The story of Owney the Mail Dog

By: Sara Kandel | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published January 11, 2012

 Owney the Mail Dog was a national celebrity back in his day — the late 1800s —and people can still catch a glimpse of him today. His body was preserved and recently 
re-stuffed, and is on display at the Smithsonian.

Owney the Mail Dog was a national celebrity back in his day — the late 1800s —and people can still catch a glimpse of him today. His body was preserved and recently re-stuffed, and is on display at the Smithsonian.

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Long before Lassie and Rin Tin Tin stole the hearts of Americans everywhere, there was Owney the Mail Dog.

He wasn’t a television star — he predated TV, actually — but he saw fame across the country and was met with news photographers almost everywhere he went — and he went a lot of places.

In his lifetime — no one knows for sure just how long that was — Owney traveled to each of the 48 continental states, Mexico and Canada, and completed an around-the-world journey on a steam boat. Yes, Owney was well-traveled by any standard, even today, let alone the time in which he was doing the traveling: the 1880s-90s.

Owney started his travels, and probably his life, in Albany, N.Y., where he was just a scrappy mutt that liked hanging around the post office, but by the mid-1880s, he had taken such a liking to mail sacks and mail carriages that someone eventually let him ride the Railway Mail Service train.

For Owney and the United States Postal Service, that first train ride was the beginning of it all. By the mid-1890s, Owney was known across the country. At that point, he would choose the mail car and train of his liking and hop onboard, riding it to wherever its destination was.

Once there, he would hop off the train and follow a mail carriage to the post office, where he always made his first order of business to greet the postmaster. Sometimes he’d stay for a few hours, and other times he’s stay for days.

Owney was so beloved by the USPS and the media that whenever rumor got out of where he was headed next, a crowd of reporters, mail carriers and fans would be there to greet him when he arrived. Business owners and hotel managers would come with little badges to attach to a collar he wore displaying various locations of his travels.

His fame was so widespread that in 1895 when the postmaster in Tacoma, Wash., sent him off on a Northern Pacific steamship bound for China and Japan, the international media picked up the story; when he arrived in Kobe, Japan, the emperor gave him a special welcome complete with a medal and Japanese passport.

After his trip around the world, Owney was in even higher demand, but for a dog that was used to hopping trains at whim, the scheduled appearances were too much, and he went back to his life on the trains throughout 1896. But by the end of the year, his health was beginning to fade.

He stayed for a while with a postmaster in St. Louis. He stayed there until June 1897, when he boarded his last train for Toledo, Ohio. At the post office there, his demeanor changed, and when the postmaster tried to look at Owney’s tags and medals, Owney bit him. A deputy U.S. Marshal was called to the scene, and upon witnessing Owney’s aggressive behavior, shot him once, killing him instantly.

Owney’s death was written about in newspapers across the world, and he was mourned by postmasters throughout the country. His body was preserved and displayed at the U. S. Postal Service headquarters for many years.

Today, Owney can be seen on display at Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History in Washington D.C., and to celebrate his legacy further, the USPS recently released a Forever stamp with his picture on it. The 44 cent stamps are available at the Roseville post office and post offices everywhere.
 

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