10 Dogs Who Made History

golden retrievers, comfort dogs, school shooting
Members of Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry stand in front of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February 2018. The canines were there to lend comfort to the survivors of America's deadliest school shooting. Lutheran Church Charities

When children returned to schools in the South Florida area after a gunman killed 17 students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in February 2018, many people tried to make their transition easier. But several golden retrievers from the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry were on hand to lend a paw, too. The dogs were deployed to the schools, as well to area hospitals and churches to provide comfort to survivors and first responders.

"It doesn't take away their pain and suffering, but it does take them to a different place for that special moment," said Richard Martin, a spokesperson for the organization, to the NBC TV affiliate in Miami.


The dogs performed similar functions after Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 and the Las Vegas shooting in 2017. The dogs' trainers also sit down with the survivors and give them an opportunity to open up while petting or hugging the dogs. Lutheran Church Charities has more than 130 canines in service [source: Lutheran Church Charities].

There is no doubt these goldens are wet-nosed wonders. Yet, they're not the only pooches that has made a difference. Go to the next page to begin reading about 10 dogs that created history.

10: Robot Discovers an Archaeological Wonder

Francois Hollande, Lascaux 4
French President Francois Hollande visits Lascaux 4, a new replica of the Lascaux cave, in 2016. The real Lascaux cave was closed to the public in 1963, as the influx of visitors, moisture and light threatened the prehistoric artwork. REGIS DUVIGNAU/AFP/Getty Images

It was 1940, and France was knee-deep fighting World War II. During these tumultuous times, a teenager named Marcel Ravidat decided to go for a walk near the village of Montignac in southwest France, with his dog, Robot. Robot spotted a rabbit and, as dogs often do in such situations, gave chase. As rabbits often do in such situations, the rabbit scampered away and disappeared down a hole near an uprooted tree. Ravidat threw some stones down the hole and heard them clank deep underground.

Intrigued, the teen returned a few days later with some friends and climbed down the hole. There they found an awe-inspiring site — some 2,000 colorful paintings that were perfectly preserved within a cave. Although there were paintings in other nearby caves, the artwork in this one was pristine, protected from water by a layer of chalk. The Lascaux Cave paintings were an archeological treasure created by Paleolithic people sometime between 30,000 to 12,000 B.C.E.


Some have questioned whether Robot actually discovered the cave. One of Ravidat's friends who was there, never mentioned the pooch during a 1963 interview. Even the date of the cave's discovery has been disputed [sources: Thomas, Selwood]. But we're going let this dog have his day and give him credit for finding this archaeological wonder.

9: Laika Launches into Space

Laika, Sputnik
Soviet space dog Laika sits in her specially designed canine compartment in the Sputnik II spacecraft prior to take-off, late 1957. Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

When World War II ended, the Cold War, a political and ideological battle between the communist world (led by the Soviet Union) and the Western democracies (led by the United States), began. A dog named Laika took center stage in that geopolitical struggle.

In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the world's first human-made satellite. Although it was only the size of a basketball, the idea of a communist spaceship orbiting Earth sent a shudder from one end of the Free World to the other. Sputnik could have easily been a nuclear warhead.


A few weeks later, the Soviets staged another coup by launching Laika into orbit. A stray dog from the streets of Moscow, Laika was the first living creature from Earth in outer space. Laika, which means "barker," bested them both.

Unfortunately, Laika's mission was always meant to be a one-way flight. The Soviets made no provisions for landing the craft. Russian officials said at the time the pup died in orbit about a week after leaving. In reality, according to new research, the pooch died shortly after liftoff from stress and overheating, as the temperature and humidity increased inside the capsule [sources: Whitehouse, Wellerstein].

8: Strelka and Belka Survive Orbit

Belka, Strelka, Sputnik
Belka and Strelka, Russian cosmonaut dogs, flew into Earth orbit on board Sputnik 5 in 1960 as part of the Soviet program aimed at determining the viability of manned spaceflight. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

While Laika's trip to space was historic — and sad — these next two pups would have made their predecessor howl with joy. On Aug. 19, 1960, the Soviets launched their fifth Sputnik. Aboard the craft were Strelka and Belka, the first dogs to orbit Earth and survive. In addition to the two mutts, the Soviets sent up a barnyard of other animals, including two rats, 40 mice, some plants and fruit flies.

At first it seemed as if the trip was going end in disaster. As Soviet scientists looked at TV transmissions from the capsule, they noticed that neither pooch was moving. Sputnik 5 orbited Earth, one, two, three times. No action — not even a whimper or an ear scratch. But as the craft made its fourth orbit, Belka threw up. All was well! The two dogs were apparently in a trance because of the lack of gravity.


The trip paved the way for cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin to make the first human flight into space a year later. Belka and Strelka are still around, though in stuffed form — they are on display at the Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow. And Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave Strelka's daughter, Pushinka, to Jackie Kennedy, the wife of President John F. Kennedy. Pushinka remained a beloved pet, who had four pups of her own [source: Reichhardt].

7: Sergeant Stubby Captures Enemy Spy in WWI

Sergeant Stubby
Sergeant Stubby, the greatest war dog ever, poses with his chest full of medals while on a visit to President Calvin Coolidge. Bettmann/Getty Images

It was 1917, and the Great War (later known as World War I), the one to end all wars, had been raging in Europe for nearly three years. In April, the United States finally got involved. At Yale University, a young soldier, Private J. Robert Conroy, found a brindle terrier mix puppy with a short tail that he christened "Stubby." The animal soon became the mascot of the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division, which would see action along the Western Front in Europe.

When the Yankee Division shipped out, Conroy smuggled Stubby aboard the troop transport, hiding him in a coal bin until the ship was far out to sea. Conroy's commanding officer discovered the pooch and was about to tell Conroy to get rid of him, until, the story goes, Stubby gave the CO a right-paw salute.


Once on the battlefield, the terrier became the greatest war dog in American history. Stubby was courageous, locating wounded men, sniffing out poison gas and alerting the soldiers, as well as barking when the enemy was near. Stubby even captured a German spy, which earned the canine a promotion to sergeant.

When the war was over, Stubby got to meet former presidents, and traveled to veterans' commemorations. He also appeared in vaudeville shows, earning more than twice the weekly salary of most Americans. And when Conroy went on to Georgetown Law School, Stubby became the college's mascot. Today, visitors can see Stubby mounted with all his medals at the National Museum of American History [sources: National Museum of American History, Kane].

6: Charlie Helps with the Cuban Missile Crisis

Kennedy, Charlie, dog
President John F. Kennedy indulges in a bit of play with the family's Welsh terrier Charlie at the Presidential retreat in Glen Ora, Virginia, 1962. Bettmann/Getty Images

John F. Kennedy was a big fan of dogs, and during his short tenure at the White House, the president and his family had several. Yet, there was one, a Welsh terrier named Charlie, who had a profound impact on the history of the world.

In October 1962, the globe stood on the brink of nuclear war after the Soviet Union deployed several intercontinental ballistic missiles on the island of Cuba, 90 miles (144 kilometers) off the U.S. coastline. It was a tumultuous time not only for the world, but for Kennedy whose goal was to get the missiles out of Cuba without igniting a nuclear war.


Charlie sat on the president's lap in the White House "war room" as Kennedy decided what actions to take. The president gently petted the dog as the crisis unfolded and then said he was "ready to make some decisions." Those in the room said the dog had a calming effect on Kennedy, who navigated the crisis to a successful conclusion [sources: Wolfstoria, Bougerol].

5: A Newfoundland Saves Napoleon's Life

Napoleon Bonaparte, dog
Napoleon Bonaparte dresses down Madame Montholon for chasing a dog on the island of St. Helena Sept. 16, 1816, in an illustration from the first Italian edition of The Memorial of Saint Helena, Vol. 2. DeAgostini/Getty Images

Napoleon Bonaparte, who named himself emperor in 1804 following the French Revolution, reformed France by strengthening the central government and restoring economic prosperity. He even reconfigured French society with his Napoleonic Codes that embodied Enlightenment principles such as equality of all citizens.

And he was just getting started. From 1804 to 1812, Napoleon's armies were the most dominant in Europe, much to the consternation of the rest of the continent. He redrew the map of Europe, annexing the Netherlands, Belgium, and parts of Italy and Germany. In 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia. It didn't go as planned as his armies retreated after the Russian winter took its toll.


By the spring of 1814, Europe had had enough of the diminutive Corsican. The armies of Russia, Britain, Prussia and Austria joined forces and defeated Napoleon throwing him into exile on the tiny Mediterranean island of Elba [source: History].

In 1815, Napoleon plotted his return, escaping from Elba on a ship. During the voyage back to France, rough seas knocked Napoleon into the sea. Luckily, a fisherman in a boat with his dog saw what had happened. The dog, a Newfoundland whose name has been lost to history, jumped into the water, paddled toward Napoleon and kept the former French emperor afloat until helped arrived. Napoleon eventually arrived in Paris in triumph, only to be defeated at the Battle of Waterloo some 100 days later. He was exiled once again to St. Helena, where he died in 1821 [source: Bougerol].

4: Maddie Goes Viral

Theron Humphrey, Maddie, dog
Theron Humphrey and his dog Maddie appear on the NBC News' 'Today' show in 2013. Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images

In 1960, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, John Steinbeck, went on a road trip across the United States with his dog Charley, a standard poodle. "Travels with Charley" was Steinbeck's attempt to reconnect with the nation he spent a lifetime writing about.

Decades later, photographer Theron Humphrey undertook a similar journey. On his trip, Humphrey stopped at the Marietta, Georgia animal shelter and found a coonhound named Maddie. Humphrey adopted the dog and the two began a cross-country journey of their own. "I figured if Steinbeck had Charley by his side on his American travels, I needed a good dog next to me in my truck," Humphrey told CNN.


As the pair traveled, Humphrey took photos of Maddie wherever they stopped: at dinner drinking coffee, or Maddie sitting in a police car in Palm Springs, Calif. The project, "This Wild Idea," tells the stories of individuals the pair met along the way and the places they have seen together [source: Johnson].

The project went viral on Instagram, with more than 1.2 million people following Humphrey and Maddie's exploits. Maddie's uncanny ability to stand gracefully on just about anything also spawned a book, appropriately titled "Maddie on Things: A Super Serious Project About Dogs and Physics."

3: Balto Delivers Life-Saving Medicine

Balto, Ben Alexander
Balto, dog hero of the frozen north, poses with Hollywood child star Ben Alexander some time after his epic journey. Bettmann/Getty Images

In 1925, children in Nome, Alaska were suffering with diphtheria, a bacterial illness that blocks patients' airways and makes it difficult for them to breathe or swallow. The disease is highly contagious and sometimes fatal. Without medication to combat it, diphtheria would have spread very quickly throughout the town.

The only serum in Alaska was at a hospital in Anchorage, almost 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) away. But how to get it to Nome? A train could go part of the distance but there wasn't any transportation for the remaining 674 miles (1,084 kilometers) in the dead of winter. Fortunately, teams of sled dogs came to the rescue.


The serum was carefully packaged and left Anchorage for Nenana, the town at the end of the train line. It arrived there the following night and the first musher and dog team sprang into action. After their run, they turned the medication over relay-style to the second team who carried on, battling arctic winds and sub-zero temperatures. Each leg was 24 to 52 miles (38 to 83 kilometers) long. For the last leg, a musher named Gunnar Kaasen and his sled dog team, led by a Siberian husky named Balto took over.

After they'd departed, a blizzard developed, generating wind gusts of over 50 mph (80 kph) and temperatures of minus 50 degrees F (minus 45 C). Kaasen could barely see to navigate and was beginning to despair. But Balto knew the way by instinct and led the team safely to Nome, covering 53 miles (85 kilometers) in 20 hours.

Although officials thought the entire trip would take 13 days, it was completed in seven, with the mushers and dogs doing their part of the journey in 127.5 hours. Kaasen, Balto and the rest of the exhausted team got a hero's welcome and the kids got their life-saving medication. Balto would later have his own Disney animated feature in 1995. And every March, teams of sled dogs participate in the Iditarod, which retraces the route taken from Anchorage to Nome [sources: Shamleh, South Florida Siberian Husky Rescue].

2: Donnchadh Defends the King of Scotland

Robert Bruce, Scotland
King Robert the Bruce of Scotland is shown with a group of women and priests, probably after the Battle of Bannockburn in Scotland, June 1314. His dog might possibly be one of those depicted in this painting. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Robert the Bruce was a famous warrior who secured independence for Scotland against England in the 14th century. Most British schoolchildren learn he was inspired not to give up by a watching a spider attempting spin its web in his hideout [source: Johnson]. But another animal played a fateful part in Robert's life: his loyal dog named Donnchadh (pronounced DON-nu-chu).

Donnchadh was a Talbot, an early ancestor of the modern bloodhound that Robert used to track game in the Scottish countryside. In 1306, Edward I of England gave his minions orders to hunt down Robert the Bruce, who was advocating for Scottish independence. After killing rival John Comyn in a church, Robert declared himself king of Scotland and began a guerrilla war to free Scotland of English domination.


Edward wasn't having any of that. He ordered his soldier John of Loren to track Robert down. Robert's wife had been captured by the British, and Donnchadh, which had been in her company, fell into the hands of John. John decided to use the dog to take him to Robert. John ordered his men to set the dog free, believing Donnchadh would take them to Robert. Sure enough, Donnchadh picked up his master's scent and took the soldiers directly to Robert's hiding place. But once the soldiers surrounded Robert, Donnchadh turned on them and attacked. Robert escaped the ambush and lived to reign as king of Scotland for more than 20 years [sources: Bougerol, Coren].

1: Frida Finds Earthquake Survivors

Mexican rescue dog Frida, who took part in the search for earthquake victims, performs at an exhibition at the headquarters of the Mexican Navy in Mexico City, on Oct. 14, 2017. PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images

When a 7.1 magnitude earthquake crumbled Mexico City in September 2017, Frida, a 7-year-old Labrador retriever, went to work. The linchpin of the Mexican navy's canine unit, Frieda scoured the city's shattered buildings sniffing out survivors trapped under the rubble. She was on the scene when rescuers found 11 children lodged under the detritus of what was the Enrique Rebsamen School. Two weeks earlier, she helped find the body of a police officer after an earthquake rocked the state of Oaxaca [sources: Castillo, Fox News].

Frida is no ordinary barker. She is the grande dame of rescue dogs. When a natural disaster or some other calamity strikes, younger dogs are told to sniff out the living or the dead. If the dogs detect a person, rescuers let Frida loose to confirm their findings. If she barks, someone is alive. If she finds a corpse, she suddenly stops, before moving very cautiously. It's not easy work. Frida has to crawl through spaces that humans cannot navigate, but as of 2017, she's detected 52 people and found 12 alive [sources: Castillo, Fox News].

Such exploits have made Frida a cult hero in Mexico. She's a Twitter sensation too, with fans saying she is a symbol of hope during times of tragedy. She also helps train new dogs on how to find survivors in natural disasters.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

Other Great Links

  • American Museum of Natural History. "Stubby." (Jan. 16, 2018). http://amhistory.si.edu/militaryhistory/collection/object.asp?ID=15
  • Bougerol, E., CNN.com. "Ten Dogs that changed the world." (Jan. 16, 2018). http://www.cnn.com/2007/LIVING/wayoflife/11/01/ten.dogs/index.html
  • Castillo, Andrew. "Meet Frida, the valiant Lab who's saved a dozen lives in Mexico." Los Angeles Times. Sept. 21, 2017. (Jan. 15, 2018). http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-mexico-earthquake-frida-dog-20170921-story,amp.html
  • CNN.com. "A Super serious project about dogs and physics." (Jan. 16 2018). http://cnnphotos.blogs.cnn.com/2013/03/04/a-super-serious-project-about-dogs-and-physics/
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  • Fox News.com. "Hero dog saves lives in Mexico." Sept. 22, 2017. (Jan. 15, 2018). http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/09/22/hero-dog-saves-lives-following-earthquake-in-mexico.html
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  • Shamleh, Abdelhadi Abu. "The Real Story of Amblin's Balto," American Kennel Club, (Feb. 26, 2018) http://www.akc.org/content/akc-history-archive/articles/balto/
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  • Whitehouse, David. "First dog in space died within hours." BBC.com. Oct. 28, 2002. (Jan. 16 2018). http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2367681.stm
  • Wellerstein, Alex. "Rmember Laika, Space Dog and Soviet Hero." The New Yorker. Nov. 3, 2017. (Jan. 16, 2018). https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/remembering-laika-space-dog-and-soviet-hero
  • Wolfstoria.com. "Charlie—President Kennedy's Welsh Terri er." Sept. 11, 2015. (Jan. 16, 2018). http://www.wolfstoria.com/1st-doggies/charlie-president-kennedys-welsh-terrier/