The Travelling dog, a stray who joined the American Post Office
A curious story of a mongrel dog that became an icon of the American Post Office, and it has an unexpected ending.
Although the story started over one hundred years ago it is still taught as a local history lesson in American primary schools.
known in Britain the saga begins on a cold, blustery evening, late in
the autumn of 1888 in Albany, the capitol of New York State. A dog,
little more than a puppy, was looking for some warm safe and dry as a
shelter for the night.
Passing an open door of the main post
office in Albany, the dog crept into the warm atmosphere and noticed
the ideal place on top of a pile of soft mailbags where the sleepy dog
soon made himself comfortable.
The office was very busy and
nobody noticed the small intruder. Dawn was breaking before he was
spotted by one of the postal clerks. Finding that the bedraggled dog
was friendly and intelligent the clerk took pity on the pup and did not
throw him out. Introducing him to the rest of the postal workers, who
soon decided to adopt him as a mascot, they cleaned him up and fed him.
has not been recorded who or why he was named 'Owney' but the records
show that the grateful dog was content to stay with the friendly
postmen, associating the smell of the mailbags with safety and food.
Owney's confidence grew he would ride on top of the soft mailbags as
they were being transported by cart from Albany post office to the main
line station, where the mail was sent all over America. Gradually he
realised his duty was to guard the mail and sometimes Owney even
boarded the trains travelling with the friendly mail staff on the many
trains, who took care of him.
As his absence from the main post
office lengthened with the many trips he made, the staff bought him an
identification collar marked "Owney, Post Office, Albany, New York."
it was decided that his many train journeys needed to be recorded, so
the Post Office staff at the various stations would attach mailbag tags
to Owney's collar. Soon his collar could not take many more tags and
with the sheer weight of them the dog could hardly hold up his head!
lighten the load and make way for more tags when Owney's travels
increased, the Postmaster General at the time, John Wannamaker,
presented Owney with a special harness-like jacket on which the dog's
souvenirs could be more evenly spaced.
Some railway clerks
occasionally lightened his load by removing some of the tokens and
returning them to the Albany post office for safekeeping. Owney's tag
collection was preserved as a record of his many travels, accumulating
1,017 tags, tokens, trinkets and medals during his journeys with the
post office mail in his lifetime, all of which were fastened to Owney's
jacket at one time or another.
Owney not only travelled with the
mail in America because it was recorded that he accompanied mailbags to
Canada, Alaska and even Mexico. His longest journey was around the
world! Starting from Tacoma, Washington on the 19th August 1895, Owney
boarded the steamship Victoria travelling to China then onto Japan. He
was sent by registered mail, a special classification had to be created
for him - Registered Dog Package!
Leaving Japan Owney sailed to
Singapore, through the Suez Canal, then onto Algiers and the Azores,
before returning to New York on the British steamer Port Philip.
postal clerks then sent him back to Tacoma, Washington by train on the
29th December 1895. Hundreds of his friends welcomed him back and it
was recorded that he had travelled over 143,000 miles as a Post Office
Ambassador in 132 days!
Eventually, in 1897, the Railway Mail
Service decided Owney needed a rest as he was getting too old to
travel. He had lost the sight of one eye and could only eat soft food
and milk. He was sent into retirement back to his original home the
Albany post office in New York State.
Apparently, because he had
got used to travelling Owney did not like the idea of permanent
retirement in one place. In June 1897 he slipped out of the post office
and boarded a mail train bound for Toledo, Ohio.
become hazy about what actually happened in Toledo. They say he was
being shown off to a newspaper reporter as the famous travelling dog
when the reporter mistreated the dog in some way.
angry and bit him! From the ensuing uproar nothing is very clear about
what actually happened, except that Owney died from a gunshot wound on
11th July, 1897!
American postal workers donated money for
Owney's body to be preserved; the work was done by a Toledo
taxidermist. Owney is now part of a fascinating collection of over 16
million items relating to America's postal history at the Smithsonian's
National Postal Museum.