Mail Clerks Are a Dog's Best Friends

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Owney the dog

The words “dog” and “mail” usually evoke the image of a mailman-attacking canine. But the late 19th century story of one mongrel pup evokes a different way to look at the relationship between dogs and the mail.

It may not have been a dark and stormy night when a stray dog wandered into the Albany post office in 1888, but it was certainly a cold one. The clerks let the stray spend the night, and the next. Before long they had named the dog Owney and taken him on as theirs.

Owney proved a loyal companion to the mail, following and guarding mail bags even when they were tossed into Railway Mail cars. Following bags onto train cars led to traveling on the trains. As the Railway Post Office clerks’ new best friend, Owney traveled with them on trains across the United States.

By the late 1890s Owney had taken ill 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, which he did on June 11, 1897. Mail clerks raised money for preserving their mascot, and he was taken to the Post Office Department's headquarters in Washington, District of Columbia. In 1911, the department transferred Owney to the Smithsonian Institution.