a majestic mixed breed.
This is the story of an accidental sailor who would go on to become one of only two non-commissioned canine officers in the US military. Yes really! Sinbad’s story began in 1937, when the bosun’s first mate of the US Coastguard Ship, George W. Campbell, A. “Blackie” Rother, acquired him as a gift to keep his girlfriend company while he was at sea. Alas, his dad's girlfriend’s apartment did not allow dogs, so Sinbad instead found himself on board the Campbell. The enterprising crew assured his place by pointing out his ‘seamanesque’ qualities, among them drinking coffee and even enjoying tots of whiskey at port hostelries. According to Coast Guard records, Sinbad was enlisted with his paw print on official papers, assigned a bunk and a service record, and his own Red Cross identification number. Accordingly, he was treated the same way as his fellow sailors, occasionally making ‘Captain’s Mast’, a sort of naval naughty list, and being demoted and promoted several times over. The most significant part of Sinbad’s service was in World War 2, where he assisted in many maneuvers and was decorated frequently, being awarded no fewer than six medals that he wore attached to his (presumably waterproof) collar. By the time he retired, Sinbad held the rank of K9C Chief Dog and earned commensurate pay, which we assume he spent on (ships’) biscuits and natty gear to impress the lady dogs who flocked to local bars to toast him. Sinbad, we don’t blame you one little bit! He spent his retirement at the Barnegat Light Station in New Jersey, listed as ‘honorably discharged, inactive’, in 1948. In a profile, Life magazine described him as “an old sea dog who has favorite bars and plenty of girls in every port!” A fitting epitaph to Sinbad the Sailor Dog. Cheers!
Seaman the Explorer, a Newfoundland
The last candidate for Mount Barkmore brings the land and sea together, as the sole canine member of Lewis & Clark’s group to complete the entire 3-year-long expedition. Preparing for the trip in Pittsburgh, Meriwether Clark was looking for a reliable, hardy dog to accompany himself and William Lewis on their seminal journey. He was inclined to choose a Newfoundland because he knew them to be excellent swimmers, skillful rescuers, and generally happy on boats, and so Seaman was selected and named for the qualities of his breed. Described as a docile doggo, this gentle giant proved an exceptional choice. Among his many duties, he guarded the camp against bears, chased off a buffalo who had wandered into the camp, and even killed and retrieved an antelope who had been crossing the river, upon which the party dined for a week. The many Native Americans who encountered Seaman were monumentally impressed with his intelligence and skill, and even tried, unsuccessfully, to keep him once the expedition drew to a close. Having survived the often treacherous journey, Seaman was, we presume, looking forward to a long and happy retirement, but this was sadly not to be. By this time Governor of Upper Louisiana, Meriwether Lewis was killed by a gunshot in Tennessee in 1809 while on his way to Washington, DC. The circumstances around his death are the subject of competing accounts, but undisputed is Seaman’s response: the dog was so grief stricken that he refused food and himself died. The contemporary historian who had recorded Seaman’s death noted that his collar, then displayed in a museum in Alexandria, was thus inscribed: The greatest traveler of my species / My name is SEAMAN / the dog of captain Meriwether Lewis / whom I accompanied to the Pacifick Ocean / through the interior of the continent of North America.
While these particular dogs have earned their places in history, we know as well as you that each and every dog is a hero indeed. Dogs, we don’t deserve you, but we’re mighty, mighty grateful that you’ve stuck with us anyway! Until next month, pack, we salute you!
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