On July 27, 2011, the United States Postal Service will release a commemorative stamp to honor Owney, the Post Office Dog, an amazing dog that was found and adopted by postal workers in Albany, New York. Owney repaid the postal workers with loyalty and love, traveling the world via postal rail car but always coming home.
In 1886 a cold, bedraggled fox terrier that had been living on the streets of Albany was looking for a place to be warm, and he made his way into the post office. The postal clerks took him in, fed him, and provided the dog with a warm place to sleep. Owney, as they called him, felt right at home and decided it was his job to follow the mail wagons from the post office to the rail station and back again.
One day he slipped on to a rail car, and several days later he caught another train back to Albany.
Owney began to travel regularly, probably encouraged by some humans, but he always returned to the home office. The clerks in Albany were worried about losing him, so they gave him a collar with the inscription, "Owney, Albany P.O., N.Y."
For eleven years, Owney traveled the U.S. from New York to California. Other post offices began tagging him with "postmarks" that specified where he had visited. Miners in the West inscribed some molded silver as a label of his visit to a mining community; others labeled him with tags of leather or scraps of cloth. Owney started each trip fresh, because in Albany his friends removed and preserved the tags from his previous trip. Occasionally a "travel" book was sent along with him to further document his trips.
In July of 1894 a report in the New Orleans Times-Democrat noted that Owney was back in New Orleans again. His last visit to the city had been in the winter of 1892. The article notes: "He never travels in any but mail cars, and when he reaches a town that he forms a good opinion of from the car door, he follows the mail wagon to the Post Office, and when he is ready to travel again, he follows the wagon to some train and is off for parts unknown.
"Since he was here, Owney has taken in the World's Fair and a part of the widespread labor troubles...[traveling] to Seattle, Washington, Kansas City, Mo.; Memphis, Fort Worth, Taylor, Texas; Waco, San Antonio and Houston."
Eventually Owney traveled internationally. One of his medals documented an audience with the prime minster of Japan. Owney had become quite a celebrity.
Today Owney's body has been preserved and stands guard in a glass case at the Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., serving as a reminder of the importance of goodness and loyalty.
The American Philatelic Association has an Owney Resource Page, complete with a map of all the locations he visited.
Stamps will be on sale on Wednesday.
America Comes Alive! is celebrating the Dog Days of Summer by profiling various dogs that have been important in our history. If you'd like to sign up for the profiles, please visit www.americacomesalive.com.