October 3, 1944 Angel from a Foxhole

Once, the small dog was able to perform a task in minutes, which would have otherwise taken an entire airstrip out of service for three days, and exposed a construction battalion to enemy fire.

The first dog may have approached some campfire, long before recorded history. It may have been hurt or it maybe it was looking for a morsel. Dogs have been by our side ever since.

Over history, the unique attributes of Canis Familiaris have often served in times of war. Ancient Egyptian artwork depicts dogs at work in multiple capacities. The ancient Greeks used dogs against Persian invaders at the Battle of Marathon.

_73412601_2001-877_smithsonian_stubby_with_robert_pro_photoThe European allies and Imperial Germany had about 20,000 dogs working a variety of jobs in WWI. Though the United States didn’t have an official “War Dog” program in those days, a Staffordshire Terrier mix called “Sgt. Stubby” was smuggled “over there” with an AEF unit training out of New Haven, Connecticut.

Stubby is credited with saving an unknown number of lives, his keen sense of hearing giving his companions early warning of incoming artillery rounds.

Once, Stubby even caught a German spy who had been creeping around, mapping allied trenches. It must have been a very bad day for that particular Bosch, to be discovered spinning in circles, a 50-pound, muscular terrier affixed to his arse.

The US War Dogs program was developed between the World Wars, and dogs have served in every conflict, since.  My own son in law Nate served in Afghanistan with “Zino”, a five-year old German Shepherd and Tactical Explosives Detection Dog (TEDD), trained to detect as many as 64 explosive compounds.

The littlest war dog first appeared in the jungles of New Guinea, when an American soldier spotted a “golden head” poking out of an abandoned foxhole. It was all of 4-pounds, a seven-inch tall, Yorkshire Terrier.  At the time, nobody had the foggiest notion of how the tiny dog had gotten there. The soldier brought her back to camp and sold her to a comrade for £2 Australian, about $6.44.  He was Corporal William Wynne, who named her “Smoky”.

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Smoky lived a soldier’s life for the next eighteen months, traveling about in a rucksack and learning to parachute from trees.  At first, soldiers thought she might have belonged to the Japanese side, but they brought her to a POW camp and quickly learned that she understood neither Japanese nor English commands.

The little dog flew 12 air/sea rescue and photo reconnaissance missions, secured in Wynne’s backpack. She survived 150 air raids and a typhoon, often giving soldiers early warning of incoming fire.  Wynne credited Smoky with saving his life one time, on an LST transport ship.  It was around October 3, 1944 off Morotai, when the Japanese submarine RO-41 sank the American destroyer escort, USS Shelton.  The decks around them were shaking from anti-aircraft and machine gun fire, when Smoky guided Wynne to duck at the moment an incoming shell struck, killing 8 men standing next to them. She was his “angel from a foxhole.”

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Once, the small dog was able to perform a task in minutes, a job which would have otherwise taken an airstrip out of service for three days, and expose a construction battalion to enemy fire. The air field at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, was crucial to the Allied war effort.  The signal corps needed to run a teletype communication wire across the field.  To do so in the conventional manner would have taken days, and put the airfield out of operation.  Except, there was one possible workaround.

A 70-foot, 8” drain pipe half filled with dirt, already crossed under the air strip

Wynne credits the dog with enabling the airfield to remain open, saving 40 aircraft and 250 ground crew from exposure to Japanese fire.  Let him tell the story:

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“I tied a string to Smoky’s collar and ran to the other end of the culvert . . . (Smoky) made a few steps in and then ran back. `Come, Smoky,’ I said sharply, and she started through again. When she was about 10 feet in, the string caught up and she looked over her shoulder as much as to say `what’s holding us up there?’ The string loosened from the snag and she came on again. By now the dust was rising from the shuffle of her paws as she crawled through the dirt and mold and I could no longer see her. I called and pleaded, not knowing for certain whether she was coming or not. At last, about 20 feet away, I saw two little amber eyes and heard a faint whimpering sound . . . at 15 feet away, she broke into a run. We were so happy at Smoky’s success that we patted and praised her for a full five minutes”.

o-SMOKEY7-570Smoky toured all over the world after the war, appearing in over 42 television programs and licking faces & performing tricks for thousands at veteran’s hospitals.  In June 1945, Smoky toured the 120th General Hospital in Manila, visiting with wounded GIs from the Battle of Luzon. She’s been called “the first published post-traumatic stress canine”, and credited with expanding interest in what had hitherto been an obscure breed.

The Littlest Wardog died in her sleep in February 1957 at the age of fourteen, and buried in a .30 caliber ammunition box.  Years later,a  life-size a bronze sculpture of Smoky sitting in a GI helmet was installed over her final resting place in Rocky River Ohio, setting atop a two-ton blue granite base.

Bill Wynne was 90 years old in 2012, when he was “flabbergasted” to be approached by Australian authorities. They explained that an Australian army nurse had purchased the dog from a Queen Street pet store, and became separated in the jungles of New Guinea. sixty-eight years later, the Australian delegation had come to award his dog, a medal.

f88e3abeaa339b1ed4c15d9adbc1387b71c69549A memorial statue was unveiled on December 12 of that year, at the Australian War Memorial at the Queensland Wacol Animal Care Campus in Brisbane.

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On December 11, 2015, the Australian Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) awarded Smoky the Purple Cross.  According to the press release, the award was “established in 1993 to recognize the deeds of animals that have shown outstanding service to humans, particularly where they have demonstrated exceptional courage, by risking their own safety or life, to save a person from injury or death. Since its inception, only nine animals have been awarded the prestigious award”.

“Yorkie Doodle Dandy” by Bill Wynne, tells the story of the dog Animal Planet has called, the first therapy dog. Originally published in 1996 by Wynnesome Press, the book is currently in its 5th edition, by Top Dog Enterprises, LLC.

As a personal aside, Nate and Zino were separated after their tour in Afghanistan. They were reunited in 2014, when the dog came to live with Nate and our daughter Carolyn in their home in Savannah. Last fall, Sheryl and I traveled to Houston with a friend, to celebrate our anniversary at the “Redneck Country Club”.  2,000 miles from home and completely by chance, who do we meet but the trainer who taught Zino to be a TEDD in the first place. Small world.

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.
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July 9, 1943 The Most Decorated K-9 of WW2

The machine gun episode ended with a final score of Chips 4, Italian machine-gun team 0, but he wasn’t done. Before the day was over, Chips had helped to bag ten more.

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

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. Sometimes, these dogs simply provided the comfort of another living soul, so that the gravely wounded should not die alone.

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French propaganda postcard of WW1

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.

Leaders of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) discussed the use of dogs as sentries, messengers and draft animals, but 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.

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Sergeant Stubby

In March 1942, the US Army Quartermaster Corps began training dogs for an American “K-9 Corps.” In the beginning, the owners of healthy animals 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.

Chips.jpgOne such dog was “Chips”, the German Shepherd/Collie/Husky mix who would become the most decorated K-9 of WWII.

Chips belonged to the Wren family of Pleasantville New York, who “enlisted” their dog in the “Dogs for Defense (DfD) program in 1942. He was trained at the War Dog Training Center in Front Royal Virginia, and served in the 3rd Infantry Division of Patton’s 7th Army, along with with his handler, Private John Rowell.

Tip of the hat to my son-in-law Nate who also served in the 3rd ID in the Wardak Province of Afghanistan, partnered as handler and “battle buddy” with a four-year-old German Shepard and Tactical Explosives Detection Dog (TEDD) named “Zino”.

Back to WW2.  Chips and his handler took part in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany.  He served as a sentry dog for the Casablanca Conference of 1943, where he met the American President Franklin Roosevelt and the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The Allied invasion of Sicily was a large scale amphibious and airborne operation, beginning this day in 1943 and lasting through the 17th of August.  The Rowell/Chips team was part of the landings, beginning six weeks of land combat in an action code named “Operation Husky”.

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Chips

During the night landing phase on July 10, Private Rowell and Chips were pinned down in the darkness by an Italian machine gun team, operating out of a nearby hut. The dog broke free from his handler as the platoon dived for shelter, covering the beach in a flash and jumping into the building.

Private Rowell described the scene.  “There was an awful lot of noise and the firing stopped. Then I saw one soldier come out of the door with Chips at his throat. I called him off before he could kill the man.”

Three others were quick to follow, hands up.  Chips had grabbed the Italian’s machine gun by the barrel, knocking the gun off its mount before turning his attentions on the team. The dog sustained a scalp wound and powder burns, demonstrating that someone had tried to shoot him during the brawl.  How many lives were spared by the actions of a single dog, is anyone’s guess.

That episode ended with a final score of Chips 4, Italian machine-gun team 0, but he wasn’t done. Before the day was over, Chips had helped to bag ten more.

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“Chips” goes to war, 1942

Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and Purple Heart, but those awards were later revoked. At that time the army didn’t permit commendations to be given to animals. His unit awarded him a Theater Ribbon with an Arrowhead for the assault landing anyway, along with eight Battle stars. One for each of his campaigns.

Chips was discharged in December, 1945, and returned home to live out the rest of his days with the Wren family in Pleasantville, New York.  In 1990, Disney produced a made-for-TV movie based on the life of the most highly decorated K-9 of WW2, calling it “Chips, the War Dog”.

Afterward

In 1917, the British animal welfare pioneer Maria Dickin founded the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), to “provide care for sick and injured animals of the poor”. Today, the PDSA is the largest veterinary charity in England, carrying out a million or more free veterinary visits every year and employing the largest number of veterinary surgeons and nurses in the United Kingdom.

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Dickin_Medal

The Dickin Medal was established in 1943, to recognize animals displaying “conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units“.  Sometimes referred to as “the animals’ Victoria Cross”, the Dickin medal has been awarded only 75 times as of November 2017, plus an honorary Dickin Medal for all animals who served during WW1.

On January 15, 2018, seventy-five years to the day following the Casablanca Conference, Chips was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal.  John Wren, who was only four when Chips went to war, accepted the award in Chips’ honor.  United States Army Lieutenant Colonel Alan Throop and Military Working Dog (MWD) Handler Staff Sergeant Jeremy Mayerhoffer of the United States Air Force were also there, along with MWD Ayron, who stood in for Chips to wear his Dickin Medal.

The medal reads “For Gallantry” and “We Also Serve.” Previous recipients include 33 dogs, 32 messenger pigeons, four horses and a ship’s cat.

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“John Wren (left), who was four years old when Chips the family pet returned from the war effort, with military working dog Ayron and his handler Staff Sergeant Jeremy Mayerhoffer (centre) and US Lieutenant Colonel Alan Throop (right) in London today”  H/T Daily Mail

July 6, 1863 Sallie was a Lady…

There was barely a man in the regiment, who wouldn’t have walked over the proverbial “bad road & broken glass”, for that dog.   

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Irish Brigade Memorial sculpted by William R. O’Donovan, a former Confederate soldier who fought at Gettysburg  H/T Gettysburg.stonesentinels.com

Sallie was four weeks old in 1861, when she was given as a gift to 1st Lieutenant William Terry, of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.  Terry made her the regimental mascot, a post she would hold for the duration of the Civil War.

Sallie was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or possibly a Pit Bull, brindle in color.  She would tag along on long marches, and kept the men of the regiment company in their camps.  She learned the drum roll announcing reveille, and loved to help wake the sleeping soldiers in the morning.

If you’ve ever had a dog in your life, you know how that goes.

There was barely a man in the regiment, who wouldn’t have walked over the proverbial “bad road & broken glass”, for that dog.   Sallie’s first battle came at Cedar Mountain, in 1862. No one thought of sending her to the rear before things got hot, so Sallie took up a position along with the colors, barking ferociously at the adversary.

There she remained throughout the entire engagement, as she would do at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania.

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Sallie, the smallest member of the 11th PA Infantry Regiment, is one of only two dogs so memorialized at Gettysburg, the only dog who was actually In the battle.

It was said that Sallie only hated three things:  Rebels, Democrats, and Women.

Sallie marched with “her” soldiers in review, in the spring of 1863.  Abraham Lincoln was reviewing the army at the time, when he spotted the dog from the center of the reviewing stand, and raised his famous top hat in salute.

At Gettysburg, Sallie was separated from her unit in the chaos of the first day’s fighting. They found her five days later, on July 6, parched with thirst and weakened by hunger.

She’d been standing guard over her dead and dying comrades, since July 1.

It’s been said that only a dog is capable of that kind of loyalty, yet virtue in one is capable of inspiring virtue in another. So it was on February 5, 1865. Sallie was struck in the head by a bullet at Hatcher’s Run. She was killed instantly.  Several men of the 11th PA laid down their arms and buried her, right then and there.  Even though they were still under fire from the Confederate side.

There is a tale about Sallie, I don’t know if it’s true.  Probably not but it’s a nice story.

After the battle in which Sallie was killed, the soldiers were moving out when a small whining was heard from within a hollowed-out tree.  Someone went to the tree and found several small puppies, believed to be Sallie’s.  They’d had no idea that she was pregnant, or how puppies came to be in that hollowed out tree.  The soldiers gave them to local civilians, so that Sallie’s bloodline might live on.

Sallie statueTwenty-seven years after Gettysburg, surviving veterans of the regiment returned to dedicate a memorial to those members of the 11th Pennsylvania, who lost their lives on that field of battle.

Today, 1,320 memorial statues, monuments and markers dot the landscape of the Gettysburg battlefield.  Among all of them there are only two, raised in the memory of a dog.  The first is a Celtic cross, erected in honor of New York’s Irish Brigade.  Ironically, it is sculpted by a Confederate veteran of the battle.  At the foot of the cross rests a life-sized likeness of an Irish wolfhound, symbolizing honor and fidelity..

66be53833fa8c6663ee4542b2d28d73cThe other includes a brindle colored Terrier, named Sallie.  The only one of the two to have actually participated in the battle.

The monument depicts an upright Union soldier, rifle at the ready.  By unanimous consent of the veterans themselves, Sallie’s likeness looks out from the foot of the statue, where she guards over the spirits of “her boys”, for all eternity.

“Sallie was a lady,
she was a soldier too.
She marched beside the colors,
our own red white and blue.
It was in the days of our civil war,
that she lived her life so true”.

Feature image, top of page:  Only known picture of Sallie, herself.  Photographer unknown.
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.

June 1 (hypothesized) 10,000BC Domesticated Animals

There are stone engravings depicting teams of hogs hauling war chariots. I wonder what that sounded like.

The first dog may have approached a campfire looking for a morsel, or someone could have taken in a sick or wounded pup.  A wolf pack may have learned to shadow human hunting parties, the two groups learning to work together for their mutual benefit.  Two social, hierarchically organized species such as humans and wolves, would have found themselves on familiar ground.

The earliest known evidence of a domesticated dog comes to us from a cave in Iraq and dates to about 12,000 years ago. The specimen differs from that of a wolf, in that it was bred to have smaller jaws and teeth

1417509_origIt may be hard to imagine but, Canis lupus, the wolf, is the ancestor of the modern dog, Canis familiaris.  Every one of them, from Newfoundlands to Chihuahuas.

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Ovis aries, sheep, were the next to be domesticated, probably in the Middle East. They provided milk, meat and the warmth of wool from around 8000BC.

Pig Drawn CarriageSus scrofa (the pig) was domesticated around 6000 BC throughout the Middle East and China. Pigs were originally used as draft animals.  There are stone engravings depicting teams of hogs hauling war chariots. I wonder what that sounded like.

Bossie made her debut at a couple of points in history, females providing milk and meat and castrated males providing the massive strength and capacity for work, of the ox.  Over time, different branches of Bos primigenius came into domestication. The branch which came to be known as Bos taurus, the domestic cattle seen in the US today, began about 8,000 years ago in the Middle East. Bos indicus, the familiar humped cattle seen throughout modern day India and Pakistan, came around about 2,000 years later.

The animal making the greatest impact on Mankind entered the picture around 4000-3500BC on the Eurasian steppes near Dereivka, in central Ukraine. Equus caballus, the horse, provided milk, meat, shelter and transportation, as well as an endless capacity for work. From farm carts to war chariots, the horse could haul a load faster and over a greater distance, than any animal of its time.

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Heck Horse

The first domesticated horse was called a Tarpan, a steppe sub-species which is now extinct, at least in the wild. The “Heck Horse” is a breed claimed to resemble the extinct wild Tarpan or Equus ferus ferus, created by the German zoologist brothers Heinz and Lutz Heck. The first Heck horse, a stallion named Duke, was exported to the United States in 1954, followed by two mares in 1955 and a third in 1962.

Today most camels are domesticated, except for a few of the Bactrian (two humps) variety surviving in the Gobi Desert. Wild camels originated in North America, and were wiped out during the spread of Native Americans from Asia into North America between 8000 and 10000BC.

Camelid_origin_and_migrationEarly camelids spread across the Bering land bridge, moving the opposite direction from the Asian immigration to America, surviving in the Old World and eventually becoming domesticated and spreading globally by humans. The first “camelids” became domesticated about 4,500 years ago in Peru: The “New World Camels” the Llama and the Alpaca, and the “South American Camels”, the Guanaco and the Vicuña.

Of the only two surviving true camels, Dromedaries may have first been domesticated by humans in southern Arabia, around 3000 BC, and the Bactrian in central Asia, about five hundred years later.

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Genetic analysis of the modern house cat, Felis silvestris catus, suggests that every one of them descends from one of five wild feline ancestors: the Sardinian, European, Central Asian, Subsaharan African, or the Chinese desert cat.

The first depiction of a cat wearing a collar appears on a tomb in the ancient Egyptian burial ground of Saqqara, dated 2500-2350 BC, however there is archaeological evidence of domesticated cats on the Greek island of Cyprus, as early as 7500BC.

 

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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”.

072417algonquinAW07.jpg
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
Ho Lee Schitt
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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