Bummer and Lazarus: San Francisco's Dogs

Bummer and Lazarus became famous dogs in history as best friends who roamed the streets of San Francisco begging for food and keeping the rat population down in the 1860s.

In 1860, a short-legged black and white dog established himself outside Frederick Martin's saloon in San Francisco. He wandered along Montgomery Street (the main street for saloons and restaurants) begging for food, earning him the name Bummer. In 1861, a yellow-black dog was being attacked by a larger dog and Bummer came to his rescue. Bummer chased away the larger dog and cared for the severely injured dog. He would bring him food to eat and curl up with him at night to keep him warm. The dog's condition improved after a few days and he was given the name Lazarus because it was as if the dog had risen from the dead like Lazarus in the Gospel of John.

The two dogs became inseparable and their friendship touched the hearts of those around them. Stray dogs were becoming a big problem in the city and in 1862 an ordinance was passed to collect and destroy all dogs that were not claimed after a certain period of time. Rats were also a problem, and fortunately Bummer and Lazarus had proven themselves to be excellent ratters. It was reported on one occasion the two dogs killed 400 rats when a fruit market was overhauled, and on another occasion they killed 85 rats in 20 minutes. The merchants, who came to rely on the dogs, felt they were earning their keep on Montgomery Street and started a petition to keep the dogs around. Several hundred people signed the petition, and Bummer and Lazarus were officially exempted from all animal control ordinances in the city - they were allowed to roam free wherever they wished.

Bummer and Lazarus became famous for their unique bond of friendship and for their expertise at killing rats. Newspapermen hovered around Martin's saloon collecting stories about their lives and escapades. Personality-filled reports of the dogs adventures were often told in the newspapers. One story told about the time the two dogs were accidentally locked in a jewelry store overnight leaving the owner a mess when he returned in the morning, and another story told about the time Bummer and Lazarus stopped a runaway horse and wagon on Clay Street.

Lazarus died in 1863 after being poisoned with rat-bait laced meat, possibly by the father of a boy who claimed the dog had bitten him. He passed away with Bummer at his side. Bummer was not the same after losing his best friend. He rarely left the area where Lazarus died. Two years later, a drunk kicked Bummer down a flight of stairs and the injured dog died two months later. The man who kicked Bummer was arrested and fined.

Both dogs were stuffed and placed on display in saloons the dogs had frequented while alive. In 1906, the bodies were donated to the Golden Gate Park Museum where they remained in storage until they were destroyed in 1910. In 1992, a brass plaque immortalizing Bummer and Lazarus was placed in Transamerica Redwood Park. It reads "...Their devotion to each other endeared them to the citizenry... They belonged to no one person. They belonged to San Francisco... Two dogs with but a single bark, two tails that wagged as one."