Here at Dream Dogs, we’ve been looking at celebrity dog owners. All of the pets that we have looked at have been famous by dint of the fact that their owners are famous, but what of dogs that are famous in their own right, standing on their own four paws?
Centuries of domestication and selective breeding have made the dog our closest pal in the animal kingdom. Of course, some would argue that cats are, but have you ever seen a cat wag its tail when you get home from work? Whether it’s someone who is lonely finding companionship in their pet, a child whose dog is his best playmate or a riot policeman, looking on in pride as his German shepherd sinks its teeth into a tie-dye shirt wearing climate protester, it’s not for nothing that we’re known as a nation of dog lovers.
Those with a close relationship to their pet sometimes find that their dog is very protective towards them. For some, this simply entails a daily barking session at the mail dropping through the letterbox, but for others it means them throwing life and limb in harm’s way to defend their master. Let’s have a look at the top five dogs that have done just that.
Known as the Soldier Dog of Ulster, Rats was an unassuming white and brown mongrel. He accompanied British troops out on manoeuvres day and night, including helicopter missions, and much front line action.
In fact, Rats became such a morale booster that he became a target for the IRA. He was run over, blown up, had his leg broken, was shot and had shrapnel lodged in his spine, but it didn’t stop him in the slightest. He had a nose for danger, and on many occasions he warned a patrol that something was wrong, saving lives in the process.
Rats was eventually given an army number. He was awarded a medal inscribed with ‘Rats, Delta 777’ in a ceremony attended by his whole company and a piper, who in his honour played Scotland the Brave. The plucky pooch was eventually retired to a secret location in the UK, for fear of IRA reprisals.
Beth Gellert was an Irish wolfhound, who was allegedly gifted to the Prince of Gwynedd, Llywelyn the Great by King John.
In the story, the Prince leaves his faithful hound to protect his infant son whilst out hunting. On his return, he sees a scene of carnage – the cradle has been overturned, the child is missing and his dog is covered in blood. Thinking that Beth Gellert had savaged his son, he drew his sword and struck down the hapless hound, which lets out a final yelp. He then heard his son crying, and finds him under the cot with the dead wolf that Beth Gellert protected the child from.
Remorseful, Llywelyn buries the dog in a grand ceremony, and never smiles again.
Sam was a Golden Labrador, and a SARDA (Search and Rescue Dog Association) dog. After a shaky start to his career – his trainers thought that he would never make the grade as a rescue dog – Sam became one of the best rescue dogs the country had ever seen.
He and his owner John saved many lives, nearly at the cost of their own. On one occasion, Sam slipped and fell 40 ft over a cliff edge. His owner clambered down to find him and, holding the unconscious dog in his arms, took him back to the rescue team and saved his life.
It’s a sad fact that although dogs are man’s best friend, they are sometimes sent on one way journeys for the betterment of everyone. One such dog was Laika; a crossbred Siberian husky. She was found stray on Moscow’s streets and soon found herself in a canine astronaut training program. She was trained to get her used to the environment of the space capsule and, on November 3rd, 1957, after boarding Sputnik 2, she became the first animal to ever go into orbit. Unfortunately, the craft was never meant to be recovered, and it fell back to Earth 11 days later.
Many were questions were raised at the time about the morality involved in using animals in such missions, but Laika was honoured with a plaque at the research centre where she was trained.
Siberian Husky Balto was a sled dog, and became world famous during a diphtheria epidemic in Nome, Alaska. Due to the terrible weather conditions, the only way to transport the vaccine to the town was by dog sled. Balto led the team, which battled through blizzards and sub zero temperatures. He managed to find a trail to Nome, and saved many lives.
After a world tour, Balto saw out his days in luxury as a major attraction at Cleveden Zoo.
That’s almost it for out list of noteworthy pooches. Be sure to stay tuned for the final episode tomorrow…