Famous Dogs in History – Owney, the Mail Carrier Dog!

by, Jo Carol Hebert

Postal Perseverance

“Neither snow nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stops these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Although not the ‘official’ motto of the United States Postal Service (USPS), this phrase describes the loyal services of Mail Carriers. From a poem called The Letter, by Charles W. Eliot, the sentiment portrays the daily sacrifices of comfort these community helpers endure to deliver our mail.

One 4-Legged Mail Carrier

1895. Albany, New York. Railway Post Office (RPO). 

In the line of duty, Mail Carriers are wary of dogs on their appointed routes. But, there was one dog that became a mascot and a legend for postal service workers.

This canine  was a scruffy little mutt named ‘Owney. 

His owner may have been a postal clerk who brought his pet to work. Another version of Owney’s history says that the little dog just wandered into the Albany Postal Office on a cold day in New York City and fell asleep on the warm mailbags. 

Owney On the Job

It was ‘love at first smell!” Owney became devoted to those mailbags. Maybe he detected the many different scents of humans that touched the letters and bags.

(Dogs have scent detection skills that are 10,000 times that of humans.)

He would stand guard over the bags at the post office. He followed the bags as mail carriers loaded them on wagons and trains. 

Snuggled up against his precious cargo, he began to ride in those transportation vehicles that whisked the mail across the country. If a bag fell off a wagon, Owney would jump down and stand over the bag until a worker retrieved it.

From ‘Sea to Shining Sea’

Owney was ‘promoted’ to ride in the mail baggage of railway cars that ran from Albany down to New York City and back to Albany. Workers along the way were happy to greet this loyal employee. They made him an identity collar so he could always be returned to Albany, New York.

Soon, Owney began to travel longer routes on trains across the country. At each destination, postal workers would add a metal tag to the collar to show where Owney had traveled. The tags were heavy. So, the Postmaster General, John Wanamaker, had a custom-made harness jacket for Owney to wear to support the weight of the tags. During the course of his service, Owney would acquire over 1,000 tags. (not to be worn all at once!)

Lucky Dog, Beloved Mascot

In a profession where railway accidents happened often, including derailments, explosions, and collisions, postal workers revered Owney as a lucky charm. They noted that none of these disasters occurred on any transportation that Owney was riding.

World Traveler

After traveling to over 200 cities in the United States, the Postal Service sponsored Owney on a world tour in 1895. By train and steamship, Owney protected the mail through Canada, Mexico, Asia, Europe, and back to Albany. At the time, he was the most famous dog in the country. From 1887- 1897, Owney logged over 140,000 miles on the rails before he was retired.

A Life of Service

After retirement, Owney escaped and stowed away on a train bound for Toledo, Ohio. At the age of ten years old, Owney died  in Ohio on June 11, 1897. He is memorialized in the Smithsonian Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. In 2011, he was honored with his image on a U.S. Commemorative Stamp.

Smarty Pants Magazine for Kids LOVES to present fun facts that grab your interest and make you curious to read more about the subject. Here are some books about Owney:

Owney, the Mail-Pouch Pooch. Mona Kerby, Author. Lynne Barasch, Illustrator. 5-8 yrs.

A Lucky Dog: Owney, U.S. Rail Mail Mascot. Dirk Wales, Author. Diane Kenna, Illustrator. 4-9 yrs.

Categories: Dogs

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