Owney: The Postal Dog Who Traveled the World

Owney became famous in history for traveling around the world as the unofficial mascot of the US Railway Mail Service.

Owney, a terrier-mix dog, began his public service career in 1888 after his owner moved away and left him behind. His owner was a postal clerk in Albany, New York, and Owney use to walk with him to his job. After being abandoned, the other clerks took him into their care and allowed him to stay at the post office. Owney's favorite spot to sleep was on the mailbags. He seemed to love the texture and smell of the bags and soon began to go where they went. He started riding mail wagons to the train station, and later rode the train to New York City and back to Albany. The adventurous dog eventually traveled by train throughout the US, Mexico and Canada. He became popular, and in 1895, he went aboard the Northern Pacific mail steamer Victoria with his little suitcase carrying his blanket, brush and comb on a 129 day trip around the world as a goodwill ambassador.

Owney poses in a mail train with his postal clerk friends

Owney logged more than 140,000 miles on the rails, and was considered a good luck charm by railway postal workers. In those days, train wrecks and robberies were all too common. Every train Owney rode on managed to reach their destinations unscathed. He was a faithful guardian of the mailbags and would not let anyone touch the bags unless they were mail clerks. One story claimed Owney stood guard over a mailbag that had accidentally fallen from a wagon to protect its contents from thieves. When the clerk realized he was missing the bag and the dog, he backtracked and found Owney lying on top of the bag.

The Albany post office gave Owney a collar with a tag reading "Owney, Post Office, Albany, N.Y." to make sure the dog would make his way back home. Postal clerks would record his travels by placing metal baggage tags to his collar to identify the rail lines he traveled. His collection of tags became so numerous and heavy that in 1894 Postmaster General John Wanamaker presented Owney with a vest to distribute the weight more evenly.

While Owney's actual age was never known, by 1897 the retired dog had become old, ill and snappish. After he bit a mail clerk in Toledo, Ohio who was giving an interview to a newspaper reporter (Owney was said to have been chained to a post in the basement of the post office, which was not normal for the outgoing dog), a deputy US marshal - who was sent to investigate - fatally shot Owney when the dog tried to attack him.

Postal workers, knowing Owney was a faithful and loving dog, raised funds to have him preserved by taxidermy. His body is now on display at the National Postal Museum in Washington, DC. In 2011, the USPS issued a Forever stamp honoring Owney.