Ah, Labor Day. That one day a year when we Americans celebrate the contribution of workers to our society by… taking the day off.
But as we pause to reflect on those of us who work hard each day, we should also take time to reflect on some other workers — those that never go on strike, never ask for a pay raise, and never request extra vacation.
They are the working dogs. Working dogs come in all types, from search and rescue, to guiding, to performing. In our celebrity-obsessed culture. Let’s pay homage to some famous working dogs this Labor Day:
• Balto. This Siberian Husky was such an heroic dog that he spawned several movies based on his life. In 1925, Balto led 20 mushers and about 150 dogs on a serum run to Nome, Alaska, that was also known as the “Great Race of Mercy.” A diphtheria epidemic had broken out in Nome and the closest known serum was nearly 1,000 miles away. The only aircraft that could deliver the medicine had a frozen engine and couldn’t start. So, a relay expedition by sled was set up with Balto leading the final leg into Nome with the serum. Today, a statue of Balto can be found in Central Park in New York City.
• Judy. This Pointer was the only dog to be classified as a Prisoner of War in World War II and was a member of the British Royal Navy. Judy is credited with not only saving the lives of the crew of the sinking ship Grasshopper by allowing the men to hold onto her back while she swam to safety, but she was also smuggled by the crew into the Sumatra camp when they became prisoners of war. There she would alert the prisoners of approaching Japanese guards as well as other dangers, like snakes and scorpions.
• Owney. This mixed-breed terrier became the first mascot of the US Postal Service around 1888. Originally a stray, Owney was found outside the Albany, NY post office. The workers took pity on the pooch and brought him inside to get some sleep where he took a liking to the mailbags and made them his bed. He became so attached to the bags that when they were removed, he followed them. This led to his traveling with postmen in rail cars across the country, logging over 140,000 miles while keeping careful watch over the bags.
• Barry. The most famous Saint Bernard, Barry is credited with over 40 rescues of travellers lost in the snows in the Great Saint Bernard Mountains in Switzerland in the early 1800s. His most famous rescue was that of a young boy who fell asleep in the ice, nearly freezing to death. Barry licked the boy to raise his body temperature, and then carried the child on his back to safety.
• Uggie. With a featured role in the Best Picture Oscar®-winner “The Artist,” how could we not include the scene stealer Uggie? This Jack Russell Terrier also has had roles in other films, such as “Water for Elephants”, but his starring role was that of the constant companion to the very silent film actor, George Valentin. Despite a campaign to “Consider Uggie” for an Oscar of his own that didn’t quite catch the eye of the Academy, we’d like to thinik that he was proud to know that his performance placed him on a short list of great working dogs in the film industry. Sadly, Uggie passed away in August 2015 after a decade-long career, but he had a good long life before that and will forever enjoy his piece of Hollywood fame.