Owney the Postal Dog

July 2010


A cold and lonely terrier mutt strayed into the post office in Albany, New York, on a cold evening in 1888. He cuddled up beside a pile of warm, stuffed mailbags and settled in for the night. The next morning, postal workers decided to feed the little cutie. The happy pup liked his new, comfortable surroundings and decided to stay. After a time, he was named Owney.


Owney began accompanying postal workers who transported mail between the post office and the train station. One day, Owney jumped aboard a wagon loaded with mailbags. The driver did not notice when one of the mailbags fell from the wagon. When the wagon reached its destination, Owney was no longer aboard either. The driver backtracked and saw Owney in a ditch, sneezing and wagging his tail, and standing on top of the missing mailbag. Postal workers then realized that Owney was not just a companion; he was a canine postal worker in service to guard the mail and ensure its timely delivery.


Owney’s first train ride was aboard a Railway Post Office (RPO) train car traveling from Albany to New York City. Mail cars would not only transport mail between cities, but also pick up and drop off from smaller towns along the way. Mail bags would be hung on specially designed mail hooks so the train wouldn’t have to stop to pick them up. Mail hooks would swing toward the passing train so a postal worker could grab the incoming mail. Outgoing mail was “delivered” to the town at the same time by being thrown from the train.


Owney began regularly traveling the rails on RPO cars. When his journeys started taking him far from home, the Albany postal workers had a special band made to fit on his collar, reading “Owney, Post Office, Albany, New York.” Owney’s travels continued to expand, and in 1895, he made it around the world. At first, Owney had tags, metals, and trinkets added to his collar to document his many travels. Then he began receiving medals of appreciation from dog shows and kennel clubs in recognition of his special accomplishments. Owney’s medals became so numerous that Postmaster General John Wanamaker had a special vest designed for Owney to wear and display his medals.


Sadly, Owney died on July 11, 1897 after nine faithful years to the Postal Service. Reports indicated that Owney bit a man after being taunted. As a result, Owney was shot by a policeman. Mail clerks raised funds to have Owney’s body preserved, and he is on display at the Postal Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Owney proudly wears his vest, fully decorated with his many medals of service and appreciation.