Throughout U.S history, many courageous canines have accompanied their owners through the worst of times, fearlessly followed their handlers into war, or managed to become heroes all on their own. Most importantly, dogs have demonstrated over and over their ability to save, improve, and impact humanity in countless ways.
There are currently about 2,500 dogs on active duty in the U.S. military, half a million service dogs in the country, and an entire branch of law enforcement that trains K-9 police dogs to serve and protect. When the World Trade Center fell to a terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, more than 300 search and rescue dogs rose to the occasion, risking their lives to save victims from the rubble.
Stacker scoured the internet for local news, personal stories, and historical accounts of canine companions who proved themselves to be loyal, patient, and brave in some of history's most trying moments. Whether on the battlefields of the Civil War or in modern living rooms, these dogs have helped make our country a better place.
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Cappy was a Doberman pinscher who saved the lives of more than 250 U.S. Marines during the Battle of Guam in 1944. Standing guard over the soldiers as they slept, he alerted them to a group of Japanese soldiers about to attack. Cappy was memorialized with a bronze statue on top of the World War II War Dog Memorial, and the first to be buried in the National War Dog Cemetery on Guam.
The lead dog in the final stretch of the seven-day serum run to Nome in 1925, Balto was one of the Siberian huskies responsible for getting the victims of an epidemic the medicine they needed. The famous serum run—in which extreme weather conditions forced officials to rely on dog sleds to deliver diphtheria antitoxin to the town of Nome, Alaska—is commemorated by the Iditarod Race. An animated film about Balto was produced in 1995 and a statue is dedicated to him in New York City's Central Park.
Like Balto, Togo had a massive impact on the life-saving serum run to Nome in 1925. Togo was the lead dog on the longest and most dangerous leg of the run, traveling 261 through below-zero temperatures and low visibility. While he was initially considered an underdog in his mischievous youth by his handler, the Siberian husky went on to become one of the dogs most responsible for saving the lives of thousands of people in the Alaska town.
When two U.S. soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division stumbled across a stray dog initially believed to a be a small pile of rags in the streets of Paris, they couldn't have known just how special that terrier mutt would become. Rags quickly went from being a simple mascot to becoming part of the infantry, functioning as an early warning system for incoming mortar attacks and delivering messages across enemy lines. Toward the end of World War I, both Rags and his handler, Jimmy Donovan, were injured in a mustard gas attack. Donovan never recovered, but Rags was there to comfort him when he died in 1919.
A tiny 4-pound Yorkshire terrier found in the New Guinea jungle during World War II, Smoky wasn't a typical war dog. Nevertheless, she is credited with saving 250 soldiers and 40 planes by helping to run telephone wire through a pipe to get messages out. She also survived air raids, typhoons, and numerous combat missions with her owner Corporal William Wynne. However, her most important work was yet to come. After Wynne noticed the profound healing affect Smoky had on the other soldiers, he decided to train her to entertain and comfort, making her one of the first war therapy dogs in U.S history.
A rescue dog who worked to retrieve victims of the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Bretagne spent her entire life helping people until her death at age 16. After the 9/11 rescue mission—where she worked at Ground Zero for 12 hours a day for 10 days straight—Bretagne continued to be a valued member of Texas Task Force 1 and the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department. She also served as a rescue dog for victims of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Even after retirement at the ripe old age of 9, the golden retriever demonstrated search techniques at community events and worked at a local elementary school once a week to help children practice their reading.
Known fondly across the internet as “Sgt. Stubby,” Stubby was a mixed-breed who showed up on a Connecticut training field and somehow found his way to France on a military ship during World War I. He became the ultimate service dog to troops in the 102nd Infantry Regiment, 26th Infantry Division, running through trenches to warn soldiers about gas attacks, loyally sitting next to the wounded until medics arrived, and just generally brightening the mood during the horrific times of war. Stubby returned home to a hero's welcome, marching in parades, meeting three presidents, and eventually inspiring a 2018 animated movie.
Bobbie was a collie and English shepherd mix who incredibly found his way home over 2,500 miles away. The family dog went missing during a vacation in Indiana in 1923, and after searching and putting up fliers, his owners returned home heartbroken. Six months later, Bobbie showed up in his family's town of Silverton, Ore., having crossed the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide on paws in the middle of winter.
A mixed-breed rescue dog from Connecticut, Duke was credited with saving the life of his owner's 9-week-old baby after she stopped breathing in the middle of the night in 2012. His owners say the family pet woke them by jumping on their bed and shaking uncontrollably; they immediately knew something was wrong. After checking on the baby and discovering she wasn't breathing, the owners called 911. Paramedics came and revived the baby, and she made a full recovery.
Midnight was brought to New York City as a Louisiana refugee of Hurricane Katrina and adopted by the superintendent of a 19th-century building. Years later, Midnight was again affected by a storm—this time Hurricane Sandy—which knocked out power and water to over 1,000 of her neighbors. The dog quickly became an essential part of a civilian team that carried water and food across the street to the people stuck in their buildings.
Jake was severely injured and completely alone when Mary Flood found him on the streets. A member of Utah Task Force 1, Flood was determined to turn the 10-month-old black Labrador stray into a world-class rescue dog. Jake became one of the 200 government-certified, full-time rescue dogs in the country, and spent the rest of his life rescuing victims of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, traveling the country to help train young rescue dogs, and doing therapy work at hospitals and senior homes.
In 1943, Chips became the only war dog to win a Silver Star, the third-highest medal of honor for bravery in combat in the U.S. military. (It was later taken away after controversy over whether a dog should receive the same decorations as humans.) He was also nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross and a Purple Heart. On July 10, 1943, during World War II, Chips charged into an enemy hut during a battle with Italian gun crewmen, forcing enemy soldiers to surrender. That same day, the mixed-breed dog helped sniff out and capture 10 more enemy soldiers, despite a severe injury.
Named after Sinbad the sailor, this small mixed-breed was smuggled aboard a U.S. Coast Guard ship by a young boatswain's mate. Sinbad was named chief dog of the USCGC Campbell and proved himself at sea through battles and attacks from German submarines, one of which left the ship damaged but still afloat. Sinbad remained on deck for the entire fight, and the ship remained safe throughout his tenure aboard.
Not only was Dakota a valuable search and rescue dog, but she was also a hero for her breed. In 2003, when pit bull bans were becoming more common in the United States, Dakota was chosen by FEMA and NASA to serve her country during a recovery mission for the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003. For 10 days straight, Dakota and her handler worked tirelessly to help bring home the remains of the U.S. astronauts who perished in the accident.
In 1927, a man named Morris Frank learned of an American woman training the first seeing-eye dogs in Switzerland to assist blind veterans. Determined to bring the practice to the United States, Frank traveled to Switzerland to train his dog Buddy, a German shepherd who would become the first formally trained seeing-eye dog in the United States. Buddy and Frank worked to establish The Seeing Eye in 1929, the first official guide dog school and the oldest one in the country.
The pet Newfoundland of Meriwether Lewis (of the famous duo Lewis and Clark), Seaman was a member of the first American expedition across the northwestern United States from 1804 to 1806. The most famous story describes Seaman saving the entire team by attacking a buffalo bull that had charged through the camp at night. He was the only animal to complete the trip—acting as a guard and hunting dog throughout his adventures—and is memorialized with statues across the United States from Illinois to Oregon.
Owney was the first official U.S. Postal Service dog and mascot. Throughout the 19th century, the mutt rode mail trains with postal workers and was considered a good luck charm, as no train he boarded ever crashed. Owney made his first international trip in 1895, traveling as a mail carrier companion from Asia to Europe by both train and steamship. His taxidermized body is on display in the National Postal Museum, and his likeness is featured on a Forever Stamp.
In the middle of a snowstorm on Oregon's famous Mount Hood, three climbers were injured and became stranded after falling. Their dog, Velvet, a black Labrador, lay across their bodies while they slept, keeping them warm enough to survive the night. They were found by rescuers at 7,400 feet the next day and made a full recovery. Rescuers said the climbers probably wouldn't have survived without the warmth of Velvet, who also made it out alive.
One night during the Vietnam War, Nemo—who'd been stationed there by the U.S. Air Force in 1966—alerted his handler to nearby enemy soldiers. Though wounded by enemy gunshots, Nemo continued to fight the soldiers and protect his handler by lying on top of his body. A year later, the German shepherd became the first sentry dog to officially retire from active duty.
Apollo worked in the Canine Special Operations Division for the New York Police Department from the time he was 2, eventually becoming part of the city's first K-9 Urban Search and Rescue team. On 9/11, the German shepherd and his handler arrived on the scene at the World Trade Center just 15 minutes after the South Tower collapsed. They continued to work 18-hour days for weeks, earning Apollo several medals of honor.
After their owner suffered a severe stroke alone at home, Labrador retrievers Bella and Sadie ran across the street to find help. Within minutes, the two dogs were able to catch the attention of a neighbor who called 911, leading to the owner's survival. Everything was captured on the door bell camera, from the heroic dogs returning with the neighbor to the arrival of the paramedics.
Boston terrier Chopper, aka Chopper the Biker Dog, is a therapy dog working in San Diego, Calif. He's known for showing up to hospital jobs on the back of his handler's Harley Davidson motorcycle, wearing a tiny biker vest. One of the most memorable stories about Chopper involves a car accident victim, who began to move and wake from a coma after several visits with the passionate therapy dog.
An arson K-9 from Pennsylvania, Judge is responsible for helping to lower arson numbers in his city of Allentown. Since the yellow Labrador began his service in the Allentown Fire Department, the number of arson fires has dropped by more than 50%. Judge has worked on over 275 fire scenes and participated in 500 fire safety demonstrations and programs. His biggest moment came when he found evidence that led to a criminal arson arrest.
Ruby was taken back to the pound on four occasions and scheduled to be euthanized before the Rhode Island State Police adopted her in 2011. She was simply too much to handle for the average family, but a dog trainer who worked at the pound saw something special in her and recommended her for the K-9 training program. Fast forward to October 2017, and Ruby and her handler were assigned to a successful mission to find a missing teenager. It turned out to be the son of the trainer who'd recommended Ruby to the police force.
In 1903, a Vermont doctor became the first man to drive across the United States—and he took his dog, Bud Nelson, along. Bud became the first dog to travel cross-country by car, braving vehicle breakdowns, dust, and dirt. (Cars were all open-air and not 100% mechanically sound back then.) When the trip started to gain attention, other car manufacturers joined in, making it a race to finish within 90 days. But Bud and his owner were victorious.
A bomb-sniffing Marine dog stationed in Iraq, Lex was caught in a mortar attack with his handler. Lex survived, his beloved handler did not, and the dog refused to leave his side; the German shepherd eventually had to be dragged away from the body by fellow soldiers. Lex was two years from retirement and had served two tours in Iraq, but his young handler's family fought to bring him home early, so he could retire and live the rest of his life in comfort with the family of his fallen soldier.
During the height of World War I, a U.S. soldier came across a destroyed dog kennel in the middle of a German battlefield. Inside was a dog that had somehow survived. The German shepherd came back to California with the soldier after fighting ended and went on to become Rin Tin Tin, the famous silent-movie canine actor and entertainer.
The Civil War mascot who miraculously survived one of the bloodiest battles in American history, Sallie Ann Jarrett was as brave as she was special. During the infamous Battle of Antietam, soldiers tried to keep Sallie far from the front lines, but she refused to stay behind, choosing instead to bark bravely at the enemy. Sallie Ann Jarrett—who was "a pug-nosed brindle bull terrier"—is memorialized with a bronze statue at the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry monument at Gettysburg, where she is depicted keeping guard at the feet of a soldier.
A canine U.S. Navy Seal, Cairo was assigned to one of the most famous missions in recent history—the raid that captured Osama bin Laden. The Belgian Malinois was responsible for securing the border of the house during the raid, with the added tasks of sniffing out bombs and attacking hostile enemies if needed. Equipped with a Kevlar vest and night-vision camera, Cairo proved himself a valuable member of the successful team.
While serving with the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan in 2011, Zenit's handler was hit by an IED and required the amputation of both legs. The loyal German shepherd didn't leave his handler's side while he received medical attention, despite the threat of further explosives. The happy ending came years later when Zenit was reunited with the Marine to live out their retirements together.