If ever a dog was a real-life Rover, it was Owney.
In the 1890s, this magical mutt turned into a national legend by traveling across the United States by rail and then globe-trotting to Mexico, Canada, Europe and Asia. Owney became the U.S. Postal Service’s mascot and magical good luck charm.
Now his adorably scruffy image will grace a new U.S. postage stamp. And in honor of this distinction, Owney’s Milwaukee, Wisconsin connection will be marked with a public ceremony at the Wisconsin Humane Society on Wednesday
All this to honor a little dog no one wanted.
The pooch’s story began in 1888 when the brown stray wandered into the Albany, New York, post office. The clerks there took pity on the homeless waif, fed him and adopted him as their mascot with the name “Owney.”
From that first day, Owney showed an odd connection with the U.S. mail, falling asleep on top of mailbags and following them when they were placed on Railway Mail Service trains.
Soon railway mail clerks noticed something almost supernatural about this little mutt. In an era when railroad wrecks were common, no train Owney rode on ever crashed. Owney was seen as a good luck charm and became a part of rail folklore. He was even fitted with a special collar to display souvenir tags from each of his stops. Some of those tags still exist, including tags from the dog’s celebrity visits to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
But no Rover could be satisfied staying put for long. Owney shipped out on a steamship and embarked on a world trip. He made such a stir that Japan’s emperor granted him an audience.
Owney continued to ride the rails until ill-health ended his travels. He died in 1897 after logging more than 143,000 miles and keeping his perfect safety record intact.
The U.S. Postal Service never forgot its lucky charm. Stuffed and mounted, Owney still stands watch at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., where he continues to get special attention.
Owney also serves as an enduring icon for animal adoption.
“Owney’s story is particularly moving to us because he is truly a hero for shelter dogs everywhere,” said Angela Speed of the Wisconsin Humane Society. “From sleeping on the streets to traveling the world in style,
Owney’s life was changed for the better because someone recognized the inherent goodness and intelligence of this special dog. We see dogs like Owney every day who are transformed from being unwanted animals to cherished family members.”