Today I take a break from writing fiction about dogs to take a closer look at a few canine mementos, more exactly at 7 dogs that put their paws on history – and on the reader’s hearts.
One of my all time favorite poetesses, Emily Dickinson, wrote once that ‘dogs are better than human beings because they know but do not tell,’ while Eisenhower, America’s 34th President, believed that ‘what counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.’
Take a moment to think of your favorite childhood story. Mine was about a sausage dog called Fridolin and chances are that, your too, was about the friendship between a man and an animal. Any parent or educator learns at some stage that the best way to convey a lesson to a child is through a story involving animals. It is based on the animal kingdom that the most valuable lessons about loyalty, trust, sacrifice and unconditional love come.
When it comes to their relationship with humans, dogs have followed a millennial, a fascinating journey that won them the nickname of man’s best friend, a path one that fed many bedtime stories for young and old alike. Furthermore, be it a puppy, a doggo or a bud, they became famous characters in literature and cinema and there are canines who have taught us powerful life lessons about what loyalty and love means. And let’s not forget the bravest hounds who helped the people in rescue operations or proved their courage on the front or behind enemy lines and even across no man’s land.
Sergeant Stubby, or when the size doesn’t matter (1916 – 1926)
Stubby certainly holds the record for receiving the most medals World War I. Stubby the puppy looked like a Pit Bull Terrier mix and was found wandering the grounds of the Yale University campus in July 1917 while members of the 102nd Infantry were training so he soon became their mascot. But Stubby also took part in numerous battles during which he helped discovering, capturing, and alerting the Allies to the presence of German spies.
Hachiko, a story of canine devotion from 1925 (1923 – 1935)
One day, when I will visit Japan, I will make sure to go to Shibuya train station where the statue of Hachiko is found. In Japanese culture Hachiko is a symbol of loyalty and love. This dog loved his master so much that his devotion entered people’s hearts and their memory and thus it remained in history. Books were written about him and movies were also made.
Adopted when he was just a puppy by Professor Hidesaburo Ueno, Hachiko was raised with a lot of love and attention. Since the Professor had to commute for work, Hachiko learned to wait daily for its owner’s return at Shibuya train station. The reunion of the two was the most awaited moment of the day. He did this for years until one day when Professor Ueno never returned from work. Hachiko’s owner passed away suddenly, while he was at the office, due to a cerebral hemorrhage. It was May 21, 1925. Hachiko waited until late that day, but his daddy never returned.
Yet Hachko never lost hope and for ten long years he went daily to Shibuya station to wait for his friend. Hachiko died of old age in 1935, on March 8.
What for a human being translates into basic human needs, food, comfort and love, for a dog is the definition of life itself. When men search companionship, understanding and friendship, dogs require only love.
Balto the Snowdog of 1925 (1919 – 1933)
How much do you love snow?
Balto was a Siberian husky dog trained to pull sleighs, named after the polar explorer Samuel Balto who participated in the first recorded crossing of the interior of Greenland, together with Nansen and four other expedition members.
But Balto the puppy grew into a strong and brave doggo soon known as the leader of the team that carried the diphtheria toxin in Nome, Alaska. During the winter of 1925 a small city with a big epidemic crisis was isolated due to weather conditions. The only solution to bring the antidote were dog dledding. Balto showed extraordinary courage and led the sledge to -23 ° C, at night, through the blizzard.
There is a statue in Balto’s memory in Central Park, New York. Have you seen it?
Just Nuisance, a WWII Royal Navy Able Seaman (1937 – 1944)
The life and story of the legendary Great Dane, Able Seaman Just Nuisance, still captures the hearts and imagination of tourists, WWII historians and readers around the world.
Just Nuisance was born on1st April 1937 and he had a different name at the beginning, a more prosaic name. It is an extraordinary story how received the name everyone got to know him by, a story you can read in my Amazon bestseller book Joyful Trouble.
Well, I’ll share a bit. This giant Great Dane was very gentle and liked the sailors such a lot that he followed them everywhere….
‘“But mostly he liked to tail seamen, to follow them, while they were moving in and out of the naval base. Out we went, the Great Dane was after us. In the train we climbed, the dog would jump in. Even in the dockyards when we were doing our job, he was there.
He just liked to be among us, to sit among us, even lie among us and nap. Especially the ones working on the HMS Neptune,” smiled the old man.
“Was that your ship, Grandpa?”
“Yes, it was the ship I was first appointed to. She was a beautiful light cruiser! When seamen work on a ship it is always busy work, heavy work. And to get on and off the ship they lay a plank of wood a little bit wider than…. this,” and the old man kept his hands wide apart. But our Great Dane enjoyed being among the seamen so much that he thought the best place for him to sit and wait for his busy friends was the plank itself, the piece of wood connecting the ship with the shore. And you can’t blame him; that was the only area on which everyone walked; because there was no other way.
Now, that was a narrow plank and our dog was a big dog. Therefor not much space was left for the sailors to walk up and down on their duties. Every time a sailor would have to board or disembark the ship, sometimes even carrying heavy loads, he was forced to step over our four legged friend. And after a few jumps like this the seamen, no matter how fond they were of our dog, they would mumble and complain about how much trouble the dog was giving them.
And the name stuck!
Except that lots of joy was also associated with our Trouble causing friend.”
“Joyful Trouble,” said Ana to herself while watching Tommy throwing stones in the stream.’from Joyful Trouble: Based on the True Story of a Dog Enlisted in the Royal Navy,by Patricia Furstenberg
Not many know, but Just Nuisance (Joyful Trouble) also flew in planes – in secret missions.
Just Nuisance is still a big part of Simon’s Town where a statue was raised in his honor. Simon’s Town Museum in Cape Town, South Africa, also has in it’s collection Just Nuisance’s collar as well as many photographs.
Fido, a Faithful, Trusting Dog of WWII, 1943 (1941 – 1958)
A story similar to Hachiko’s became famous in Italy during World War II. The story begins when an Italian worker, Soriani, finds an injured puppy, later named Fido. Good-hearted, the man took the pup home and took good care of him. Of course, the Italian worker and and his wife quickly became attached to the cute doggo and decided to adopt him. They called him Fido (trust, faithful), cared for him and gave him all their love. They all lived in the beautiful region of Tuscani.
And Fido returned their love tenfold. Each day Fido would follow his owner to the bus station and wait for him to return. Soriani worked in a factory but at some stage during World War II, when the city was bombed, the factory was completely destroyed. Many workers died, including Soriani. For 14 years after his master’s death, Fido returned to the bus station, waiting for his return every day. Much has been written in the press of the time about this proof of devotion.
Laika, the Spacedog (1954 – 1957)
It was 1957 and the Golden Age of Capitalism, when freedom equaled consumption in the west. But the Sovie Union had other great plans. At the control desk the engineers started the countdown, and the Sputnik 2 space shuttle was ready for launch. A brave soul, with a wet nuzzle, will soon be propelled into outer space and the history of space flight.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the Russian scientists of the ’50s the way I never liked the Russian soldiers of WWII. Laika was a stray wandering the streets of Moscow. She was picked up and looked after – following a devious plan. Soviet scientists chose to use Moscow strays since they assumed that such animals had already learned to endure conditions of extreme cold and hunger.
During the training time, one of the scientists involved in the project took Laika home where the dog bonded with his children. In one of the books dedicated to the puppy, the scientist said that “Laika was silent and charming.” The puppy showed a lot of courage and extraordinary intelligence throughout the entire training period.
Laika died within hours from the launch due to overheating caused by a failure when the central missile separated from the payload. The true cause and time of her death were not made public until 2002; instead, it was widely reported that she died when her oxygen ran out on day six or, as the Soviet government initially claimed, she was euthanized prior to oxygen depletion. It was only in 2008 that Russia unveiled a statue dedicated to Laika.
Apollo, the brave Silent Hero K-9 Dog of 9/11 New York (1992 – 2006)
The most recent story today is that of the German shepherd Appollo, a search and rescue dog who served with the K-9 unit of the New York Police Department.
Apollo and his handler, Peter Davis, were the first K-9 search and rescue team to answer the call on September 11, arriving at the South Tower 15 minutes after its collapse. Apollo Apollo looked for survivors 18 hours a day for weeks on end. It is estimated that more than 300 dogs took part in the search, rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attack and Apollo was one of them. Thanks to his acute senses he helped save the victims from the rubble, sneaking in hard-to-reach places on hearing the very faint cries for help or smelling humans.
Apollo was awarded the Dickin Medal, the animals’ equivalent of the Victoria Cross, in recognition of a work well done.
Dogs are our most capable and strong friends. Cared for and loved they become our most important allies. Until then, they offer us, unconditionally, their intelligence, affection and devotion. Precious gifts!
I don’t know about you, but I wholeheartedly agree with French writer Anatole France believed (and he was correct) that ‘Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.’
Update 🙂 because lovely Sheree commented on the old header photo: it depicts a Staff Sergeant of the Army Service Corps with the Corps pet dogs, Hissy and Jack. And we have Libby Hall, 73, press photographer and dog lover, to thank for it.