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Celebrating Stubby: America’s First Service Dog
September 1, 2023

September is National Service Dog Month, a time to honor the pups that go above and beyond to help their humans live fulfilling, independent lives. Today we’re shining the spotlight on the first official U.S. service dog: Sergeant Stubby, a WWI canine hero. A Fort Bragg, NC veterinarian discusses this extraordinary pooch below.

Humble Beginnings

Stubby didn’t graduate service dog school as today’s working dogs do. The pooch was a stray, who started sniffing around for leftovers near an area where recruits were training. The homeless dog soon charmed the newly-enlisted men, and formed a close bond with a man named Robert Conroy.

Basic Training

Conroy taught Stubby several commands, but one in particular has literally gone down in history. Stubby learned to salute by raising a paw while sitting back on his hind legs. That trick turned out to be a lifesaver. Stubby’s new pals snuck him onto the (original) USS Minnesota when they deployed, and their CO soon spotted the four-legged stowaway. Before the officer even had time to chew anyone out, the pup sat back on his haunches and saluted. Smart dog! 

War Heroics

Stubby’s story would have been extraordinary if it had ended there, but that fateful salute was just the beginning. The canine was on active duty for 18 months, and became extremely astute at both locating wounded soldiers and warning his pals of incoming artillery shell and gas attacks. He also warned the town of Seicheprey, France, receiving a specially-made uniform as thanks from the town’s women. The pooch also made waves by catching a German soldier by the seat of his pants and holding him until American soldiers arrived. Stubby earned three service stripes for his valor, and also became the unofficial mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment.

Fame And Fortune

Over the course of his life, Stubby met three American Presidents: Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, and Calvin Coolidge. He made the papers several times, and was called the most decorated war dog of the Great War. He remains the only dog to have been promoted to sergeant through combat.

Stubby’s Legacy

Though Stubby passed away in 1926, he is not forgotten. His remains are at the Smithsonian Institution, and there are statues of him at the Veteran’s Memorial Park in Middletown, CT and the Museum of the Dog in NYC. In 2018, his story made it to the silver screen in the film Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero.

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