How does a dog breed that was the most popular in the states during WW1 become so maligned? The Pitbull was used as a symbol of America during the "Great War" and now it is a symbol of fear and hatred...a puzzle for sure.
I have learned everything I know of the breed from a little dog who often occupies the space directly aside me, a rescue that was badly abused for the first part of her life, but has turned into my best friend.
Pitbulls are an ancient breed, going back to the mollosoid dogs who were kicking around in the time of Claudius (50 AD), which eventually evolved into all Mastiff and Bull breeds. They have, in their entirety (meaning all breeds of Mastiff and Bull Dog) always been used for war, fighting and hunting, as well as baiting cattle and farm work.
By and large, most of these breeds are "capable" of a few things as a rule...one being extreme ferociousness toward other animals, another being an unwaivering loyalty to their masters. That said, some "Pits" are ALWAYS going to be dog aggressive (what terrier is not?) and some are ALWAYS going to have prey dive instincts (again- terrier folks). They are also, for their size, remarkably powerful animals. They do not "lock" their jaws though...they are just stronger than most breeds in that respect, and capable of great focus (as well as often complete lack of focus, like any other dog).
OK- enough about Pit Bulls as a breed, I have no need to justify mine as I know what she is capable of. She does not (and will never) like other dogs for the most part, and she is never going to make friends with wildlife, so she stays on a leash when we are out, and lives in a well-contained yard. I suppose I ought to point out that I firmly believe that ANY particular dog that shows unprovoked aggression to a human ought to be destroyed. Aggression toward humans happens in all breeds, but a quick look at the ATTS site will show that it happens with Pit Bulls about as often as it does with Golden Retrievers. Know that aggression toward humans and aggression toward other dogs are two very different things in a dog brain...righto- on to our story.
Sergeant Stubby was found roaming around Yale as a year or two old pup by a Mr. John Robert Conroy, who was in training to go to war. Stubby learned to march with Conroy, learned the Bugle calls, boosted the moral of the young men about to go to war and even learned the appropriate (modified for dog limbs of course). He was seen as an asset in training camp and thus, was allowed to stay. That however, is not the end of Stubby's service, and the cute nickname he was given (Sergeant) is not a nick name at all...it is a rank, awarded through combat.
Through basic training, Stubby had become the mascot for the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division, and when the lads shipped off to France on the SS Minnesota, Stubby was aboard in a coal bin until his cover was blown. He charmed the men on the ship, and went on to charming the commanding officer in France (with a salute). On February 5th 1918, Stubby accompanied the 102nd to the front lines under special orders as their mascot and began his active war time career.
Stubby learned to deal with artillery fire, and became so sensitive to it that when he heard incoming artillery he would dive into a trench. It got so the other men would follow his lead as remember, dogs can hear a lot better than we can. Stubby's first injury was during a poison gas attack, and he developed a sensitivity to that as well, allowing the men to know when the slightest traces of gas were present (again- dog senses work way better than ours).
Stubby also took on some shrapnel in the war, from a hand grenade thrown by retreating Germans. No worries though, he went back from the line to convalesce and then proceeded about his business of boosting moral for the injured while he healed.
Among Stubby's many talents was also the fact that he could find wounded men in the trenches and alert the troops to the need for medical attention. It is assumed he did this by listening for English and then barking, but it may have just as easily been the smell of his fellow men that he found.
Stubby's most historical act was when he single handedly captured a German spy. I imagine him stretched out next to Conroy in the trenches the way my dog does with me every night, end then suddenly pricking his ears for a minute (this plays out in our house often) before bounding off toward whatever the offending intruder may be. What Conroy found when he got up to investigate was a German prowler reeling and spinning, trying to ward off the snarling little ball of enthusiasm that had latched onto his rear end and was not going to let go. It is for this act that Stubby is the only dog to ever be awarded the rank of Sergeant in combat.
The coat Stubby is wearing above was made for him and lovingly embroidered by the women of Chateau-Theirry, and to the best of my knowledge, still adorns the stuffed body of Stubby where he rests in the Smithsonian Museum.
Stubby served in, by the wars end, 17 battles.
His coat displays:
3 service stripes
a Yankee Division YD patch
French Medal Battle Of Verdun
1st annual American Legion Convention Medal
New Haven World War I Veterans Medal
Republic of France Grande War Medal
St Mihiel Campaign Medal
A wound stripe, replaced with a Purple Heart when it was introduced in 1932
Chateau Thierry Campaign Medal
6th Annual American Legion Convention
Humane Education Society Gold Medal
Awarded by General John Pershing, who declared him a "hero of the highest caliber."
Stubby was also made a lifetime member of the Red Cross, the YMCA, and the American Legion. He met three Presidents (Wilson, Harding and Coolidge), and accompanied Conroy to Georgetown in pursuit of a law degree post war, where he became the familiar mascot there as well.
As an important aside, I need to mention that Stubby is not the only dog to serve in war time. 4000 dogs served in the ten year campaign in Vietnam, and only 204 returned. None were returned to civilian life, leading us to believe they were either euthanized, died in combat or turned over to the South Vietnamese Army before we left the war. There are so many heroes of war, but these ones were all but forgotten.
It has recently come to my attention that the Memorial in D.C. to Vietnam Dogs has been built, but I can't find it anywhere. If anyone has pictures or links to share- please do so.
Be on the look out for some research into the Dogs of Vietnam soon.