It’s official: Today is National Dog Day.
No creatures ever deserved more honor and appreciation than dogs.
The Lassies and Rin Tin Tins of the world come easily to mind. Their contributions are so . . . so . . . scripted? Rehearsed? So make believe?
The dogs I give a nod to on this National Dog Day include:
- Laika (“Barker” in Russian) [1954-1957]. She became the first animal to orbit the earth in 1957. A stray, she and two other dogs were trained for the trip on Sputnik 2. Her voyage proved that a living creature could survive a launch into outer space and weightlessness. That paved the way for human space travel.
- The 250 to 300 canine teams who arrived at Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attack. These dogs and their handlers worked tirelessly to find the injured and trapped and recover the dead. Even more, they gave comfort to those whom they found and to those grieving the loss of loved ones. For three-and-a-half weeks, they worked 12-hour shifts. The dogs and handlers spent 20 to 45 minutes searching the rubble, followed by an equal amount of time off.
- Balto and his fellow sled dog Togo, who were part of a team racing to Nome, Alaska, in 1925 with serum to combat a diphtheria epidemic. Balto was the lead dog on the final leg and Togo had the longest leg of the trip.
- Bamse (Norwegian for “teddy bear”), a St. Bernard, belonged to Capt. Erling Hafto. When Capt. Hafto’s whale catcher Thorodd was drafted into service, Bamse was enrolled as an official member of the naval crew. He boosted the crew’s morale, saved a sailor who had fallen overboard, and broke up fights among his crewmates by putting his paws on their shoulders. Eventually, Free Norwegian Forces made Bamse their mascot. While the crew was based in Scotland, Bamse rounded up the crew and escorted them back to ship for curfew or duty. He travelled by himself on local buses with a pass attached to his collar. He died of heart failure on the dock at Montrose, Scotland, in 1944, was buried with full military honors. The funeral was attended by hundreds of Norwegian sailors, Allied servicemen, children and townsfolk from Montrose and Dundee.
- Jo-Fi, Sigmund Freud’s Chow Chow, who often sat in on therapy sessions soothing patients.
The shepherds of New Zealand
Most of us observe National Dog Day once a year. The statue shown at left is a year-round recognition of the valuable role that herding dogs play in New Zealand life.
A sheep rancher’s wife created a sculpture of a sheep dog to honor the contribution of dog’s to life on New Zealand sheep ranches. The nation simply could not have survived without the dogs. They make every aspect of sheep ranching, from shearing to heading, possible. This is a tribute to dogs who aren’t known by name but deserve our tribute none the less.
There are dogs in film, fact or fiction who have won attention and celebrity, but few are as special at the one closest to hand.
Few dog lovers have expressed how wonderful dogs are better than James Thurber, a humorist and cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine:
“It did not take Man long — probably not more than a hundred centuries — to discover that all the animals except the dog were impossible around the house. One has but to spend a few days with an aardvark or llama, command a water buffalo to sit up and beg or try to housebreak a moose, to perceive how wisely Man set about his process of elimination and selection. “
“Man is troubled by what might be called the Dog Wish, a strange and involved compulsion to be as happy and carefree as a dog.”
“He had as much fun in the water as any person I have known. You didn’t have to throw a stick in the water to get him to go in. Of course, he would bring back a stick to you if you did throw one in. He would even have brought back a piano if you had thrown one in. “
“Dogs are obsessed with being happy.”