SuperDogs: When a diphtheria epidemic broke out in Nome, Alaska in 1925, the life saving serum was some 600 miles away and a dangerous trek for anyone during winter. The whole town was on the brink of disaster. But a man named Leonhard Seppala assembled a team of 20 sled dogs and headed towards the desperate town with the serum. After a 300-mile trek, through a blinding blizzard, the mission was turned over to another team, who completed the heroic mission and saved the town.
The leader of the sled team was Balto, a great Alaskan Malamute. After the mission, Leonhard Seppala took a team of 40 dogs on a publicity tour throughout the mainland United States. The dogs ran in several dog races and, to the surprise of many who believed Huskies were rather slow dogs, faired fairly well. Balto became one of the most famous figures in the world, and single handedly caused an upsurge in the breed's popularity. Today, a statue of Balto sits in Central Park celebrating all the dogs involved.
Dog Heroes: This is just one example of heroism dogs have displayed throughout history. They are perhaps the first animals domesticated by humans, and have long lived by our side. Most dog owners attest to their loyalty, affection and faithfulness. Some dogs though, through self-sacrifice and valor have made names for themselves in our history books. Their very names suggest faithfulness and courage.
Last Days of Pompeii: One of the oldest examples is a dog Delta, who was found alongside the remains of a young boy in the ruins of Pompeii. The remains show clearly that Delta was trying to protect his master, a young boy named Serverinus, from the devastation caused by the volcano. A collar around Delta’s neck revealed that this was not the first time he had tried to save Severinus. Delta saved Severinus three times. Once he pulled the boy out of the ocean and saved him from drowning. Another time Delta fought off four robbers who assaulted Severinus. And finally, Delta protected the boy from an angry wolf they encountered at the sacred grove of Diana. His last act of heroism at Pompeii, however, was not enough. But, almost miraculously, Delta’s heroism is immortalized in the ruins of Pompeii.
Entire breeds are often associated with specific tasks. The Dalmatian is closely associated with firehouses, especially in the U.S. German Shepherds have old ties to law enforcement, and the St. Bernard, with whiskey barrel bouncing about its neck, is known for saving many a man, woman, and child lost in snowy mountains.
Lifeguards: The monks stationed at Great St. Bernard Pass near the Swiss-Italian border originally bred the massive St. Bernard. They hoped to create a breed capable of locating and saving lost travelers as they made their way through the dangerous mountain pass. And a fine job they did to. St. Bernards are capable of picking up a human scent from over 2 miles and can locate a body beneath ten feet of snow. Their most famous specimen was Barry, said to save over 40 lives. Renowned for his bravery and compassion, a statue of Barry stills stands at the Cimetière des Chiens pet cemetery in Paris, and his body is preserved at the Natural History Museum in Berne, Switzerland.
War Dog: In the U.S dogs are equally revered, especially in the military. A Pit Bull named Stubby once reached the rank of Sergeant for his heroic work during World War I. Sergeant Stubby served in some 17 battles during the war and became the most highly decorated dog in U.S. history. Another dog, a mixed breed named Chips, may be better known though. He served during the Second World War and was awarded both the Silver Star and Purple Heart, after serving in some 8 campaigns.
Mythical Creatures: A dog’s faithful nature is so renowned it has taken on a sort of mythical meaning in many cultures and traditions. The dog Shiro is considered a modern day Leander, believed by the Japanese to be the physical manifestation of unconditional and undying love. Shiro fell in love with a dog named Marilyn who lived on another Japanese Island. To see his beloved, Shiro, like the legendary Leander, swam across the straits every night; an event witnessed by many. The dog became renowned throughout Okinawa.
But their heroism and devotion are not a thing of the past, they continue today, as strong as ever. In 2001, Ruth Gay was saved by her dog Blue, who fought off a alligator (possibly 12 feet long) after she had fallen behind her house in Florida. In 1998, a woman was pulled from a car fire, started after an accident, by her Rottweiler Eve. And another dog, named Shelby, saved an entire family from carbon monoxide poisoning.