Unfriendly dogs can often be hindrance to postmen when delivering mail and although this story doesn’t have a particularly happy ending, one medium-size mongrel’s memory lives on at America’s Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington D.C.
In America towards the end of the 19th century the US Mail travelled by trains criss-crossing the nation. Frequently to be found accompanying the mail was Owney, a once-stray terrier that found a home with the Albany Post Office in New York, and became possibly the most well-travelled dog of his day.
In 1895 he left the United States on a four-month-long around-the-world trip, accompanying international mail deliveries. His international exploits were covered in newspapers in several countries.
After being adopted by the post office in Albany he was given a collar and tags to identify his official status as mail dog, and soon other post offices he visited added new tags to his collar.
It is said that he travelled to all of the 48 states recognised at that time, and that he accumulated some 1,017 tags in his life. Today, the Smithsonian has 372 tags in their collection, one of which is shown in more detail here.
During his life he was photographed and honoured many times by the Postal Service and in the popular press. By the late 1890s Owney was not in the best of health and occasionally ill-tempered. In 1897, while in Toledo, Ohio, Owney bit a newspaper reporter and snapped at his handlers. The Toledo postmaster believed the dog had become uncontrollable and asked the local sheriff to put him down. Following his death, mail clerks raised the money for his remains to be preserved as the mascot of the US Postal Service and he was first displayed at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
His preserved body was later donated to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, where he remains a popular display along with many of his tags and other artefacts. A little know fact about Owney is that his taxidermy needed to be patched up and some damaged parts of him were replaced with those from other animals, leaving Owney with a rabbit’s foot and a pig’s ear.