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 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.

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.”


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.


July 9, 1943 Chips

Chips attacked the four Italians manning the machine gun, single-handedly forcing their surrender to American troops. The dog sustained a scalp wound and powder burns in the process, indicating that they had tried to shoot him during the brawl.  In the end the score was Chips 4, Italians Zero.

The United States Armed Forces had an extensive K-9 program during World War II, when private citizens were asked to donate their dogs to the war effort. One such dog was “Chips”, a German Shepherd/Collie/Husky mix who ended up being the most decorated K-9 of WWII.

Chips belonged to Edward Wren of Pleasantville, NY, who “enlisted” his dog in 1942. He was trained at the War Dog Training Center, Front Royal, Virginia, and served in the 3rd Infantry Division with his handler, Private John Rowell. Chips and his handler took part in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany.  He served as a sentry dog for the Roosevelt-Churchill conference in 1943, and the team was part of the Sicily landings later that year.

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.  Six weeks of land combat followed, in an operation code named “Operation Husky”.

Chips, War DogDuring the landing phase, private Rowell and Chips were pinned down by an Italian machine gun team. The dog broke free from his handler, running across the beach and jumping into the pillbox.  Chips attacked the four Italians manning the machine gun, single-handedly forcing their surrender to American troops. The dog sustained a scalp wound and powder burns in the process, demonstrating that they had tried to shoot him during the brawl.  In the end, the score was Chips 4, Italians Zero.   He helped to capture ten more later that same day.

Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and Purple Heart, but the 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 his days with the Wren family in Pleasantville. Disney made a TV movie based on his life in 1990.  They called it “Chips, the War Dog”.

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