& other dogs worth remembering on Memorial Day
“Cry, ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war,” wrote William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar (1599), but the most famous dogs of war remain those of World War I––ironically a war in which dogs were not officially used by the militaries of any of the victorious Allied nations.
Also ironically, the “World War I dogs” best remembered today, 100 years after the shooting erupted on July 28, 1914, are the German shepherd Rin Tin Tin, who was never a voluntary combatant; the pit bull Jiggs, who was born after the war was over and lived his whole life in the United States; and the Boston terrier Stubby, commonly misidentified as a pit bull, whose alleged heroic exploits appear to have been largely fabricated.
German sergeant Adolf Hitler’s possible pit bull Fuchsl, who earlier accompanied British troops, has mostly been whitewashed from history as purportedly either a fox terrier or a Jack Russell terrier. Small for a pit bull, Fuchsl may indeed have been a large Jack Russell, but was certainly not a fox terrier.
Nellie, the first World War I hero dog
Almost no one remembers Nellie, the most acclaimed World War I dog of them all during the actual fighting. Reported the Oakland Tribune after her death in October 1917, “At the first battle of Ypres, Nellie trotted faithfully along beside her owner, a British officer, into the rain of shrapnel and high explosive shells, with only the thought of being near her master. He fell; she, only wounded, wandered about No Man’s Land until picked up by Major Osler Reith of a Belgian regiment, to whom she transferred her allegiance. When Major Reith came to this country with the Belgian [diplomatic] mission, Nellie came along and thousands of Americans have seen her twinkling eyes and her stubby wagging tail,” as she helped to sell war bonds.
Nellie died, the Oakland Tribune said, apparently from “a combination of wounds and age.”
Mentions of Nellie’s stubby tail may have caused her story to become conflated with that of Sergeant Stubby, introduced to the world by the Boston Globe on April 8, 1919, about halfway through an article entitled “Heroes Aplenty On Agamemnon,” profiling the soldiers and animals aboard a recently landed troop transport ship.
“The reporter was just taking down the names of some of the men,” the anonymous author recounted, “when from the dock came a faint, small sound. There, sniffing inquiringly at the reported, was a small but unmistakeable bulldog…The small ‘bull’ can justly be called a Yale bulldog. Corporal J.R. Conroy of New Britain, Connecticut is the dog’s official keeper. He explained that Stubby was adopted by the old 1st Connecticut Regiment when it was training at Yale field. When the regiment was merged into the 102nd, Stubby went along. Corporal Conroy and the rest of the company managed to smuggle him on board the ship which took them overseas.
Joking claim of heroism
“Stubby has been with the men ever since. He was wounded during the Seicheprey fight, and wears every conceivable sort of decoration on his blanket. He took part in the fight at Marchville, Corporal Conroy being regimental observer on that occasion, and the company believes that he alone held at least one German division at the time.”
From that jocular claim, the Stubby myth expanded with every retelling. Stubby on May 11, 1921 was “one of the chief attractions of the Humane Education Society parade” in Washington D.C., at which other guests of honor included U.S. President Warren G. Harding, his wife, and their dog Laddie Boy.
At another promotional event for the Humane Education Society, on July 6, 1921, The New York Times reported, “Stubby, a brindle Boston bull terrier, who served overseas as mascot of the American Expeditionary Forces, was today decorated as a wounded hero of the World War by General John J. Pershing, Commander-in-Chief of the American forces in Europe during that war.”
While the Boston Globe mentioned that Stubby had been in two battles, The New York Times credited him with having “participated with honor in seventeen engagements with the 26th Division,” amounting to every battle the entire division fought, including some fought during the six weeks that Stubby was hospitalized after suffering his wound at Seichprey.
“Stubby is now a trifle gunshy, and showed some symptoms of nervous excitement when the cameramen shot off a flash during the decoration ceremonies,” The New York Times said, but added “There was a time when the big guns didn’t frighten him,” before he was injured. “He returned to his regiment after his wound healed, but he never evinced his old-time zest for battle. When the big guns started, Stubby went AWOL, though he always showed up sober and ready for duty when the tumult died down.”
Subsequent renditions further inflated the Stubby myth.
Serving as mascot for the Georgetown University Hoyas athletic teams while Conroy was at the university studying law, Stubby died in 1926. His taxidermically mounted remains were preserved by the Smithsonian Institution, displayed with an account including many lightly documented claims about his exploits.
Sergeant Major Jiggs
Meanwhile photos began appearing that seem to show a pit bull––a much larger dog with different facial markings––wearing Stubby’s decoration-covered blanket. Stubby also inspired Pep: The Story Of A Brave Dog, a 1922 novel for grade schoolers by Clarence Hawkes.
And, to a considerable extent, Stubby’s story came to be conflated with that of Sergeant Major Jiggs, the unofficial mascot of the U.S. Marine Corps. Recounted Marion F. Sturkey in Warrior Culture of the U.S. Marines (2001), “During World War I many German reports had called the attacking Marines ‘teufel-hunden,’ meaning devil dogs. Teufel-hunden were the vicious, wild, and ferocious mountain dogs of Bavarian folklore. Soon afterward a U.S. Marine recruiting poster depicted a snarling English bulldog wearing a Marine Corps helmet…At the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia, the Marines obtained a registered English Bulldog, King Bulwark. In a formal ceremony on 14 October 1922, Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler signed documents enlisting the bulldog, renamed Jiggs, for the ‘term of life.’”
Jiggs made public appearances on behalf of the Marine Corps until his death on January 9, 1927.
Rin Tin Tin
U.S. Army corporal Lee Duncan discovered Rin Tin Tin, among a litter of five newborn nursing puppies with their starving mother, at an abandoned Germany military kennel near Flirey, France, during the Battle of St. Mihiel on September 15, 1918. Duncan rescued all six dogs, giving the mother to an officer and three of the pups to fellow soldiers when they were weaned. He took Rin Tin Tin and his sister Nanette home to the U.S. in July 1919. Nanette died of pneumonia in Hempstead, Long Island, but Rin Tin Tin traveled with Duncan to Los Angeles.
A founding member of the Shepherd Dog Club of California, Duncan trained Rin Tin Tin for agility competition and sought opportunities to break into the film industry. Debuting as a wolf in The Man From Hell’s River (1922), Rin Tin Tin first starred in Where the North Begins (1923), a film credited with saving the Warner Brothers company from bankruptcy. Altogether Rin Tin Tin appeared in 27 films, many of them scripted by Darryl F. Zanuck, on his way to becoming one of Hollywood’s most legendary film producers.
Dubbed into other languages, Rin Tin Tin films became popular worldwide, especially in Berlin, perhaps inspiring Adolph Hitler to pose often with German shepherds––although Hitler had kept a German shepherd himself as early as 1921. The best-known of Hitler’s many dogs was Blondi, a German shepherd given to him in 1941 by Martin Bormann, his private secretary. Hitler had Blondi killed by cyanide and had her five puppies shot on April 30, 1945 before killing himself.
But the dog of most note in Hitler’s murderous career may have been his often misidentified dog Fuchsl, claimed as a “terrier” in most accounts despite the evidence of photographs. Because the name Fuchsl means “Little Fox,” the dog has often been presumed to have been a fox terrier, though little resembling any fox terrier. Terrierman blogger Patrick Burns in December 2004 claimed Fuchsl as a Jack Russell terrier, but while Fuchsl looked a bit like an exceptionally large Jack Russell in one photo, he looks more like a Staffordshire in the photo showing the most of his build.
Fuchsl “apparently had been the mascot of English soldiers and ventured out into No Man’s Land sometime in late January or early February of 1915 while chasing a rat,” Burns summarized. “The dog jumped into a German trench,” where Hitler captured him.
Hitler kept Fuchsl until August of 1917. Offered 200 marks for the dog by a railway official, Hitler refused to sell. The dog was stolen at the train station later that day.
Wrote Burns, “In 1918, in an incident that might have been avoided had his terrier remained with him, Hitler was temporarily blinded by a British gas attack in Flanders. Though Hitler’s maniacal hatred, paranoia and obsession were already becoming self-evident, the loss of his dog and subsequent gassing may have contributed to his desire to scapegoat others for his––and his country’s––failures and defeats.”