May 16, 1938 Buddy’s Eyes

Dorothy Eustis called Frank in February 1928 and asked if he was willing to come to Switzerland. “Mrs. Eustis, to get my independence back, I’d go to hell”.

Written references to seeing eye dogs date back to the Tudor era, when a bit of children’s doggerel began “A is for Archer…B is a Blind-man/Led by a dog.”

German researchers began working with Alsatians (German Shepherd Dogs) in the 1920s, to serve as guides for WWI veterans blinded by gas.  An American breeder living in Switzerland, Dorothy Harrison Eustis, wrote an article about the work in a 1927 issue of the Saturday Evening Post.  US Senator Thomas Schall from Minnesota, who was legally blind, was paired with a German service dog that same year.

Morris Frank of Nashville lost the use of an eye in childhood.  His vision was destroyed altogether in a boxing accident, at the age of 16.  Frank hired a boy to guide him around, but the young man was easily bored and sometimes wandered off, leaving Frank to fend for himself.

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Frank’s father saw Eustis’ article in 1927, and read it to him.  The twenty-year old was electrified.  Morris wrote to Eustis pleading with her to train a dog for himself. “Is what you say really true? If so, I want one of those dogs! And I am not alone. Thousands of blind like me abhor being dependent on others. Help me and I will help them. Train me and I will bring back my dog and show people here how a blind man can be absolutely on his own. We can then set up an instruction center in this country to give all those here who want it a chance at a new life.

Dorothy Eustis called Frank in February 1928 and asked if he was willing to come to Switzerland. “Mrs. Eustis, to get my independence back, I’d go to hell”. She accepted the challenge and trained two dogs, leaving it to Frank himself to decide which was more suitable. Morris came to Switzerland to work with the dogs, both female German Shepherds. He chose a dog named “Kiss” but, feeling that no 20-year-old man should have a dog named Kiss, he called her “Buddy”.

Seeing Eye Dog Statue
Morris Frank was a founder of the first guide-dog school in the United States. He was the first person to be partnered with a seeing eye dog and the co-founder of The Seeing Eye, a guide-dog school.

Man and dog stepped off the ship in 1928 to a throng of reporters. There were flash bulbs, shouted questions and the din of traffic and honking horns that can only be New York City, but Buddy never wavered. At the end of the day Eustis received a single word telegram: “Success”. Morris Frank was set on the path that became his life’s mission: to get Seeing Eye Dogs accepted all over the country.

On January 29, 1929, Frank and Eustis established the first American guide dog training school in Frank’s home town of Nashville:  “The Seeing Eye“.  Frank was true to his word, becoming a tireless advocate of public accessibility for the blind and their guide dogs. In 1928, Morris was routinely told that Buddy couldn’t ride with him in the passenger compartment. Seven years later, all railroads in the United States had adopted policies allowing guide dogs to remain with their owners while on board.

By 1956, every state in the Union had passed laws guaranteeing access to public spaces for blind people and their dogs.

Frank told a New York Times interviewer in 1936 that he had logged 50,000 miles with Buddy, by foot, train, subway, bus, and boat. He was constantly meeting with people, including two Presidents and over 300 ophthalmologists, demonstrating the life-changing qualities of a guide dog.

Buddy’s health was failing toward the end of her life, but the team had one more hurdle to cross. One more barrier to break. Frank wanted to fly in a commercial aircraft with his guide dog, and did so on this day in 1938, flying from Chicago to Newark. United Airlines was the first to adopt the policy, granting “all Seeing Eye dogs the privilege of riding with their masters in the cabins of any of our regularly scheduled planes.”

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Morris Frank’s seeing eye dog was all business during the day but, to the end of her life, she loved to end her work day with a roll on the floor with her “Dad”.  Buddy died a week after that plane ride, but she had made her mark. There were 250 seeing eye dogs working across the country by this time, and their number was growing fast. Buddy’s replacement was also called Buddy, as was every seeing eye dog Frank ever owned, until he passed away in 1980.

SeeingeyeToday, The Seeing Eye operates a 330-acre complex in Morris Township, New Jersey, the oldest guide dog school still in operation, in the world.  The primary breeds used for such training are German Shepherds, Labs, Golden Retrievers, and Lab/Golden mixed breeds. Boxers are occasionally used, for individuals with allergies.

SeeingEyePuppies

Since 1929, Seeing Eye, Inc. has trained some 16,000 guide dogs, pairing them with blind and vision-impaired across the United States and Canada.  There are currently 1,720 such human/canine partnerships. The organization places an average of 260 guide dogs every year.    The non-profit is primarily funded through private donations, as new students pay only $150, and returning students pay $50.  Military veterans are charged a single dollar.

 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

May 8, 1877 Westminster

“Westminster pre-dates the invention of the light bulb, the automobile, and the zipper; the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Washington Monument; and manned air flight and the establishment of the World Series. Since Westminster held its first show 127 years ago, there have been 26 men elected president and 12 states have joined the union”.

The most famous dog show in the world was first held on May 8, 1877, called the “First Annual NY Bench Show of Dogs.”  The event began as a show for hunting dogs, mostly Setters and Pointers with a few Terriers.

That first show featured two Staghounds belonging to the late General George Armstrong Custer. Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, entered two Deerhounds.  Two years later, Russian Czar Alexander III entered a Siberian Wolfhound. German Emperor Wilhelm II entered his own Wolfhound, a year later.

The event was held at Gilmore’s Garden at the corner of Madison Avenue and 26th Street, a location which would one day be known as Madison Square Garden.  In those days, another popular Gilmore Garden event was competitive boxing, a sport which was illegal in New York at that time.  Events were billed as “exhibitions” or, better yet, “Illustrated Lectures.”  (I love that one).

westmisterhotelA group of hunters used to meet at the Westminster Hotel at Irving Place & 16th Street, “to drink and lie about their shooting accomplishments”. The Westminster Kennel Club was formed when the group first decided to hold a dog show.

According to Westminsterkennelclub.org, “Westminster pre-dates the invention of the light bulb, the automobile, and the zipper; the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Washington Monument; and manned air flight and the establishment of the World Series. Since Westminster held its first show 127 years ago, there have been 26 men elected president and 12 states have joined the union…The dog show has outlasted three previous versions of Madison Square Garden, and is currently being staged in MSG IV. It is one of only four events to be held in all four “Gardens.”. 

Prizes for that original show included pearl handled revolvers.  Amusing when you think of the 2nd amendment purgatory that is Warren Wilhelm’s (Bill DiBlasio’s) New York.

51bMmhjei7L1,201 dogs arrived for that first show, in an event so popular that the originally planned three days morphed into four. The Westminster Kennel Club donated all proceeds from the fourth day to the ASPCA, for the creation of a home for stray and disabled dogs. The organization remains supportive of animal charities, to this day.

The Westminster dog show is the longest continuously held sporting event in the United States, with the sole exception of the Kentucky Derby, which began only a year earlier.

Not even two World Wars would stop the Westminster Dog Show, though a tugboat strike cut two days down to one in 1946. Even so, “Best in Show” was awarded fifteen minutes earlier than the year before.  I wonder how many puppies were named “Tug” that year.

The Westminster dog show was first televised in 1948, three years before college football was first broadcast on national television.

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When the American Kennel Club (AKC) was founded in 1884, Westminster was the first club to be admitted. Breed parent clubs such as the German Shepherd Dog Club of America developed breed standards, extensive written descriptions of what the perfect specimen looks like for any given breed. Some of the traits which distinguished the original working dogs of 1877 are still apparent, while other elements are seemingly arbitrary, such as tail carriage, eye shape and color.

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Breed standard for the American Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Dogs are judged first against others of their own breed.  The best of each goes forward into one of seven groups: Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding. In the final round, the winners from each group competes for “Best in Show”.  In the end, there can be only one.

Mixed breeds have been permitted since 2014, to compete in an agility event.

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Warren Remedy

A Smooth Fox Terrier named Ch.(Championship) Warren Remedy won the top award in 1907, 1908 and 1909, the only dog to ever win three Best in Shows at Westminster. Seven dogs have twice taken the top award.  Five owners have won Best in Show with more than one dog. A Sussex Spaniel named Stump became the oldest winner in dog show history in 2009, at the age of 10. Judge Sari Tietjen said she had no idea the winning dog was a senior citizen. “He showed his heart out,” she said. “I didn’t know who he was or how old … I just couldn’t say no to him”.

Today, the Westminster dog show runs two days and nights in February. Entry is limited to 2,800 dogs and fills up on the first day of registration. Breed judging takes place during the day at Piers 92 and 94. Group and Best in Show competition takes place in the evening at Madison Square Garden. Since 1992, Westminster has invited the top five dogs from each breed to pre-enter, based on dog show performances of the preceding year.

Charlie

Madison Square Garden generally sells out for the event, the WKC issuing up to 700 press credentials for media attending from no fewer than 20 countries. The Westminster website http://www.westminsterkennelclub.org receives about 20 million page views from 170 countries.

463811398Since the late 1960s, winner of the Westminster Best in Show has celebrated at Sardi’s, a popular mid-town eatery in the theater district and birthplace of the Tony award.

And then the Nanny State descended, pronouncing that 2012 would be the last. There shalt be no dogs dining in New York restaurants.  Not while Mayor Bloomberg is in charge.

Suddenly, Westminster found itself in good company.  The Algonquin, the historic hotel at the corners of 59th Street West & 44th, had taken in a stray cat, sometime back in the 1930s.  Ever since, one of a succession of felines have had the run of the place. The males have all been called “Hamlet”, the females, “Matilda”.

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Meet “Hamlet”, the Algonquin Hotel’s official Cat in Residence

And then his Lordship Mayor Yourslurpeeistoobig’s Board of Health descended on the Algonquin, requiring that the cat be kept on a leash. There ensued a tempest in a cat box, until a compromise was reached, later that year. An electronic pet fence was installed confining the cat to non-food areas of the hotel, in return for which city bureaucrats returned to whatever it is they do.

Back to the dog show.  Not wanting another such drama, Nanny Bloomberg pulled his health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, aside. By the end of the week, the health department had found a loophole to defuse the standoff:  Dr. Farley would issue a waiver. Since then, the winner at Westminster is free to enjoy the traditional celebratory luncheon of diced chicken and rice from a silver platter. Provided that it’s eaten in the back room.

Feature Image, top of page:  “Rumor”, Best in Show winner, 2017
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This one slays me.  I couldn’t resist.
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April 4, 1926 Sergeant Stubby

America’s first war dog, “Stubby”, got there by accident, and served 18 months ‘over there’, participating in seventeen battles on the Western Front.

By the last year of WW1, the French, British and Belgians had at least 20,000 dogs on the battlefield, the Germans 30,000. General Headquarters of the American Expeditionary Forces recommended the use of dogs as sentries, messengers and draft animals in the spring of 1918. However, with the exception of a few sled dogs in Alaska, the US was the only country to take part in World War I with virtually no service dogs in its military.

sgt_stubby_7America’s first war dog, “Stubby”, got there by accident, and served 18 months ‘over there’, participating in seventeen battles on the Western Front.

Stubby looked like a terrier of some kind, similar to a pit bull.  Nobody knows anything more about him.  He showed up a stray one day, at Yale Field in New Haven Connecticut, where a group of soldiers were training. The dog hung around as the men drilled.  One soldier, Corporal Robert Conroy, began to take care of him. when Conroy’s outfit shipped out in 1917, Stubby was hidden on board.

Stubby saved his regiment from surprise mustard gas attacks, located and comforted the wounded, and even once caught a German spy by the seat of his pants. The Hun, who’d been sneaking around behind allied lines at the time, was mapping trenches for artillery bombardment.  The Bosch was found spinning in circles with a large, muscular terrier affixed to his behind.   He was easily disarmed, but it took a considerable amount of coaxing before Stubby could be persuaded to let go of that German’s rear end.

sgt_stubby_5Stubby saw his first action at Chemin des Dames. Since the boom of artillery fire didn’t faze him, he learned to follow the example of ducking when the big ones came close. It became a great game to see who could hit the dugout, first.  After a few days, the guys were watching him for a signal. Stubby was always the first to hear incoming fire.  We can only guess how many lives were spared by his early warning.

images (47)After the Armistice, Stubby returned home a nationally acclaimed hero, eventually received by both Presidents Harding and Coolidge. Even General John “Black Jack” Pershing, who commanded the AEF during the war, presented Stubby with a gold medal made by the Humane Society, declaring him to be a “hero of the highest caliber.”

Stubby toured the country by invitation and probably led more parades than any dog in American history:  he was promoted to honorary Sergeant by the Legion, becoming the highest ranking dog to ever serve in the Army.

Old age finally caught up with the small warrior on April 4th, 1926, as he took ill and died in his master’s arms.

Sergeant Stubby and a few of his contemporaries were instrumental in inspiring the creation of the US K-9 Corps, just in time for World War ll.

 

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March 13, 1942  Dogs of War

WWII-era Military Working Dogs (MWDs) served on sentry, scout and patrol missions, in addition to performing messenger and mine-detection work. The keen senses of scout dogs saved countless lives, by alerting to the approach of enemy forces, incoming fire, and hidden booby traps & mines.

The history of dogs in war is as old as history itself.  The dogs of King Alyattes of Lydia killed many of his Cimmerian adversaries and routed the rest around 600BC, permanently driving the invader from Asia Minor in the earliest known use of war dogs in battle.

The Molossians of Epirus, descended from King Molossus, grandson of the mighty Achilles according to Greek mythology, used large, powerfully built dogs specifically trained for battle. Today, “molosser” describes a body type more than any specific breed.  Modern molossers include the Mastiff, Bernese Mountain Dog, Newfoundland and Saint Bernard.

Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians used dogs as sentries or on patrol. In late antiquity, Xerxes I, the Persian King who faced the Spartan King Leonidas across the pass at Thermopylae, was accompanied by a pack of Indian hounds.

Attila the Hun went to war with a pack of hounds, as did the Spanish Conquistadors of the 1500s.

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Only known photo of Sallie

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier Sallie “joined up” in 1861, serving throughout the Civil War with the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.  At Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Spotsylvania, Sallie’d take her position along with the colors, barking ferociously at the adversary.

Abraham Lincoln spotted Sallie once from a reviewing stand, and tipped his hat.

Sallie was killed at Hatcher’s Run in February, 1865.  Several of “her” men laid down their arms and buried her then and there, despite being under Confederate fire.

Dogs performed a variety of roles in WWI, from ratters in the trenches, to sentries, scouts and runners. “Mercy” dogs were trained to seek out the wounded on battlefields, carrying medical supplies with which the stricken could treat themselves.

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Patriotic French ambulance‑dog expressing his dislike for the German Army on this propaganda postcard from WW1.
Sometimes, these dogs simply provided the comfort of another living soul, so that the gravely wounded should not die alone.

By the end of the “Great War”, France, Great Britain and Belgium had at least 20,000 dogs on the battlefield, Imperial Germany over 30,000. Some sources report that over a million dogs served over the course of the war.

The famous Rin Tin Tin canine movie star of the 1920s was rescued as a puppy, from the bombed out remains of a German Army kennel, in 1917.

Messenger dog in action in World War I, 1917
WW1 messenger dog

In the spring of 1918, GHQ of the American Expeditionary Force recommended using dogs as sentries, messengers and draft animals, however the war was over before US forces put together any kind of a War Dog program.

America’s first war dog, “Sgt. Stubby”, went “Over There” by accident, serving 18 months on the Western Front before coming home to a well-earned retirement.

On March 13, 1942, the Quartermaster Corps began training dogs for the US Army “K-9 Corps.” In the beginning, the owners of healthy dogs were encouraged to “loan” their dogs to the Quartermaster Corps, where they were trained for service with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

The program initially accepted over 30 breeds of dog, but the list soon narrowed to German Shepherds, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Collies, Siberian Huskies, Malamutes and Eskimo Dogs.

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General George S. Patton Jr’s faithful friend Willie mourns the death of his owner, in 1946

WWII-era Military Working Dogs (MWDs) served on sentry, scout and patrol missions, in addition to performing messenger and mine-detection work. The keen senses of scout dogs saved countless lives, by alerting to the approach of enemy forces, incoming fire, and hidden booby traps & mines.

The most famous MWD of WWII was “Chips“, a German Shepherd/Husky mix assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division in Italy. Trained as a sentry dog, Chips broke away from his handler and attacked an enemy machine gun nest. Wounded in the process, his singed fur demonstrated the point-blank fire with which the enemy fought back.  To no avail.  Chips single-handedly forced the surrender of the entire gun crew.

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Chips

Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart, the honors later revoked due to an Army policy against the commendation of animals. It makes me wonder if the author of such a policy ever saw service beyond his own desk.

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Smoky, the Littlest War Dog

Smoky, the littlest war dog, once ran a communication wire through a small culvert in Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, a task which would have otherwise taken an airstrip out of service for three days, and exposed an entire construction battalion to enemy fire.

Of the 549 dogs who returned from service in WWII, all but four were able to return to civilian life.

Over 500 dogs died on the battlefields of Vietnam, of injuries, illnesses, and combat wounds. 10,000 servicemen served as dog handlers during the war, with an estimated 4,000 Military Working Dogs.  261 handlers paid the ultimate price.  K9 units are estimated to have saved over 10,000 human lives.

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General George S. Patton Jr’s faithful friend Willie mourns the death of his owner, in 1946

It’s only a guess but, having a handler and a retired MWD in the family, I believe I’m right: hell would freeze before any handler walked away from his dog. The military bureaucracy, is another matter. The vast majority of MWDs were left behind during the Vietnam era. Only about 200 dogs survived the war to be assigned to other bases. The remaining dogs were either euthanized or left behind as “surplus equipment”.

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In 2011, a Belgian Malinois named “Cairo” accompanied the Navy SEAL “Neptune Spear” operation that took out Osama bin Laden.

Today there are about 2,500 dogs in active service.  Approximately 700 deployed overseas. The American Humane Association estimates that each MWD saves an average 150-200 human lives over the course of its career.

In 2015, Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced language in their respective bodies, mandating that MWDs be returned to American soil upon retirement, and that their handlers and/or handlers’ families be given first right of adoption.

LoBiondo’s & McCaskill’s language became law on November 25, when the President signed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It’s a small step in recognizing what we owe to those who have stepped up in defense of our nation, both two-legged and four.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

March 9, 1910 Brown Dog

In the five years I’ve been writing “Today in History”, I’ve written about 450 of these stories.  A father isn’t supposed to have favorites among his “children”, but I have to confess.  I do.  This is not one of those.  This one, I detest.

In the five years I’ve been writing “Today in History”, I’ve written about 450 of these stories.  A father isn’t supposed to have favorites among his “children”, but I have to confess.  I do.  This is not one of those.  This one, I detest.

The Oxford on-line Dictionary defines vivisection as: “noun – the practice of performing operations on live animals for the purpose of experimentation or scientific research”.

During the reign of Queen Victoria, British monarch from June 20, 1837 to January 22, 1901, a powerful opposition arose in Great Britain to the dissection of live animals. Labeled as “vivisection” by opponents of the practice, experiments were often performed in front of audiences of medical students, with or without anesthesia.

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Ernest Starling

The Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876 stipulated that subject animals must be anesthetized, unless anesthesia would interfere with the point of the experiment. The measure further required that each animal could only be used once, though multiple procedures were permitted so long as each was part of the same experiment.

In the end, the subject animal had to be killed when the study was over.

In 1902, about the time when Russian physiologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was doing his conditioning experiments om dogs, Ernest Starling performed his first “experiment” on a small brown terrier.  Whether a stray or someone’s pet, is unclear.  A further “demonstration” was performed on the same animal by William Bayliss on February 2, 1903, at the end of which the dog was killed with a knife to the heart.

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William Bayliss

I don’t care to linger on the details of what was done to this dog.  It was difficult enough, to read about it.  Suffice it to say that Bayliss and Starling’s classes were infiltrated by two Swedish anti-vivisection activists, Lizzy Lind and Leisa Katherine Schartau.

The two women had attended 50 such classes at University College, keeping a diary throughout and later publishing observations in “The Shambles of Science: Extracts from the Diary of Two Students of Physiology”. In it, the pair disputed that the brown dog had been anesthetized, reporting that “The dog struggled forcibly during the whole experiment and seemed to suffer extremely during the stimulation. No anesthetic had been administered in my presence, and the lecturer said nothing about any attempts to anesthetize the animal having previously been made”.

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Stephen Coleridge,, Vanity Fair,, July 1910

Stephen Coleridge, secretary of the National Anti-Vivisection Society heard the two women’s story, and spoke angrily on behalf of the terrier.  “If this is not torture”, the barrister asked, “let Mr. Bayliss and his friends … tell us in Heaven’s name what torture is“.

There was little doubt that either professor if not both, would sue for libel.  Bayliss did and the jury retired for 25 minutes, returning with a unanimous verdict.  Bayliss was awarded £2,000 with £3,000 in court costs, equivalent to about £250,000 today, the verdict read to the applause of physicians in the public gallery.

On September 15, 1906, the World League against Vivisection unveiled a statue in Battersea’s Latchmere Recreation Ground, bearing the inscription “In Memory of the Brown Terrier Dog Done to Death in the Laboratories of University College in February 1903 after having endured Vivisection extending over more than Two Months and having been handed over from one Vivisector to Another Till Death came to his Release. Also in Memory of the 232 dogs Vivisected at the same place during the year 1902. Men and Women of England how long shall these Things be?”

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw and Anglo-Irish suffragist Charlotte Despard spoke at the event, but medical students were outraged.

Brown_Dog_statue,_Battersea,_London(2)London’s teaching hospitals at first explored quiet means of taking down what they regarded as an insult to the profession.  By November, medical students were crossing the Thames with sledge hammers and crow bars, intending to take matters into their own hands.

Riots ensued, the worst nights occurring in London on December 10, 1907, when 1,000 medical students tried to pull the statue down, battling over the memorial with suffragettes, trade unionists and over 400 police officers.

More riots and brawls broke out in the weeks that followed.  Before long, the authorities were looking for a quiet way to make the statue go away.  Four workmen and 120 police officers quietly removed the Brown Dog Memorial over the night of March 9-10, 1910, hiding it in a bicycle shed. 3,000 anti-vivisectionists gathered in Trafalgar Square to demand its return, but to no avail.  The statue never reappeared, later to be broken up and melted down.

dsc04730Seventy-five years would come and go, before a new Brown Dog memorial was commissioned by the National Anti-Vivisection Society and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.

For all the fuss, it hardly made a difference. There were something like 300 experiments on live animals, in the year 1875.  By the time of the brown terrier’s live dissection, the number was 19,084.  In 2005 the figure had increased to 2.81 million, and that’s just the vertebrates. 7,306 of those, were dogs.

Image – top ofpage.  Original brown dog statue, from 1906

March 1, 2011 The Love of a Dog

The writer and photographer Roger Caras once said “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”

Years ago, a segment broadcast on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, told the story of a working shepherd, who worked the hills of 1930s North Dakota. This man, I don’t recall his name, fell ill, and was taken to a local Jesuit hospital.

The man’s business partner and constant companion “Shep”, a sheepdog of unknown breed, befriended a nurse who would feed him a morsel out of the side door.

For 11 days, Shep waited at the hospital, for his master’s return.   On the 11th day the man died, his casket taken to the local train station and placed in the cargo hold, to be returned home for burial.

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“Greyfriar’s Bobby’

Shep was there throughout, and watched the train chug away with the body of his human.   He returned to that hospital door for sustenance, but every time he heard the train whistle, there was a sheepdog waiting at the station.

In those days, there were two trains a day.  For five years, Shep returned to the station, every time he heard that whistle.   He never missed a train. In time, the dog wasn’t quite as fast as he used to be, his hearing not so good. He was killed while waiting on the tracks, for the man who could never return.

“Greyfriar’s Bobby” was a Skye Terrier in 19th-century Edinburgh, who waited 14 years by the grave of his owner, City Police nightwatchman, John Gray. There he died in 1872 and was buried in the Greyfriars Kirkyard, not far from where he had stood watch. all those years.

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Hachikō Statue in Tokyo, Japan

Hachikō, an Akita known to Japanese children as chūken Hachikō (“faithful dog Hachikō”), used to tag along with his owner Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor of agriculture at Tokyo University. Ueno would commute to work and every evening, Hachikō would wait at the Shibuya Station, for the professor’s return.  Hidesaburō stopped coming home in May 1925, when a cerebral hemorrhage took him away while delivering a lecture.  Every day for nine years, nine months and fifteen days, the golden colored Akita appeared at Shibuya Station, precisely in time for that evening train.

Liam Tasker came from the Scottish town of Kirkcaldy, in the historic county of Fife.  Tasker joined the Royal Army in 2001 as a mechanic, but he wanted more.  He was transferred to the Royal Army Veterinary Corps six years later, and assigned as a trainer with the 1st Military Working Dog (MWD) Regiment.  Tasker was a natural, and rose quickly among the ranks of the group.  In 2010, Lance Corporal Tasker was paired with MWD Theo, a twenty-two-month-old English Springer Spaniel serving as a T.E.D.D. (Tactical Explosives Detection Dog) with the British Army.

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Liam and Theo

A Military Working Dog is anything but a “disposable” asset.  It is a highly trained, specialized soldier who complements and adds to the abilities of his human partner, as that two legged soldier complements those of the dog.

The writer and photographer Roger Caras once said “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”  So it was, with Liam and Theo.  The team was posted to Afghanistan, where the two managed to find 14 improvised explosive devices and weapons caches, in five months.  “I love my job and working with Theo,” Tasker would say. “He has a great character and never tires…He can’t wait to get out and do his job and will stop at nothing.”  Fourteen was a record for that time according to BBC, there is no telling how many lives were saved.  The pair proved so successful that their tour was extended, by a month.  It was a month too long.

4de6134f233b601ab634d1078c676380On March 1, 2011, L/Cpl Tasker was killed by a Taliban sniper while on patrol in Helmand Province, and brought back to base by his fellow soldiers.  Theo suffered a seizure after returning to base and never recovered.  He died that afternoon.  It was believed that Theo’s seizure was brought on by the stresses of Tasker’s death, but the autopsy proved inconclusive.  Liam’s mother Jane Duffy later said, “I think Theo died of a broken heart, nobody will convince me any different.”

Major Alexander Turner of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards described the pair, saying “He used to joke that Theo was impossible to restrain but I would say the same about Lance Corporal Tasker.” Liam and Theo were returned to Great Britain, arriving first in RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire.  Rumors have gone around ever since, that the two were buried together.  Tasker’s mother would neither confirm nor deny.  She only said, with a sad smile, that “Liam and Theo are where they should be.”

Afterward

Nate & ZinoOn a more upbeat note, and this story needs one, our daughter Carolyn and son-in-law Nate transferred to Savannah in 2013, where Nate deployed to the Wardak province of Afghanistan as a TEDD handler and paired with “MWD Zino”, a four-year-old German Shepherd trained to detect up to 64 explosive compounds.
The team was separated at the end of their tour but reunited months later, a story told on National Public Radio’s “Here & Now” program and produced out of their Boston affiliate, WBUR.
The radio program was broadcast the day of their reunion, in 2014.  It’s a great story, if you’re interested in listening to it.

http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/03/21/soldier-dog-reunion 

February 8, 1960 Of Dogs and Dolls

If you’ve ever loved a dog, I need not explain the final stanza.

At 256 tons with a barrel of 111′ 7″, the German super gun hurled 38″ shells into the city of Paris, from a range of 75 miles. If you were there in 1918, you may never have heard of the “Paris gun”. You’d have been well aware of the damage it caused.  You never knew you were under attack from this thing, until the explosion. The lucky ones were those who lived to see the 4’ deep, 10’-12’ wide crater.

Paris Gun
“Paris Gun”, 1918

image1361Parisian children made little good luck charms, as “protection” from the Paris gun. They were tiny pairs of handmade dolls, joined together by scraps of yarn.  Their names were Nénette and Rintintin

The dolls were said to provide protection for their owners, but only under certain circumstances. You couldn’t make your own and you couldn’t buy them, they had to be given to you, as a gift. They also had to remain attached, or else the little dolls would lose their protective powers.

That July, one observer noted: “It is taking a long chance in these wild days of war . . . to go about unprotected by a Nénette and Rintintin. Curious little mascot dolls they are, that have taken Paris by storm. . . . But their charm is not to be purchased. Until you have been presented with a Nénette and Rintintin, you have not their sweet protection; and if you have the one without the other, the charm is broken.”

42ffc2cfe8f593f96a1bd77e07dcfc8cUS Army Air Service Corporal Lee Duncan was in Paris at this time, with the 135th Aero Squadron. Duncan was aware of the custom, he may even have been given such a talisman himself.

In the wake of the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, Corporal Duncan was sent forward to the small village of Flirey, to check out the area’s suitability for an airfield. The village was heavily damaged by shellfire, and Duncan came upon the shattered remains of a dog pound. Once, this kennel had provided Alsatians (German Shepherd Dogs) to the Imperial German Army. Now, the only dogs left alive were a starving mother and five nursing puppies, so young that their eyes were still closed.

Corporal Duncan cared for them, selling several once the puppies were weaned. He sold the mother to an officer and three puppies to fellow airmen, keeping two for himself. Like those little yarn dolls, Duncan felt those two puppies were his good luck charms. He called them Nanette and Rin Tin Tin.

Returning home after the war, Duncan placed the dogs with a police dog breeder and trainer in Long Island. Nanette contracted pneumonia and died, the breeder giving Duncan a female puppy, “Nanette II”, to replace her.

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Etzel von Oeringen was born on October 1, 1917 in Quedlinburg Germany, trained as a police dog and serving in the German Red Cross, during WW1.  Left impoverished after the war and unable to support even a dog, his owner declined larger offers in preference to the most humane option, selling him to a friend in White Plains, New York.

Rin Tin Tin signed photoBetter known as “Strongheart”, Etzel appeared in silent films throughout the ’20s, becoming the first major canine film star and credited with enormously increasing the popularity of the breed.

A friend of silent film actor Eugene Pallete, Duncan became convinced that Rin Tin Tin could become the next canine movie star.  “I was so excited over the motion-picture idea”, Duncan wrote, “that I found myself thinking of it night and day.”

Walking his dog on “Poverty Row”, 1920s slang for B movie studios, did the trick. Rin Tin Tin got his first film break in 1922, replacing a camera shy wolf in “The Man from Hell’s River”. His first starring role in the 1923 “Where the North Begins”, is credited with saving Warner Brothers Studios from bankruptcy.

Rin Tin Tin
Rin Tin Tin

Between-the-scenes silent film “intertitles” were easily changed from one language to another, and Rin Tin Tin films enjoyed international distribution. In 1927, Rin Tin Tin was voted Most Popular Actor by Berlin audiences.

There’s a Hollywood legend that may or may not be true, that Rin Tin Tin received the most votes for Best Actor at the 1st Academy Awards, in 1929.  Inclined to take themselves oh-so seriously and wanting a human actor, the Academy threw out the ballots. German actor Emil Jannings got Best Actor on the 2nd ballot.

Rin Tin Tin appeared in 27 feature length silent films, 4 “talkies”, and countless commercials and short films. Regular programming was interrupted to announce his passing on August 10, 1932, at the age of 13.

An hour-long program about his life was broadcast the following day.

Suffering from the Great Depression like so many others, Duncan couldn’t afford a fancy funeral. By this time, he couldn’t even afford the house he lived in.

Duncan sold the house and returned the body of his beloved German Shepherd to the country of his birth, where Rin Tin Tin was buried in the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques, in the Parisian suburb of Asnières-sur-Seine.

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WW2 K-9 Recruiting poster, featuring Rin Tin Tin III

Duncan continued breeding the line, careful to preserve the physical qualities and intelligence of the original, while avoiding the less desirable traits that crept into other GSD bloodlines.

Duncan may have been obsessive about it, at least according to Mrs. Duncan. When she filed for divorce, she named Rin Tin Tin as co-respondent.

Rin Tin Tin and Nanette II produced at least 48 puppies.

Unique among the belligerents of WW1, the United States was the only country with no service dogs among its military forces.  The next war, was a different story.  The United States Armed Forces had an extensive K-9 program in WW2, when private citizens were asked to donate their dogs to the war effort.

One such dog was “Chips”, the most decorated K-9 of the war.  Rin Tin Tin III, reputed to be grandson to the original but likely a more distant relation, helped to promote the program.

Rin Tin Tin was awarded his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960. Lee Duncan passed away later that same year.

At some point, Duncan had written a poem, one man’s tribute to a beloved companion animal, who was no more.

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“Lee Duncan, 67, holds a pair of Rin Tin Tin’s descendants, Rin Tin Tin 5 and 6, in 1958”. H/T NPR.org, for this image

If you’ve ever loved a dog, I need not explain his final stanza.

“…A real unselfish love like yours, old pal,
Is something I shall never know again;
And I must always be a better man,
Because you loved me greatly, Rin Tin Tin”.

 

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