Meet Owney the Well-Traveled Maildog
Owney was not your usual mutt: Instead of chasing mailmen, the pup preferred chasing mailbags. In 1888, the mixed-breed terrier became a beloved fixture at the post office in Albany, New York. There, he developed a reputation for following mailbags wherever they went. In fact, he’d often hop onto mail wagons and follow the letters as they were stuffed onto trains. Workers for the U.S. Railway Mail Service got so used to the pup that they eventually let him ride the rails.
By the 1890s, Owney was crisscrossing the nation—and he was racking up serious miles. The dog independently traveled every major rail line and passed through nearly all 48 lower states.
A symbol of good luck, Owney became the post office’s official mascot and, as one postmaster put it, the “pet of 100,000 postal employees.” Each night, the pup would cuddle up with bags of mail, protecting them from strangers. Newspapers caught wind and obsessed over the nomadic pup, with the Highland Recorder remarking that “[Owney has] traveled more miles than some of the wealthiest sightseers.” The mutt also had more jewelry than the richest train passengers—everywhere he went, postal workers and companies attached special tags and medals to his collar. The dog traveled so much that he amassed about 1,000 tags, and a special doggie-jacket had to be made to hold all his swag.
On August 19, 1895, Owney set his sights beyond America. A publicity stunt inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days was organized to have Owney ride rails around the globe. Boarding a steamship out of Tacoma, Washington, he traveled to Japan, China, Singapore, the Suez Canal, New York, and back to Tacoma. He met foreign dignitaries and even caused some European newspapers to lament that their continent wasn’t on the itinerary. The trip made Owney the most famous dog in the world. In 1897, after nine years of travel and thousands of miles to his name, the professional publicity hound officially retired in Toledo. Today you can see him at the Smithsonian.