10 Dogs Who Changed the Course of History for Man and Beast Alike

10 Dogs Who Changed the Course of History for Man and Beast Alike

Larry Holzwarth - January 15, 2018

The dog has been associated with humans seemingly forever. Why they chose, in some prehistoric quandary, to tie their fortunes to that of their human companions is unknown. Most archaeologists agree that the earliest evidence of domesticated dogs dates from nearly 15,000 years ago, and that dogs were likely hunting companions and protectors of early man. Selective breeding and experimentation has led to a wider variation of breeds than that of other domesticated animals also long companions to man, such as the horse, or even the domestic cat.

Dogs have accompanied humanity on their travels, worked the herds in the fields, assisted on the hunt, and pulled plows and carts. They have been used to hunt for food and been a food source themselves. They have been used to fight in wars, protect property, detect weapons and explosives, drugs, and smuggled goods, and to do just about anything their human masters have asked them to do. They have contributed immeasurably to the benefit of humanity, for very little return. Some have become famous, as movie or television stars, space travelers, rescuers of those in hazard, or just for demonstrating extraordinary loyalty. Whether one is a “dog person” or indifferent to their charms, there is no denying the place they occupy in daily life.

10 Dogs Who Changed the Course of History for Man and Beast Alike
The original Rin TIn Tin in 1929. Rin Tin Tin was one of the most famous dogs in the world from the 1920s through the 1960s. Warner Brothers

Here are some unusual stories of American dogs which made a difference in American history.

10 Dogs Who Changed the Course of History for Man and Beast Alike
The Whippet’s long legs and narrow body makes it capable of spectacular jumps. Wikipedia

Ashley Whippet

The sight of a dog in full speed pursuit of a flying disc is a common one on beaches, in parks, in back yards and virtually anywhere there is room to run. Although some dogs eye a flying disc with disdain, declining the opportunity to chase what its master seems to throw away, it’s safe to say that the majority recognize the thrill of catching one of the discs in mid-air, and basking in the applause following a sensational leaping catch. Plus it’s good exercise, although the dog likely doesn’t know that.

It is impossible to say which dog was the first to enjoy chasing a flying disc. The two just seem to have evolved as if they were made for each other. But it is possible to identify when the game became famous, and who the dog was that made it so. That dog was Ashley Whippet, and the date was August 5, 1974. The site was Dodger Stadium. While many baseball parks now sponsor nights when dogs are allowed as promotional events, such was not the case in 1974. Ashley was smuggled into Dodger Stadium by his master, Alex Stein.

The game that evening was being televised nationally as Monday Night Baseball, and when Alex jumped over the fence with Ashley in the ninth inning the action was viewed by baseball fans across the country. Usually a fan encroaching on the field is ignored by television producers so as not to encourage like behavior, but Ashley’s pursuit of the flying discs thrown by his master was too entertaining to miss. Ashley made several leaps, including one estimated to have been nine feet in the air, to catch the throws made by Alex.

The game was stopped for about nine minutes as fans in the stadium and on television, as well as the players on the field, enjoyed watching Ashley’s prowess. Security escorted Alex and Ashley off the field, and despite the applause, Alex Stein was arrested although he was quickly released. The following year Stein organized the first Frisbee Dog World Championship, which Ashley won three years in a row. In the 1980s the event was renamed the Ashley Whippet Invitational World Finals Championship.

Ashley appeared on a football field too, but this time by invitation, when he demonstrated his skills as part of the pre-game entertainment for Super Bowl XI in 1977. Ashley’s pursuit of the flying disc undoubtedly contributed to the good health which led to his long (for a dog) life of fourteen years. He is still remembered as the namesake for Ashley’s Ice Cream, a local chain in New Haven Connecticut, regionally famous for serving one concoction on a flying disc.

10 Dogs Who Changed the Course of History for Man and Beast Alike
Bobbie the Wonder Dog in a portrait with his owner, Frank Brazier. Oregon Encyclopedia

Bobbie the Wonder Dog

Frank and Elizabeth Brazier were residents of Silverton, a small Oregon city near Salem. They owned and operated a restaurant called the Reo Café. Business was brisk enough that they purchased an Overland Red Bird touring car, which sold for $750 in 1923. That year, with their two daughters, they traveled by automobile to visit relatives in Wolcot, Indiana (an impressive feat in itself in 1923). The family dog, Bobbie, a collie mix, accompanied them on their journey.

When Mr. Brazier stopped for gas near the house where they were staying, Bobbie was stretching his legs when he was attacked by three large, evidently stray dogs. Bobbie evidently decided that withdrawal was a better option than combat and fled. Mr. Brazier (a wonderful name for a restauranteur) believed that Bobbie would be able to find where they were staying on his own. When Bobbie didn’t turn up, they started searching for him.

When they were readying to leave for their return home Bobbie still hadn’t reappeared, and the now concerned Mr. Brazier left instructions on how he could be contacted when the dog did show up. They also advertised the dog as lost in the local newspaper, and posted descriptions of the missing animal around town, all to no avail. When it came time to leave, they left without Bobbie. They left behind instructions to ship the dog home by rail and were off.

The following year, six months after Bobbie had avoided a fracas with the three Hoosier dogs, Mrs. Brazier’s daughter from a previous marriage spotted a collie mix on a Silverton street. The dog’s coat was matted and filthy, it was walking gingerly from badly worn pads on its feet, and it was thinner than it should have been. And it was Bobbie, who had walked the entire distance, except those places where it had had to swim, more than 2,800 miles. After it was confirmed that the dog was indeed Bobbie, the Humane Society endeavored to retrace his trip. While traveling the Braziers had left the Red Bird at service stations when stopping overnight, a frequent behavior in an era when parking lots weren’t common.

Bobbie had, according to station owners, visited each of the stations where the Braziers had left their car on his journey home. The Humane Society also confirmed that Bobbie had stopped at a hobo camp, and several private homes, including one in which the owner kept the dog long enough for an injured foot to heal. Bobbie was famous overnight, at least locally, and the newspapers bestowed the title The Wonder Dog upon him.

10 Dogs Who Changed the Course of History for Man and Beast Alike
Statue of Old Drum outside the Johnson County Courthouse in Missouri. Wikipedia

Old Drum

Old Drum was a black and tan hound of undetermined heritage (some reports say that he was a foxhound) near Warrensburg Missouri, known as a fine hunter. He was not particular distinguished in life for any of his achievements, but Old Drum’s untimely demise was the source of a court action which led to the changing of laws regarding the treatment of animals. His death also led to the description of a dog being “man’s best friend” when that phrase was used by a lawyer representing his master after Old Drum had gone to his reward.

Old Drum was owned by Charles Burden in 1869 when the dog wandered onto the property of Leonidas Hornsby, a sheep farmer who happened to be Burden’s brother in law. Hornsby had warned Burden that if Old Drum, (or any dog) appeared on his property it would be shot. When Old Drum strayed onto the property Hornsby was true to his word. Burden hired an attorney, former Confederate Senator George Graham Vest (who would become a US Senator a few years later) and sued his brother in law for $50.

Vest gave a summation at the trial which included the line, “The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.” The rest of the summation was in the same vein. Vest won the case and Burden won his fifty dollars. Hornsby appealed, but he lost there too. Somewhat ironically, it had not been Hornsby who pulled the trigger the night Old Drum was killed, but a ward who was following Hornsby’s orders.

The case of Old Drum became a measuring stick regarding the willful killing of domestic animals on private property, and Missouri courts frequently cited it when called upon to litigate cases where property owners had killed or harmed animals belonging to another. While there was no immediate changes to Missouri law, the application of the law by the courts shifted to favor the safety of the animal when it presented no threat or did no harm.

Old Drum was memorialized by a statue which stands today in Warrensburg, on the Johnson County Court House lawn. Burden and Hornsby evidently had no further difficulties after the issue of Old Drum was resolved by the courts, though they both had incurred impoverishing legal expenses. Old Drum’s legacy also includes animal restraint laws, both in Missouri and in many other states and communities.

10 Dogs Who Changed the Course of History for Man and Beast Alike
Size, intelligence, and loyalty have long made German Shepherds popular military and police dogs. Wikipedia


Lex was a military dog, the first to be retired while remaining fit for duty, to allow him to be put up for adoption. During his military career Lex was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in combat, his handler was killed in the same attack. United States Marine Corporal Dustin Lee had worked with another dog, which he had adopted as his personal dog when that animal retired from active duty before being paired with Lex.

Lee and Lex worked together as an explosive ordnance inspection team. While dogs have been used in warfare since ancient times, the United States military use of dogs for varying purposes dates to the Seminole Wars in the 1800s. A dog’s extraordinary ability to detect specific scents allows them to have a success rate of up to 98% when used to identify explosives, even in the presence of other scents. Lex was a veteran of a previous tour in Iraq when he was paired with Corporal Lee at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany before they were deployed to Iraq together in November 2006.

In March 2007, Lee and Lex were stationed at a Forward Operating Base when it was attacked by a rocket known as an SPG-9. Corporal Lee was evacuated to medical care but died from his wounds shortly after sustaining them. Lex was wounded by shrapnel, but had to be dragged away from his wounded handler before medical attention could be given to either of them. Lex’s wounds were sufficient to cause him to be returned to the United States to recover, after which he was sent to Albany fully ready for active duty.

Corporal Lee’s parents started an online petition for support asking the military to allow them to adopt Lex, and North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones assisted them in obtaining approval from the military. After military red tape was satisfied, Lex was retired, having completed five years of active duty and Lex was adopted by Lee’s parents. Lex made several visits to VA hospitals in the United States after his retirement, despite mobility issues caused by his war service.

Lex retained multiple pieces of shrapnel from the attack in which he had been wounded, lodged in and near the spine in a manner which precluded them being removed surgically. Despite treatments which included stem cell regenerative therapy, these injuries hampered him for the rest of his life, before he succumbed to cancer in 2012.

10 Dogs Who Changed the Course of History for Man and Beast Alike
Sergeant Stubby wearing his medal adorned chamois coat, a gift from the ladies of Chateau-Thierry, France. Wikimedia

Sergeant Stubby

The US Army 102nd Infantry Regiment was in training on the grounds of Yale University in New Haven Connecticut in preparation for deployment to Europe when some of the men noticed a brindle puppy of uncertain breed wandering the area. Corporal Robert Conroy took the dog in and smuggled it onto the troop ship which took the regiment to France. Sometime during training or on the voyage to France the pup was taught to salute the commanding officer, a gesture which convinced him to allow the dog to stay with the unit when it was sent to the front.

Stubby was at the front line in the trenches for eighteen months, with a couple of respites to the rear echelon to recover from wounds sustained from shrapnel from German grenades. Stubby was also injured by a mustard gas attack, from which he learned to warn the men of his regiment when a gas attack was imminent, able to hear the shells containing gas, which made an unusual whining sound, before the soldiers. Stubby also demonstrated the ability to locate wounded men stranded in the no man’s land between the opposing trench lines.

Stubby was awarded several medals for his services in the trenches, although all of them were of an unofficial nature, and the women of the French town of Chateau-Thierry made him a chamois coat on which to wear them. Stubby was credited with identifying a German spy whom he caught drawing a map of the American positions within the trenches. Stubby attacked the spy and continued to harass him until help from soldiers arrived.

For his efforts catching the spy Stubby was recommended for promotion to the rank of sergeant, although he held no official rank. Army records do not indicate that Stubby was officially promoted, but several biographers and memorials indicate that he was. The men of his regiment considered him a sergeant.

After the war Stubby, as did many World War I veterans, participated in numerous parades and celebrations of the victory. As a veteran he twice visited the White House, being met by President Harding and later by Harding’s successor, Calvin Coolidge. His master, Robert Conroy, enrolled in Law School at Georgetown University and Stubby became the mascot for the Georgetown Hoyas, forever linking the Hoya with a Bull Terrier, which may have been part of the breeding for Sergeant Stubby.

10 Dogs Who Changed the Course of History for Man and Beast Alike
Balto and musher, Norwegian Gunnar Kaasen. Wikimedia


In 1925 a diphtheria epidemic threatened the population of Nome, Alaska. Children and young adults who had never been vaccinated or exposed to the disease, which can easily be fatal, were at risk. The disease was controllable and an epidemic preventable by the use of an antitoxin, but the nearest source for the serum was Anchorage. Health officials commissioned an airplane to fly the serum to Nome, but the frigid weather had frozen the aircraft’s engine. The only viable alternative, though one which carried grave risk, was transportation of the serum by sled.

Multiple dog sled teams were prepared to cover the route from Nenana to Nome, a distance of nearly 700 miles. The 20 teams acted as relays for the serum, which arrived at Nenana by train and the sled travel began along what was known as the mail route. Blizzard conditions prevailed and the temperature was nearly thirty degrees below zero before considering the wind chill.

Several of the sled drivers – called mushers – suffered from hypothermia on the trek, despite jogging alongside the sled as it was pulled by the dog teams. Visibility was poor, and often full whiteout conditions existed. The most hazardous section of the run was led by a dog name Togo, mushed by Norwegian Leonhard Seppala, who came out from Nome to pick up the serum. On the return leg, Seppala turned the serum over to Gunnar Kaasen, another Norwegian, whose team was led by Balto. It was the second to last leg of the trip, Kaasen was to turn the serum over to another team who would deliver the serum to Nome.

Kaasen later said that the blizzard conditions were so bad that he could not see the back of the sled, or his hand held before his face. The trip was in complete darkness. Balto had to find his way, and lead the team, completely blind. He stayed on the trail though he was well past a checkpoint before Kaasen realized it. When they reached the rendezvous point with the musher for the final leg, Ed Rohn, they found him sleeping, believing the weather conditions were so bad that the sleds would never get through to reach him. Kaasen, rather than wait for another team and sled to be prepared, decided to cover the final leg himself.

Thus Balto led the team bearing the serum into Nome, and became famous. His fame was amplified when it became known that several dogs had died from weather conditions and exhaustion during the run. All of the serum arrived at Nome safely. Today a statue of Balto stands in New York’s Central Park. Balto himself, or rather his stuffed remains, reside at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and frequently tour other museums.

10 Dogs Who Changed the Course of History for Man and Beast Alike
Morris Frank, co-founder of The Seeing Eye, and Buddy, America’s first seeing eye guide dog. CBS News


Morris Frank lost the sight in his right eye when he hit an overhanging tree branch at the age of six while riding a horse, ten years later a boxing accident caused him to lose the sight in his right eye. Until he lost his own sight he had been the guide for his mother, who was blind. His family’s wealth allowed him to hire guides to assist him when he began working as an insurance salesman, but he found them to be unsatisfactory.

In 1927 Frank learned of a school in Switzerland where wounded World War I veterans, many of whom had been blinded by gas attacks on the Western Front, were being trained to use guide dogs. Frank contacted the Saturday Evening Post, which had published an article on the school, and after learning of its validity made arrangements to attend the school, which was called Fortunate Fields, run by an American trainer named Dorothy Harrison Eustis.

Frank was coupled with Kiss, a German Shepherd which he renamed Buddy, and after training with another American trainer, Jack Humphrey, returned to the United States in June 1928, with Buddy and Humphrey accompanying him. Frank arranged for Buddy to be observed by New York reporters as he put the dog through his paces guiding him through the heavy traffic, which in those days included automobile, streetcar, horse drawn wagons and carts, bicycles, and of course pedestrians.

Buddy was made famous almost overnight, the first such “seeing-eye dog” in the United States. Frank and Eustis established The Seeing Eye in Nashville in 1929, moving it to Whippany New Jersey in 1931, and finally to Morristown, NJ in 1965. It was the first guide dog school in the United States. All who were sighted were not enamored with the idea of sharing space until then prohibited to dogs. Frank, needing Buddy’s behavior to be perfect, faced the task of convincing the public that guide dogs were acceptable.

In 1928 no railroad allowed dogs in the passenger cars, by 1935 all railroads allowed guide dogs, after observance of the behavior and deportment Buddy displayed. Buddy did a similar job with hotels and other places of business, including banks. When Buddy died in 1938, Frank replaced him with another Shepherd, also named Buddy, to continue his work. The service dogs prevalent today, welcomed virtually everywhere, are Buddy’s legacy.

10 Dogs Who Changed the Course of History for Man and Beast Alike
Bud Nelson, with his goggles, awaits another day’s adventure on the cross country trip. Library of Congress

Bud Nelson

Although there are exceptions, for the most part dogs love riding in cars, especially with the windows open or, for those with the good fortune to be owned by someone who owns a convertible, with the top down. While most dogs have the good sense not to sit in their owner’s lap while their owner is driving some do not, but even they enjoy a trip in the car. The earliest automobiles were noisy, noxious, bone-rattling, horse scaring horrors, but there is ample evidence that the dogs of the day enjoyed riding in them. Take the case of Bud Nelson as an example.

Horatio Nelson Jackson was a physician and automobile fan who argued with those who protested that the car was a mere passing fad. In 1903 Jackson accepted a bet with friends that he would not be able to drive an automobile across the United States. Jackson accepted the bet despite not owning an automobile. Other obstacles included the scarcity of places which sold gasoline, the scarcity of paved roads, and the non-existence of useful maps. Jackson solved the first problem by purchasing a Winton, an open top 20 horsepower vehicle, and convinced Sewall Crocker to accompany him as a second driver and mechanic. They departed San Francisco on May 23, 1903.

By the time they reached Sacramento Jackson was lamenting the lack of a canine companion, and in Caldwell, Idaho they acquired one, a Pit Bull, which was named Bud, either by its previous owner or by Jackson. Like most dogs, Bud enjoyed open air riding, but the air was dry and dusty, and his eyes were soon irritated. Jackson modified a pair of goggles for Bud, and as they progressed – slowly – across the country Bud was photographed in his goggles for the local papers.

To say the trip was eventful is an understatement as big as the problems they encountered. The car broke down almost daily, and Jackson had to wire the Winton Company for parts, forcing them to remain where they were until they arrived and were installed. They became so lost in Wyoming that they went a day and a half without food, until a sympathetic farmer fed them. Jackson lost his coat, containing most of their money, and had to wire his wife for more. Once past Omaha, Nebraska, paved roads became more prevalent, but the Winton remained unreliable, to use the most generous descriptive.

It took them 63 days and a little over 12 hours to complete the trip to New York, but they made it. After reaching their destination, Jackson drove the Winton to his home to Vermont, it broke its drive chain as he was approaching his house. Bud Nelson remained with the Dr. Jackson for the rest of his life. He was not the first dog to ride in an automobile, but he was certainly the first to travel such a distance, wearing goggles.

10 Dogs Who Changed the Course of History for Man and Beast Alike
Why Lewis chose a Newfoundland is a mystery but the amount he paid for it – $20 – would be almost $400 today. AKC


Seaman was a Newfoundland dog owned by Meriwether Lewis who accompanied his master on the Voyage of Discovery, also known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Lewis purchased Seaman specifically for the trip, likely picking a Newfoundland for its size and the known strength of the breed. Seaman was purchased in Pittsburgh for the sum of $20 while Lewis was awaiting the completion of the boats which would take the slowly gathering Corps of Discovery down the Ohio River.

Mentions of Seaman are relatively rare in Lewis’ journal of the expedition and in his personal diary, but there are enough to arrive at the conclusion that he was valued by the Corps and that Lewis was fond of him. One item of note is that the Corps of discovery often ate dog meat during the expedition, which was not an uncommon source of protein on the frontier in those days, but Seaman escaped such a fate.

In 1805, according to the journals of both Lewis and William Clark, Seaman was in a fight with a beaver, which gave the dog a bite on the hind leg which required Lewis and Clark to perform surgery on the dog. The surgery appears to have been the cauterizing or other repair of a severed artery. The idea of performing any type of surgery on a dog the size of a Newfoundland in the absence of any anesthesia is daunting, but Seaman clearly survived the injury and the surgery because he is mentioned in the journals on later dates.

At one stage Seaman was stolen by three Indians, and Lewis sent an armed party after them demanding the dog be returned, or he would attack and kill the small group of Indians accompanying the three. The dog was returned. Another incident involving a bison charging the camp, endangering some of the sleeping men, is described with Seaman charging the bison, barking and darting out of the way, effectively herding the animal away from the tents until the men were able to scramble to safety.

Lewis last referred to Seaman in his journal in 1806, in a passage describing the prevalence of mosquitoes which were plaguing the expedition. At that time the Corps of Discovery was in the general vicinity of Great Falls, Montana. Lewis describes the dog being tormented by the mosquitoes and their unceasing biting, a torment which Lewis shared. Some scholars speculate that Seaman may have been with Lewis when he died at an inn on the Natchez Trace in 1809, but there is no definitive proof of this.

10 Dogs Who Changed the Course of History for Man and Beast Alike
Almost inseparable companions FDR and Fala in 1940. Wikipedia


Fala was a Scotch Terrier owned by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and for many years one of the most famous dogs in the world. The press of the day wrote articles describing Fala and he appeared in newsreel footage almost as often as the President, since Roosevelt like to have him nearby. Fala traveled in the Presidential airplane, in FDRs day not known as Air Force One by instead dubbed by the President The Sacred Cow, the Presidential Railcar known as the Ferdinand Magellan, in limousines, and aboard US Navy ships when they carried the President on both official business and vacations.

Fala’s full name was Murray the Outlaw of Falahill. He was a present to Roosevelt from a cousin. FDR was already living in the White House when Fala was given to him, and he let the dog have the run of the house, other than the White House kitchens. Roosevelt insisted that the dog be fed by no one but him. Roosevelt liked to have a cocktail hour in the White House, often entertaining aids or lower level workers as a means of rewarding them, during which the President liked to mix the drinks himself with Fala sitting beside his chair.

During the Second World War Winston Churchill was a frequent visitor to the White House, often staying on as a houseguest rather than residing at the British Embassy. Churchill was fond of animals and evidently got along quite well with Fala, despite the Scotties proclivity for getting underfoot. Roosevelt was often blind to this, as he moved about the White House in a wheelchair.

In 1944 Republicans in Congress helped spread a rumor that Roosevelt had dispatched a US Navy destroyer to an island in the Aleutians to pick up Fala after the dog had been inadvertently left there during an inspection trip. Roosevelt responded with a speech which relied on the stereotype of Scottish penury by telling the public that Fala was infuriated to his Scottish soul over such a waste of money. Today such a speech would be lambasted from all sides, but for FDR it was the end of the issue and the rumor.

Fala logged several firsts as regards White House pets. He was probably the first to fly with the President, certainly the first to meet the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and the first to be the subject of a Presidential address. He is also the first Presidential pet to leave the country with his master, traveling to both Argentia Bay and Monterrey, Mexico with Roosevelt. He is memorialized with his master at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington DC.