It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a HERO DOG!

Celebrate August 26, National Dog Day, with these inspiring tales of canine loyalty

They are our faithful companions, our watchful guardians, and our trusted and loyal partners. And, throughout history, dogs of all shapes and sizes have also been heroes. Bark your calendar, as we celebrate National Dog Day (Aug. 26) with stories of some of the most remarkable canine companions, soldiers, scientists, explorers, and more!

Soldier Dogs

Dogs have long served on the battlefield, doing everything from playing a role in logistics and communication; to working as sentries, trackers, and guards; to simply providing an invaluable morale boost to troops.

Sallie Ann Jarrett
Celebrate heroic dogs National Dog Day at Renewal by Andersen #NationalDogDayOne of these battlefield dogs was Sallie Ann Jarrett, the canine mascot for the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry during the Civil War. 

A brindle-coated American Staffordshire terrier, Sallie was given to Captain William Terry of Company I as a puppy in 1861—although she was truly “owned” by the entire 11th. Sallie was an army dog from the start, joining soldiers during their drills and standing with the color guard for dress parade.

She campaigned alongside the troops, and did not stay out of the fray when the firing began. In fact, she accompanied her regiment into battle, taking a position at the front lines and barking at the enemy. Sallie saw action in each of her regiment’s engagements, which included Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Petersburg.

At Gettysburg, Sallie became separated from her regiment on the first day of fighting, and the soldiers feared she had perished in the fight. The brave pup, had not, in fact died…but when she was unable to get through Confederate lines, she returned to where the 11th had been fighting earlier, on Oak Ridge. She was found her there, days later, dehydrated, hungry, and tired—but still “at work,” faithfully attending to her injured compatriots and guarding the bodies of the fallen.1

Despite enduring bullet wounds and injuries, Sallie fought alongside her unit nearly until the war’s end. Sadly, on February 6, 1865, during the Union advance at Hatcher's Run, Virginia, she was struck by a bullet and killed. So beloved and respected was the terrier, that several soldiers put aside their arms to bury her on the spot, despite being under fire.

25 years later, in 1890, the surviving members of the 11th gathered at Gettysburg for the dedication of a monument erected on Oak Ridge in their honor. The towering statue featured a larger-than-life solider marching at the top…and at the bottom? Was a bronzed likeness of Sallie Mae, lying at the base keeping watch over her troops, just as she had during her life.

Another wartime hero dog is one of the most celebrated and decorated canines in American history: a gregarious little pit bull terrier mix named Stubby. 

Found as a stray in 1917, Stubby was adopted as the mascot of the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division. He trained alongside them, learning drills, bugle calls, even a modified doggy salute. When the unit was deployed to France in 1918, Stubby was smuggled along and accompanied his division to the front lines of WWI. Despite being injured in battle several times, he served bravely—helping locate and retrieve wounded soldiers; saving his unit from gas attacks; even chasing down a German spy (he was promoted to Sergeant for the capture!).

Sgt. Stubby spent 18 months in the trenches of France and participated in four offensives and 17 battles. For his work in some of the most crucial battles of WWI, he was honored with numerous medals and awards, including the Purple Heart. According to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, he was the first dog ever given rank in the U.S. Army. 

After retiring from the service, Stubby went with his owner, Private Robert Conroy, to Georgetown University Law Center, and became the Georgetown Hoyas' team mascot. Stubby died in 1926.

Scientist Dogs

Strelka and Belka

strelka and belka on a stampThese hero dogs boldly went where no man…er, dog…went before!  

On August 19, 1960, Soviet space dogs Belka (which translates to “Squirrel” or "Whitey") and Strelka (meaning “Little Arrow”) became the first living creatures to be shot into orbit and return to earth safely. The pair’s successful journey in Sputnik 5 paved the way for Yuri Gagarin to make the first manned spaceflight eight months later.

Neither dog (both of whom had been rescued off the streets), suffered any ill effects from the journey. Live footage showing the chreerful pups as they floated in zero gravity delighted the world. The duo returned home as adored celebrities and were immortalized in everything from figurines and statues to comics and postage stamps.  They even went on tour, each wearing her own custom-made jumpsuit.

Strelka later had a litter of 6 pups with Pushok, a fellow Soviet space program dog. One of Strelka’s puppies, Pushinka (“Fluffy”) was presented to Caroline Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy’s daughter, by Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. 

In the spirit of Cold War détente, romance blossomed with Pushinka and Charlie, another of the Kennedys’ dogs, resulting in four puppies nicknamed “pupniks” by JFK. Descendants of Strelka the space dog are still living today across the U.S. 

You can watch footage of Belka and Strelka before, during, and after their space flight here.

Explorer Dogs

Taro and Jiro
In January 1957, a team of 11 Japanese researchers and 15 Karafuto-ken sled dogs (also known as Sakhalin huskies) arrived at the Showa Research Station in Antarctica. The researchers would spend roughly a year at the station, and then be replaced by another team. The dogs, a hearty, rugged breed well-suited for working life in a snowy climate, would remain on the base, ready to assist each successive team. Among the canine team members, were three-year-old brothers Taro and Jiro, who were also the youngest of the dogs.

In early 1958, a severe, strong, and unexpected storm approached, and the first team had to be emergency evacuated by helicopter. Because the second team was due to arrive shortly, the dogs were left tied at their stations, along with the food and water they would need for their next few days.

Unfortunately, the weather remained prohibitive. Conditions worsened, and the ship carrying the second team had to abort its mission—the way would not be passable for nearly another year, meaning the dogs were, to the great sadness of their team, abandoned and considered lost.

In January 1959, the third expedition team returned to the base in Antarctica, fully expecting to find the remains of their 15 canine compatriots. However, they only found that seven (Aka, Goro, Pochi, Moku, Kuro, Pesu, and Kuma from Monbetsu) had lost their lives while still chained. The other eight dogs had managed to break free from the chains. Amazingly two of the dogs, Taro and Jiro, were found alive—thin and a bit bedraggled, but otherwise fine—near the base. The remaining six (Riki, Anko, Deri, Jakku, Shiro and Kuma from Furen—who was the sire of Taro and Jiro) were never found.

Even more amazingly, the expedition crew’s stored foodstuffs and supplies were never breached, nor did the pair resort to cannibalism (common during famine), leaving the bodies of their chained packmates to rest. Researchers believe that Taro and Jiro instead relied on their own resourcefulness, eating “penguins, feces of seal, seabirds, and fishes (trapped in the ice).”

And so, after enduring a harrowing 11 months of the brutal Antarctic conditions, Taro and Jiro were joyfully reunited with their human teammates. And then what did the hero dog pair do? They went back to work, staying with the new pack and pulling sleds for the expedition.

Jiro died of natural causes in Antarctica in 1960; his remains are on display at the National Science Museum in Ueno Park, Tokyo, along with fellow Japanese hero dog Hachi (see below). Taro returned to his hometown of Sapporo, Japan, in 1961, and lived at Hokkaido University until his death in 1970. His remains are displayed there.

Rescue Dogs

Born in 1994, Mancs (whose name means “Paw,” in Hungarian) was a German Shepherd and a member of the renowned Spider Special Rescue Team of Miskolc, Hungary, a team that traveled the globe doing search-and-rescue work.

As a member of the squad, Mancs was incredibly gifted at locating earthquake survivors who lay trapped deep beneath the rubble and alerting rescuers. He could locate where people were buried under the earthquake rubble—and not only could Mancs determine if the person was dead or alive, but he could also indicate this to the other members of the rescue crew. If he sensed a dead person, he laid down; when he sensed a live person beneath the rubble, he stood up, wagged his tail and barked. 

Alongside his owner László Lehóczki, Mancs helped in several high-profile earthquake rescue missions, including the 2001 earthquakes in El Salvador and India. His most famous case was when he helped rescue a 3-year-old girl who spent 82 hours under the ruins after the 1999 Izmit earthquake in Turkey.

Mancs died of pneumonia in 2006. In 2015, Mancs was honored posthumously with his team with the European Citizen's Prize for their many years of life-saving efforts. Attending the ceremony as the guest of honor was Hatira Kaplan—the young woman Mancs had rescued in Izmit.

In September 2001, 300 search dogs worked tirelessly to help find survivors amid the twisted pile of rubble that was once the World Trade Center.

One of those dogs was a golden retriever named Bretagne (pronounced “Brittnay”), who, along with her handler Denise Corliss, worked 12-hour-shifts every day for nearly two weeks at Ground Zero.

It was the first major mission for the then-two-year-old dog, but not her last. Following 9/11, Bretagne  and Corliss returned to their Cypress, Texas home, where they continued to serve with the Texas Task Force 1 and Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department. The pair went on to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Ivan, and other disasters before Bretagne retired from search and rescue (SAR) work at age 9.

It was certainly an active retirement, however, as she continued to work community events, demonstrating SAR techniques. In her teen years, Bretagne volunteered as a reading assistance dog at an elementary school near her home. She continued that work up until shortly before her death.

Just before her 17th birthday, the hero dog--the last surviving 9/11 rescue dog--made her final vet visit along with the Corliss families. Representatives from Texas Task Force 1, the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department, and other agencies stood at attention and saluted Bretagne as she entered the veterinary office, and saluted again as she departed the animal hospital with her body draped in an American flag. 

Her legacy and life of service did not end with her death—Bretagne was transported in a formal procession from the animal hospital to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, where her body was donated to science as part of a long-running study of 9/11 search dogs. 

Hero DogsHero dog Togo was a Siberian husky who helped deliver diphtheria antitoxin 674 miles from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, during the 1925 outbreak of the disease. Although Balto became the most famous canine of “the Great Run of Mercy,” many mushers today consider Togo the true hero. 

Balto led the final leg, but Togo (who was 12 years old at the time) and his team (handled by Leonhard Seppala) covered the longest and most hazardous leg. They made a round trip of 261 miles and delivered the serum a total of 91 miles—almost double the distance of any other team.

Now considered one of the forefathers of the modern Siberian Husky breed, Togo was gifted from the very start. He was only eight months old when he escaped Seppala's kennnel facilities and took off down the trail after his handler and team, who were headed on a 160+ mile mission to a mining camp. When Togo caught up the next day, Seppala had no choice but to add him to the team to keep an eye on him. Togo logged 75 miles his first day in the harness--unheard of for an inexperienced young sled dog, especially a puppy. Seppala called him an "infant prodigy," later saying that he "had found a natural-born leader, something [he] had tried for years to breed," and called the (relatively undersized) dog "50 pounds of muscle and fighting heart.”

Togo retired from mushing in 1927 and passed away from old age in 1929. Read more about Togo, Seppala, and the Nome Serum Run here.


Loyal Dogs

Being a hero is many things, and sometimes, those things are very simple. This hero dog didn’t fight in a war, or save children from deadly epidemic, or help explore far reaches of the universe. This hero dog simply was…a dog. The loyal, faithful companion that makes us love the canine species so much.

Hachikō was a Japanese Akita, adopted in 1924 by Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor at the University of Tokyo. Every day, Hachikō would accompany his master to the train station to see him off to work, and after woo-wooing his goodbyes, would trot home. Then, in the early evening, Hachi would return to the station and await Professor Ueno’s arrival.

That the dog was never formally trained for this, and undertook the ritual on his own was remarkable enough…what happened next, even more so. 

One day, the professor suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while at work. He died instantly—and never came home. But that day, and every day after, at precisely the same time, Hachikō came to the platform, met the train, and waited for his owner. He continued until his own death, more than nine years later.

By the time of his death, everyone knew of the loyal dog who made the lonely trip to wait for his owner every evening. Hachi had become a national celebrity—a symbol treasured by the Japanese people as the spirit loyalty, devotion, and faith. The Akita is revered as the national dog of Japan.

Hachi died on March 8, 1935, from what scientists later determined to be terminal cancer. His body was found near the station, and was laid in state as mourners—including the widow of Professor Ueno—paid their respects. 

Hachikō’s remains were interred next to Professor Ueno's grave in Aoyama Cemetery. Today, a statue stands in Shibuya station, with a plaque commemorating him at the exact spot where he waited every day. The nearest gate is called the Hachikō exit. Every year, on the anniversary of his death, people from all over gather at the Shibuya station for a ceremony honoring his loyalty.

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