On Bipeds & Brutes

National Museum of Animals & Society Blog

Owney, the Postal Service Pup


Image by Smithsonian Institution via Flickr

You might think that postal carriers and dogs don’t mix, but history points out that they do. Back in 1888 on a cold, rainy night in October,  a little terrier mutt made his way into the Albany post office and into the hearts of Americans nationwide.

Adopted by the postal workers, Owney seemed destined for a life of mail delivery. He was allegedly attracted to the scent or possibly the texture of the mailbags and soon began to accompany them on their routes via wagon and eventually on trains. His travels grew longer in distance and time, soon leaving the state to venture throughout the U.S. As no train he ever rode crashed, a common occurrence back then, Owney was considered a good luck charm. In 1895, Owney made a landmark trip around the world and has inspired current day teachers to use his travels in geography and cultural lessons.

It became customary for postal workers to attach tokens or tags to Owney’s collar when he visited their particular branch, and you can see the Smithsonian’s incredible 350+ collection online. It didn’t take long for the average Joe to also give Owney his or her souvenir tag. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that,

“Nearly every place he stopped Owney received an additional tag, until now he wears a big bunch. When he jogs along, they jingle like the bells on a junk wagon.”

Because of the sheer number, Owney was provided a vest so that he could display the tags without overburdening his neck. Excess tags were mailed back to the Albany post office where they were put on display.

Sadly, an altercation at a Toledo, Ohio post office ended Owney’s life prematurely. Owney was shot by the town marshal after he bit a mail clerk who got too close for comfort when trying to examine Owney’s tags, something he apparently was never very comfortable with. Instead of burying their canine mascot, funds were raised to preserve his body which can be seen today at the National Postal Museum in Washington D.C.

Share a little piece of this tenderhearted American history by purchasing Owney stamps from your local post office. They were just released yesterday, July 27, 2011. We also recommend the children’s book Owney: The Mail-Pouch Pooch by Mona Kerby. You can find this book on the Museum’s Recommended Reading List.


2 responses to “Owney, the Postal Service Pup

  1. molly bot July 28, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    What an amazing (and sad) story! I’m glad that they are making a stamp in honor of Owney, otherwise I may not have learned about him.

  2. Carolyn Merino Mullin July 28, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    It is sad, isn’t it? This goes back to one of our earlier posts on Bite Prevention. If you didn’t have a chance to read it, we highly recommend it. So many dog bites could be easily prevented.


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