Dogs have long been regarded as man’s best friend but over the years some of our canine companions have gone above and beyond the call of duty to prove their courage and loyalty. These five heroes saved hundreds of lives between them and have gone down in history as some of the bravest dogs of all time, here are their stories.
Barry der Menschenretter
This canine legend is still famous all over the world more than 200 years after his death. Barry was born in 1800 the year Napoleon marched across the Alps to invade Italy and spent his life working as a rescue dog for the monks at the Great St Bernard Hospice. Located on a treacherous mountain pass between Switzerland and Italy the Augustine monastery has been a god send to Alpine travelers for close to a thousand years.
The monks started breeding puppies from the surrounding farm dogs in the 17th century to guard the monastery but quickly realized these legendary canines had a resistance to the extreme cold and a much superior sense of direction enabling them to rescue people who became lost or got caught in the regular avalanches of the region. Known as Cowherd’s dogs and believed to be ancestors of the modern-day St Bernhard these dogs were credited with rescuing over 2,000 people since the 18th century, with Barry der Menschenretter (people rescuer in German) being the most famous, rescuing over 40 travelers during his lifetime.
Barry’s most famous rescue was of a young boy who he found asleep in an ice cave, after using his body heat to warm the small child and licking him to revive him he carried/dragged the toddler back to the hospice. Legend has it that Barry was stabbed by the bayonet of an injured soldier who mistook him for a wolf but this is untrue and Barry actually died in Bern in 1814 after 12 years in the monk’s service. His body was preserved standing proudly on display at the Natural History Museum in Bern to this day and every year the hospice named one of their dogs Barry in his honor.
The most decorated war dog of World War 1 Sgt Stubby was a true soldier and his bravery and courage have been the inspiration for a number of books and a full-length feature film due to be released in 2018. He was found on the grounds of Yale University, Connecticut by Robert Conroy a soldier training with the 102nd infantry, during their training and when the time came to leave for Europe Conroy smuggled Stubby onto the troop ship. When discovered by the commanding officer on arrival in France the cheeky brindle Staffordshire Bull Terrier saluted him (as he had been trained by Conroy) and was permitted to stay.
Stubby spent 18 months in the trenches of France under almost constant fire and took part in no less than 4 offensives and 17 battles. He was injured by mustard gas during his first year of battle and after he recovered was issued with a specially designed gas mask, due to his sensitivity to the smell, he became adept at warning his regiment of poison gas and artillery attacks as well as locating injured soldiers in “No Man’s Land” he even captured a German spy who was mapping out the allied trenches recognizing the enemy’s language he attacked the man and held on to him until soldiers arrived to take him prisoner after which he was promoted to sergeant.
Stubby was injured again by a grenade and during his convalescence was a great boost to injured soldier’s morale. After the war ended Stubby was smuggled back to the US, where he was hailed as a celebrity taking part in many marches and parades across the country he even met 3 presidents. Conroy began studying law at Georgetown University and Stubby became the football team’s mascot performing for the crowd at halftime. This amazing fearless little dog died in his sleep in 1926 and received a half page obituary in the New York Times, his skin was preserved and presented by Conroy to the Smithsonian Institution in 1956.
On September, the 11th 2001 the world watched in horror as a terror attack destroyed the twin towers which were home to the world trade center in New York. The two tallest buildings in the world collapsed after being struck by two planes hijacked by terrorists and in the ensuing chaos, hundreds of courageous dogs worked alongside their owners in the search and rescue effort.
One of these was Trakr a German Shepherd from Canada. Originally trained in the Czech Republic he joined the police force in Novia Scotia in 1995 at 14 months of age, where, in his 6 years of service he assisted in detaining criminals, finding over $1 million in contraband and aiding in the search for missing persons before retiring in May 2001.
After witnessing the devastation which occurred on the morning of 9/11, James Symington Trakr’s handler traveled to New York with his loyal companion to help in any way they could. Trakr found the last survivor Genelle Guzman who had been buried beneath the rubble for 26 hours, before collapsing with exhaustion, burns and smoke inhalation on the 14th September.
However, this wasn’t the end of Trakr’s story shortly before his death in 2009, Symington entered a competition run by BioArts International to find the world’s most clone-worthy dog, which he won. Samples of Trakr’s DNA were sent to South Korea and in June 2009, 5 puppies were delivered to Symington. Trustt, Deja Vu, Solace, Valor and Prodigy each worth upwards of $100,000 were to continue their father’s legacy and began their training to become search and rescue dogs in 2011.
During the Second World War, families were asked to donate their canine companions for duty which is how Chips a Gerberian Shepsky (German Shepherd Siberian Husky Mix) ended up being trained as a sentry dog and serving with the 3rd infantry regiment in Europe and North Africa. In addition to day-to-day patrol duty with his regiment, he was also a tank and POW guard dog and was on sentry duty during the Roosevelt-Churchill Conference, which took place in 1943.
Later that same year, Chips and his handler Private John P Rowell were attacked by Italian machine gunners in Sicily. Chips jumped into the pillbox and after a fierce struggle, the 4 soldiers surrounded to the US troops. The same day he also aided his regiment to take 10 prisoners even though he had suffered wounds and powder burns in the previous skirmish.
Chips was the first dog to receive the Purple Heart for his courage which was later revoked due to Army policy preventing commendations to animals. Chips was also famous for biting Eisenhower when the General bent down to congratulate him on his courage, he returned to his family in America after being discharged in 1945 but unfortunately only lived for seven months due to complications arising from his war injuries. He is buried in the Peaceable Pet Cemetery in New York and in 1990 Walt Disney released a film about this heroic pooch.
Balto and Togo
This Siberian Husky became famous the world over when he completed the last leg of the 1925 serum run to Nome in Alaska when an outbreak of diphtheria threatened to become an epidemic.
Born in 1923 in Nome Balto was a sled dog and worked as a part of a team that delivered supplies to miners in the surrounding area. When several Inuit children contracted the disease in January 1925 the only serum which could halt the spread of the disease was in Anchorage almost a thousand miles away. A train was able to transport the medicine to Nenana but the remaining 674 miles was impassable. It was decided to complete the journey with a relay of dog teams.
More than 20 teams of dogs battled temperatures of -40 degrees, blizzards and rugged terrain with the final hand over taking place on February 1st when musher Gunnar Kassen began the last leg of the journey with his team of dogs led by Balto. As the temperatures dropped even further and gusts of wind up to 50mph threatened to blow over the sled, Kassen found himself unable to navigate, but Balto who was familiar with the trail led the team arriving in Nome with the precious serum 20 hours later. After the mission, the Norwegian and his dog became celebrities and a statue of Balto was erected in New York City later that year, with a plaque which has these words engraved;
“Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed anti toxin 600 miles over treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards, from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the winter of 1925 – Endurance, Fidelity, Intelligence”.
However, there was some controversy over Balto’s fame as the longest and most hazardous stretch of the journey was completed by Leonhard Seppala with his lead dog Togo, the Siberian Husky was 12 years old at the time of the run and ran around 170 miles over 3 days in horrendous conditions. Both dogs were heroes and their legend lives on in the Iditarod dog race which has run from Anchorage to Nome every year since 1973.
These dogs were some of the bravest in history but there have been numerous occasions when family pets have saved their humans and laid down their lives to protect them, battling intruders, saving people from drowning, dragging their owners from burning cars our canine companions truly deserve the title of man’s best friend.
John Devlin: Husband, father and avid dog lover. Currently the proud owner of George a pedigree Golden Retriever that barely leaves my side. However cute this sounds a little break from the dog hairs every now and then would be nice!