Common belief claims pet dogs evolved from wolves. But not everyone agrees. Some say early humans raised wolf pups as pets and after a few generations they somehow became domesticated. Or perhaps wolves observed that man was better at hunting for food than they were, and that if they followed those ancient hunters, they might get some leftovers.
However it happened, dogs have carved out their niche in history and proven that they are indeed “man’s best friend.”
Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, died in 1786 and is buried as he requested — not in a grand cathedral but in a grassy plot at Sanssouci Palace near Potsdam, Germany. His burial site is surrounded by the graves of his 11 beloved Italian greyhounds.
They had a great life: Each was assigned a royal attendant; was part of the royal court and enjoyed snacks under the royal dining table. The dogs were to be addressed formally as “Sie” (you), not the informal “Du.”
Their final honor was being buried next to their royal master.
In July 1918, U.S. Army Private James Donavan was in France fighting Germans in World War I. In the Montmartre section of Paris, he noticed what looked like just a pile of rags, but it was a part terrier mutt dog. He named the pooch Rags and took him back to his unit — the U.S. 1st Infantry Division — and Rags became their mascot for the rest of the war.
Donavan’s job was to string communication wires from the front lines to headquarters and the artillery and repair wires damaged by gunfire.
Without the wires, runners had to go through dangerous territory to personally deliver messages. Many were killed or wounded. Then Donavan trained Rags to do the job — carrying messages attached to his collar.
Rags, his master and 42 other soldiers were trapped by the Germans, but Rags got through enemy lines to tell the artillery his unit was in trouble. The artillery barrage and reinforcements that followed saved them.
Rags was a hero.
The war mutt did the same thing a couple of months later and again saved the lives of a large number of troops.
But on Oct. 9 — about a month before Germany and its allies surrendered, ending the war, both Rags and Donavan were wounded.
Rags caught shell shrapnel in his right front paw, right ear and right eye, while also suffering mild gassing.
Donavan’s wounds were more serious. Both received medical treatment — Rags “on orders from headquarters” — and were then sent home. Rags mended quickly, but Private Donavan didn’t and died in the hospital at Fort Sheridan in Chicago.
Rags was adopted by the family of Maj. Raymond W. Hardenbergh and was honored with medals and awards.
The heroic mascot died in March 1936 at the ripe old age of 20, and was buried with military honors at the Aspin Hill Memorial Park in Silver Spring, Md.
An interesting post script to the Rags story is that he learned to “hit the deck” when there was incoming artillery fire by watching the soldiers do it. Eventually, the troops noticed Rags dropping to the ground before anyone else heard the shells coming. His keen ears were soon known as a reliable early warning system.
Even though she was a female, Sallie Ann Jarrett was in the thick of battle during most of the Civil War — at Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness and Petersburg.
Sallie was a brindle colored American Staffordshire terrier dog and the mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Born in 1861, she was a gift from a West Chester, Pa., resident to Capt. William R. Terry of the 11th’s Company I.
The puppy was named after a beautiful local lass named Sallie Ann and Col. Phaon Jarrett, the 11th Pennsylvania’s first commander.
According to the regiment’s historical account, she “provided a source of comfort, pride and inspiration for her fighting comrades. Sallie would hold her position on the line and bark fiercely at the enemy.
“One thing was clear; a bond of unconditional love and loyalty existed between Sallie and the men.”
Later, she was assigned to new regimental commander Col. Richard Coulter, and on two occasions trotted alongside his horse in parades before President Lincoln.
A quick learner, Sallie joined the men at military ceremonies — racing to her assigned place when she heard the bugle call. She went with them into combat, showing no fear on the noisy battlefield, even chasing bullets that hit the ground.
One report said, “On September 17, 1862, the soldiers were fighting in the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, the Battle of Antietam. The men attempted to send Sallie to the rear to protect her from the vicious fighting, but the dedicated dog refused to go.
“Thousands of lives were taken that day. Sallie survived, and gave birth to 10 puppies one month later. When weaned, the little dogs were sent north to good families while Sallie remained with the soldiers.”
Sallie was said to have hated three things — Rebels, Democrats and Women!
Seems like she didn’t like cowardice either — one report noting, “Upon reporting for ‘active duty’ she felt it necessary to tear the seat out of the pants of a young soldier from another unit running away from the battle line as he crossed along the back of the Old 11th.”
On the first day of battle at Gettysburg, Sallie became separated from her unit, but three days later after the Confederates had retreated, they found her weak and hungry back at the unit’s former position at Oak Ridge. She was guarding her dead comrades and licking the wounds of the injured.
Amazingly, Sallie didn’t get shot at Gettysburg, but later in May 1863, she was shot in the neck by a Minié ball at Spotsylvania. After being examined at the field hospital, a surgeon said she’d live but the bullet couldn’t be removed. However, she was soon back on duty and the ball did eventually work its way out.
On Feb. 6, 1865, at Hatcher’s Run, Va., Sallie’s luck ran out: A bullet struck her in the head, killing her.
With the fighting raging around them, her saddened comrades put down their firearms and gave her a field burial.
Twenty-five years later when the Pennsylvania Eleventh raised a 13-foot tall memorial monument at Gettysburg National Military Park, a bronze statue of Sallie Ann Jarrett lies guarding at the column’s base — to be forever honored along with the men with whom she served.
John F. Kennedy would get annoyed when Charlie would race up to him and dump a stick in his lap to play “go fetch” while the president was pondering huge world problems. Charlie was a Welch terrier that first lady Jackie Kennedy gave him.
He loved that dog.
The Kennedys had other dogs too, but Charlie was the president’s favorite, and when Air Force One returned from a trip, nothing pleased JFK more than to be greeted first by tail-wagging Charlie.
Charlie was ever protective of the president, growling if any other dog got near his master. When the chief went swimming, Charlie paddled along right next to him.
Sometimes in the dark of night, JFK and Jackie would sneak out of the White House grounds and take Charlie and maybe one or two other dogs on a stroll down the street — rarely recognized by the public — while the Secret Service car followed at a discreet distance.
“Those were happy times for the Kennedys,” said White House dog handler Traphes Bryant. They “looked like two young college kids taking the dogs for a walk.”
In 1961 prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave JFK a mutt named Pushinka (“little bit of fluff”), whose mother was rocketed into space as part of the Russian space program. The pup was wildly popular with the American public — and especially with Charlie. After a very brief romance, Charlie and Pushinka produced a litter.
When the Cuban Missile standoff brought the U.S. and Soviet Union to the brink of war, Charlie was by the president’s side in the White House and said to have had a calming effect as the commander-in-chief pondered how he would handle the crisis.
NEXT WEEK: Dogs of our fathers: Part II
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Contact Syd Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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“There’s even scientific evidence supporting the bond between humans and dogs. When people look into each other’s eyes, we bond emotionally and release a hormone called oxytocin. A study led by Nagasawa found that when dogs and people gaze into each other’s eyes, the same hormone is released in both the humans and the dogs.”
— Lindsey Jacobson, ABC News
Private James Donovan taught Rags to salute by raising his paw close to his head. Reports describe how at military base retreat ceremonies, Rags would be at the flag pole and would salute as the flag was lowered and the bugle played.
“On July 14th of 1918…Bastille Day…Private James Donovan, a Signal Corps specialist…found himself lost in a cul-de-sac in the dark streets of Montmartre…stumbled over what at first appeared to be a pile of rags…unfriendly American military policemen arrived…immediately ascertained that Donovan did not have a pass and was officially A.W.O.L….The quick thinking U. S. Army private convinced the M.P.’s that the little terrier dog was the missing mascot of the 1st Division and that Donovan was part of a search party…The ruse worked and Rags and his new owner were escorted back to Donavan’s unit.”
— Jack Rohan, Rags: The Story of a Dog That Went to War
“She was cleanly in her habits, and strictly honest, never touching the rations of men unless given to her. She would lie down by haversacks full of meat, or stand by while fresh beef was being issued and never touch it. She seemed to know that she would get a share, for the men never let her suffer if they had anything themselves, and she patiently waited until it was given her.”
— Edward S. Alexander, Man’s Best Comrade: Sallie and the 11th Pennsylvania
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