September 11, 2015 | Posted in Discover These Doggies!!

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Owney with unidentified Albany letter carrier, c.1895

A chance wandering by a hungry and homeless puppy into a post office building gave birth to a remarkable story that is commemorated till today. Owney was a mixed breed terrier that was adopted by the staff at the Albany, New York post office around the year 1887. Soon a deep bond grew between the scruffy mutt and the postal workers. It led to the mongrel being adopted as the official mascot of the Railway Post Office and the United States Postal Service. By the time age caught up with Owney, he had traveled more than 140,000 miles, had been to each state in America, and had voyaged to different parts of the world. It didn’t take long for Owney to make himself at home in the post office environs. He had a strong affinity for the mail bags and some of his most iconic images have him lounging on a bag full of mail. Soon Owney was traveling on mail trains accompanying clerks on their journeys. His first few trips were on the Boston-New York line. Before long, postal departments across states grew used to a dog accompanying mail in the mail wagons. Postmasters would treat Owney kindly and would allow him the freedom to roam the premises of the post office. He would be offered food. Owney, on his part, made sure that only clerks in uniform could come near the mail. So long as Owney was around there was little chance of pilferage of mail.

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Owney with some of his dog tags

One of the reasons why Owney was loved by all was the independent streak that he displayed. He chose his own journeys and could not be coaxed into hopping on to any mail train. He went where his fancy took him, would break his journey mid way, spend his time in a new town and then hop on to a mail train to reach a post office. On August 19, 1895, Owney embarked on a trip around the world that saw him cover countries in Europe and Asia. After four months, he returned home a celebrity. According to some sources, he was awarded two passports by a person no less than the Emperor of Japan. Owney is particularly remembered for the number of tags that post offices and organizations presented him with. Even an organization as picky as the Freemasons thought him worthy of a gift of tags. At one point in time, Owney had 1017 medals, some of which were made of silver and gold. Owney was given a coat to wear and display his medals. But evidently, he had earned more medals than his small terrier frame could hold. Today, the National Postal Museum has in its collection 327 tags that once belong to Owney. Owney lost his life at the hands of an overzealous U.S Marshall, according to most accounts he was ill-treated by a postal clerk who tried to cash in on Owney’s fame. Owney reacted aggressively and paid for it with his life. His untimely demise on 11th June, 1897 in Toledo, Ohio led to sadness among postal employees across America. It was decided that Owney, their beloved mascot, would not be buried but preserved for posterity. Today, he can be seen at the National Postal Museum sitting guard close to a sack of mail daring anyone to come closer and flick a letter or two. In 2011, the U.S Postal Service honored Owney with a Forever Stamp. Back in his day, Owney was the subject of many ditties and poems. One of these ran “Owney is a tramp, as you can plainly see. Only treat him kindly, and take him ‘long wid ye.”