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National K9 Veterans Day – SGT. Stubby

March 13th is a day set aside to remember and honor the service and sacrifices of American military and working dogs throughout history.

These loyal animals have served with valor and distinction alongside their human counterparts in wars since at least 600 B.C. It has been told that Alexander the Great’s dog, Peritas, took down a charging elephant. An unnamed Newfoundland rescued Napoleon during his escape from exile on the Isle of Elba. The dog of Robert the Bruce defended the Scottish King from English troops.

In honor of National K9 Veterans Day we decided to look at the most decorated war dog of World War I, Sergeant Stubby.

The American Pit Bull Terrier pup was found as a stray on the Yale campus in 1917 and was smuggled to France in the overcoat of his adoptive owner, Private John Robert Conroy. Stubby quickly became a loved and respected soldier of the 102nd Infantry Regiment.

After being injured in a mustard-gas attack, Stubby’s injury left him highly sensitive to the tiniest trace of poisonous gas and he would alert the unit of incoming poison-gas attacks. He was also issued his very own custom-made gas mask. Not only did his sense of smell save countless lives, but so did his acute sense of hearing. He was aware of the whine of artillery shells before the soldiers could hear it, so he would bark to let them know they needed to take cover. Stubby also had a unique talent for locating wounded men between the trenches of the opposing armies; he would listen for the sound of English and then go to the location, barking until paramedics arrived or leading the lost soldiers back to the safety of the trenches.

In early 1918 Stubby was hit in the leg by a grenade and had to be hospitalized along with other injured soldiers, where he kept them all company and boosted their morale. Stubby just may have been the world’s first therapy dog.

Stubby was soon promoted to Sergeant, the highest rank achieved by a military animal, after he caught a German spy. When the soldier spoke to Stubby in German, he put his ears back and barked incessantly. As the German ran, Stubby bit his legs causing the soldier to trip and fall. He continued to attack the man until the U.S. soldiers arrived.

This incredible war dog of war dogs, served in the trenches in France with his unit for 18 months and participated in 17 battles.

At the end of World War I, Conroy smuggled him back to the United States, where SGT. Stubby got a well-deserved hero’s welcome. He met presidents, led parades, and became an honorary lifetime member of the American Legion, Red Cross and YMCA.

Stubby died in 1926. He has his own exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and last year an award-winning, computer-animated feature film (SGT. Stubby: An American Hero) was made in his honor.

Courtesy of Division of Armed Forces/Smithsonian National Museum of America History
Corporal James Robert Conroy & Sergeant Stubby March 1919

Sergeant Stubby c. 1920
Gen. John Pershing awards Sergeant Stubby with a medal from the Humane Education Society at a White House ceremony, 1921

Sergeant Stubby's exhibits at the Smithsonian (also where his remains are kept)

Sgt. Stubby's brick at Liberty Memorial


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