was a muttly terrier who rose from the ranks of the homeless to celebrity
status with his image on the newly issued U.S. Forever postage stamp.
His life was that of a courageous 19th-Century pioneer pup, fighting
the odds, if not the Indians. Although his life story has periods
of unknown activity, as befits an independent type like Owney, it
is sometimes necessary to fill in the blanks with an imagined version
of probable events. Here then is a mostly true tale of as brave a
being as ever worked in a branch of the government explicitly authorized
by the United States Constitution.
Postal Stamp with Owney The Postal Dog
Image courtesy of National Postal Museum
was born in Albany, New York. Probably. One can never tell with a
one-night stand. He may have been born in 1886, 1887 or 1888, more
or less. You see, births were not registered back then unless you
were human. Owney badly wanted to be human and even more, he wanted
to be a mailman in the RMS (Railway Mail Service). Some say Owney
began his career walking to work with a human postal clerk who took
a shine to him and let him hang out at the work place. Others believe
Owney simply crept into the post office, unnoticed, and began his
career that very day, when he fell madly in love with a mail pouch.
Owney developed a passionate and lasting affection for all ordinary
mail pouches transported by railroad and mail wagon. One day, a sack
of mail fell off the mail wagon Owney had hitched a ride on, and he
jumped off the wagon and onto the sack, guarding it until the driver
could retrieve it.
It is fair to say that Owney idolized those bags even more than the
humans who dealt with the mail they contained. Perhaps, since mail
sacks were used by mailmen on their routes as shields against unfriendly
canines, it was the scent of all those other dogs that so fascinated
Owney. Or perhaps the leather wasn't properly cured. Whatever the
reason, Owney was in love and decided to stay forever. In fact, he
did even better than that; he also traveled with them. It wasn't so
much that Owney wanted to ride the rails, it was more that he followed
the mail sacks onto mail wagons and then onto mail trains, riding
along with the bags wherever they went. He was even known to leap
from one mail train right onto another.
|Owney the Postal
Dog on the Train
Courtesy National Postal Museum
|There is no proof
that Owney helped railroad mail personnel sort the mail while in transit,
becoming the fastest sorter of all time, but neither is there proof
that he didn't.
Owney was a jet setter long before jets were invented. He traveled
first across New York State, and then across the entire nation, and
in 1895, Owney went around the world, traveling with mailbags on trains
and steamships all the way to China, Japan, The Suez, Alaska, Mexico,
and across Europe, before coming home to Albany. We know this is true
because The National Postal Museum in the Smithsonian says so.
Despite the then-common danger of train wrecks and derailments (and
perhaps holdups by Butch and Sundance, the Younger Brothers or Jesse
James), when 80 mail clerks were killed and over 2,000 injured, if
Owney was aboard, no train ever met with trouble. He was considered
by the RMS to be a good-luck charm, and adopted as their Unofficial
|Owney the Postal
|The kind people
Owney met on his many trips began to give him medals and tags with
the name of their town to put on his collar. One tag reads "Presented
to His Dogship by F.M. Parker." In 1894, a reporter for the Brooklyn
Daily Eagle wrote that "Nearly every place he stopped, Owney received
an additional tag, until now he wears a big bunch. When he jogs along,
they jingle like the bells on a junk wagon." In fact, he had so many
that when Postmaster General John Wanamaker heard that the weight
on Owney's collar was getting awfully heavy, he gave Owney a special
harness to lighten his load.
|Owney with his
harness and tags
Courtesy National Postal Museum
admirer wrote a poem about him:
Owney is a tramp,
As you can plainly see.
Only treat him kindly
And take him along with ye.
Knowing that Owney lived an exciting and useful life makes it somewhat
less depressing to learn that he did not die of old age. Alas, after
debarking a mail train in Toledo, Ohio in June 1897, and under shady
circumstances at best, he died of a bullet wound. Perhaps it was an
accident by Ohio’s crack shot, Annie Oakley, when she was cleaning
her rifle, or revenge by someone who mistook Owney for his faithless
wife, or a thief who tried to steal a mailbag guarded by Owney. He
died as he lived, brave and strong, representing the U.S. Post Office.
But even deceased, Owney still traveled.
He was so beloved and his loss so greatly felt, that ordinary mail
clerks raised enough funds to preserve Owney forever. His stuffed
self was moved to Post Office Department Headquarters in Washington
D.C. He traveled yet again in 1911 when he was reassigned to the Smithsonian
where he still resides, wearing his tags for all dog-loving visitors
is right up there with Lassie, Old Yeller and Benjie with many books
written about him: "Owney The Post Office Dog and Other Great Dog
Stories," by Joe L. Wheeler; "The Further Adventures of a Lucky Dog:
Owney, U.S. Rail Mail Mascot," by Dirk Wales; "Owney the Mail Pouch
Pooch," by Mona Kerby; "A Small Dog's Big Life: Around the World With
Owney," by Irene Kelly; and "All Aboard, Owney! The Adirondack Mail
Dog," by Jennifer Gordon Sattler.
There’s even an Owney The Dog iPhone app. and an Owney iPad interactive
e-book, issued in conjunction with the Postal Museum’s Owney LookAlike
(voting begins September 16)
Not only all that, but you can check out “The Story of Owney” video:
Even though Owney himself may be no longer technically alive, his
spirit lives in the hearts of all who know of his dedication and abiding