Posted by: Susan | June 16, 2009

The Best Dog Story

Being a dog person, I must share a true story I stumbled upon about Owney, the postal service dog.  It began in 1888, when a young, straggly, Terrier mix mutt snuck into the Albany, New York, post office and went to sleep on top of some empty mailbags.  The next morning, postal employees discovered him and took a liking to him.  They decided to let him stay at the office and gave him the name “Owney,” for reasons no one seems to know.

Owney was attached to the mail bags.  He slept on them in the office, he sat on them in the mail wagons as they were taken to the railroad station to be loaded onto mail cars.  One day, he jumped into one of the train cars and made the trip from Albany to New York City, sitting on top of the bags.  Owney & postal clerk

Apparently, travel agreed with Owney as he began taking longer and longer trips, hopping from mail train to mail train.  Sometimes he would be gone for months at a time, following the mailbags on their routes.  Eventually the clerks in Albany attached a note to his collar, asking other clerks to look after the dog and to attach baggage tags to his collar so they could keep track of his travels.  Owney crisscrossed the entire country, and within a year clerks from New York to California – and even Mexico and Canada – knew him and considered him part of their large postal family.

By the early 1890’s, John Wanamaker, the U.S. Postmaster General, ordered a special doggie vest for the dog.  It was needed to accommodate the growing number of tags on his collar, which were so heavy that Owney could hardly lift his head.

In 1893 Owney made his way to Tacoma, Washington, where the clerks there decided to put him on a mail ship.  Next stop: Kobe, Japan, a trip he made officially registered as “Mr. Owney.”  By this time, he was known around the world and was issued a Japanese imperial passport, leaving him free to travel the trains wherever he liked.  From Japan, Owney traveled to China, back to Japan, to Singapore, the Suez Canal, various stops along the North African coast, and then across the Atlantic to New York City.  He went back to Tacoma , arriving on December 29, 1895, to the cheers of hundreds of fans.  Owney had completed an around-the-world trip in a little more than four months!

Unfortunately, Owney’s story has a tragic end.  In 1897 he was deemed too old to travel and the clerks in Albany “retired” him.  Owney objected, however, and hopped a train, ending up in Toledo, Ohio, where the clerks chained him to a wall in the basement of the postal station.  According to the National Postal Museum, “Owney was mistreated while being shown off to a newspaper reporter in Ohio and became so mad that he bit a postal worker.”  The Toledo postmaster felt he had to do something so he summoned a police officer, and on July 11, 1897, Owney was shot and killed.

Today, his legend lives on at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., where you can see his stuffed body in a display case.  With him are many of the more than 1,100 tags, tokens, hotel room keys, and medals that Owney received in his estimated 143,000 miles of travel as the unofficial mascot of the U.S. Railway Mail Service.  It is one of the most popular exhibits, especially with children… and postal clerks.

Owney & trainowney_onbag





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