February 5: World War I’s Most Decorated Pet

Today in 1918, an unlikely war hero in the shape of a small, short-tailed puppy arrived at the front lines in France alongside the 102d Regiment of the Yankee Division, a unit composed of mostly Connecticut soldiers who had been recruited in New Haven.  That puppy, named “Stubby” by his comrades on account of his stubby tail, would go on to save the lives of dozens of American soldiers and eventually become the most decorated war dog of World War I.

PFC Robert Conroy and Stubby, photographed together in March, 1919. (National Archive

Stubby’s story began in the summer of 1917, when the little stray dog wandered onto the green of Yale University, where soldiers of the 102d were undergoing training exercises.  One recruit in particular, Robert Conroy, took a liking to Stubby, and adopted the bright and charismatic pup.  When their division was deployed to France, Conroy smuggled Stubby aboard their transport ship, even though it was against regulations — but Stubby won over the superior officer who discovered him by raising his paw to his head in a crisp salute.

From that point forward, Stubby became the mascot of the 102d regiment, and “deployed” to the front lines with them on February 5th, 1918.  There, Stubby survived seventeen battles in the trenches, providing aid and comfort to his comrades in a number of ways.  After surviving a mustard gas attack, he was able to sniff out and alert the regiment to incoming mustard gas attacks long before his human comrades were aware of them.  During cease-fires, Stubby helped medics locate wounded Allied soldiers, and he was even able to corner a German spy, thanks to his ability to discern between English and German spoken language — an act which caused the regimental commander to give him the formal rank of Sergeant.  After receiving shrapnel wounds in his leg, Stubby was treated at a local hospital, where he became a beloved comfort dog to hundreds of wounded Allied soldiers.

After the war was over, Sgt. Stubby returned to the United States and was hailed as a national war hero, his fame aided by countless newspaper stories that talked up the canine’s brave war deeds.  Stubby was bestowed with lifetime memberships to the American Legion, the American Red Cross, and the YMCA, and served as a mascot for Liberty War Bonds.  He was the Grand Marshal for countless patriotic parades, always wearing a custom coat (sewed for him by the grateful women of Château-Thierry, France) adorned with war medals, accolades, and (of course) his sergeant’s stripes.  Before his death in 1926, Stubby had “shaken hands” with three U.S. Presidents — Wilson, Coolidge, and Harding — and received a personal commendation from General John J. Pershing.  One of America’s most famous and beloved dogs of war set his paws on the battlefield for the first time, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Stubby: Brave Soldier Dog of The 102nd Infantry,” Connecticut Military Dept

Obituary: Stubby of A.E.F. Enters Valhalla,New York Times archives (via Connecticut Military Dept)

Sgt. Stubby,” First Company, Connecticut Governors Foot Guard