Dogs have an innate ability to know when something is wrong and want to make it better. My dogs seem to know when I have had a bad day, and I am guaranteed to get some extra snuggles, whether I think I want them or not. Their attention, no matter how pushy it might be, always makes me smile, and after a few belly scratches for them and some sloppy kisses for me, it never fails to brighten my day.
Some dogs throughout history have taken this ability to great lengths. Top Dogs: True Stories of Canines Who Made History by Elizabeth MacLeod tells the amazing tales of several dogs that lead people to safety in one way or another. Among these stories, she writes of Brandy, Balto and Seaman.
Brandy was the first successful bomb sniffing dog that saved 52 people on a Boeing 707 in March of 1972. The airport received a bomb threat and a demand for $2 million. All told, 238 planes were searched at the Kennedy National Airport in New York and nothing was found. One plane had already taken off, but was called back to be checked. Brandy boarded the plane to search and led the security team to the cockpit. There she sniffed a briefcase and immediately sat down, just as she was trained. The bomb was made of C-4 explosives and was the equivalent of 12 sticks of dynamite. It was diffused 12 minutes before it was set to go off.
Balto was a Siberian husky sled dog in 1925. When the small town of Nome, Alaska had a deadly outbreak of diphtheria, they were desperate for the antitoxin which was in Anchorage 537 miles away. There was one aircraft in Nome, but its engine had frozen and wouldn’t start, so the decision was made to send a dogsledding team. The antitoxin was sent from Anchorage to Nenana by train, the remaining 483 miles would have to be travelled by dogs. A dog named Togo led a sled team part of the way, then Balto led his team the rest of the way. Balto stopped at nothing to get the medicine to Nome. He saved the dogs on his team when they fell into the Topkok River and was able to lead them on the trail in the dark and in whiteout conditions without getting lost. Hundreds of lives were saved in Nome by the antitoxins that Balto and his team were able to deliver.
Seaman was a Newfoundland dog that was chosen by the famous exploration duo Lewis and Clark in Pittsburgh in 1803. He was the only animal that survived the expedition from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Coast – and back. Seaman encountered harsh conditions including an artery in his leg which was severed while retrieving a beaver after it had been shot by the travelers. The bite was patched up by his skilled owners. He was also stolen by Indians who returned him only when his owners threatened to send armed men to retrieve the dog. Lewis and Clark ate more than 200 dogs on their journey, but Seaman’s life was spared because he was their most loyal and attentive companion. Seaman was also very good at catching squirrels, which helped to sustain the explorers. One night the camp was in the path of a buffalo stampede, and Seaman herded the animals away from the center of the camp, sparing the lives of the men. In 1809, when Captain Lewis died, Seaman refused leave his remains and refused to eat. It is said that this loyal companion died of a broken heart shortly after his master.
Visit your local library to read about these amazing dogs and many more like them that have changed the course of history.
Dog to the Rescue: Seventeen True Tales of Dog Heroism by Jeannette Sanderson
Balto and the Great Race by Elizabeth Kimmel
Top Dogs: True Stories about Canines That Made History by Elizabeth MacLeod
The Captain’s Dog: My Journey with the Lewis and Clark Tribe by Roland Smith