Anyone who knows a dog knows they are a gift to the world. Dogs play so many roles on this Earth: they are companions, nannies, guides, therapists, to mention a few. To list all the services provided by a dog would be unending. Sometime ago I learned the story of a special dog living a very unusual life of his own creation.
Owney, a homeless Border Terrier lived in Albany, New York. That night in 1888 it was windy, rainy and bone cold. As he traveled the alley Owney spotted a door opened, ever so slightly, with what appeared to be light and warmth on the other side. Not being the shy type he entered the back room of the Albany Post Office and slept among the warm leather mail bags. A postal clerk, Owen adopted the dog who became known as Owney.
The Albany Post Office became Owney’s home. His primary interest were the mailbags, he never left their side and was particular as to who touch them. Railway Mail Service processed a great deal of the mail in those days. Owney rode in the mail wagon as it transferred bags of mail to the station. On one of these trips a mailbag fell off the wagon unnoticed by the postal clerk. Owney jumped off the wagon and laid with the mail bag until it was retrieved by the proper official. It was then Owney became the unofficial mascot of the United States Postal Service.
Oweny’s life became a dog’s dream…he was free to travel by train wherever he wished, when he wished and was able to protect his precious mailbags. He traveled from one end of the country to other. When Owney was on the train there was never a wreck (wrecks were common in those days) and Owney was considered good luck. He often jumped from one mail car to another never quite knowing where he was headed. Owney was often gone for weeks at a time no one really sure where he was.
There was one period of great concern. Owney had been out of touch for a particularly long time. It so happens that he had landed in Canada. The Canadian postmaster was not pleased. He caged Owney and wrote to the Albany Post Office telling them he would be returned upon receipt of $2.50 for dog food. Owney’s bill was paid and he returned to Albany.
The Albany Postal Clerks were concerned for Owney’s safety. They made him a sturdy collar with a tag so he would always come home safely. As Owney traveled people added tags. His collar became so heavy he needed a harness to help carry the weight. Over his life time he collected approximately 372 tags.
Owney became an international star traveling to Mexico, Japan, Alaska, China, Singapore and the Suiz. He was loved by the world. He received approximately 1,017 medals, among them the medal of “Best Traveled Dog” in 1893 and “Globe Trotter” in 1894. It is estimated Owney traveled 143,000 miles.
Sadly, as with all of us the years took their tole on Onwey. At the age of ten he was in fragile health and banned from riding the rails. J.M. Elben ,a postal clerk from the St.Louis office, adopted Owney. Unfortunately they allowed Owney one more trip. It was on this trip Owney fell ill and bit a postal clerk and U.S. Marshall. Owney was shot. There was a public outcry. The Chicago Tribune calling it an execution. June 11, 1897 Owney was put down in Toledo, Ohio.
The postal community could not let Owney go. They had his body preserved and in 1904 put his effigy on display at the St. Louis Worlds Fair. In 1911 Owney was put on display at the Smithsonian Museum where you can still find him along with his collar and a few of his tags. After a 2011 restoration Owney looks better than ever and is said to be one of the most interesting displays. In that same year the United States Postal Service issued a forever stamp honoring Owney.
Share in Owney’s stories through the following websites in addition to the books and videos recalling a very special dog.