We are all familiar with the idea that dogs are man’s best friend. Anyone who has owned a dog can attest to that wonderful bond formed with their dog. How delighted the dog is to see you return when you have been gone, even for a short time. How excited they are to go places with you, even if it is just a short ride in the car, or a quick walk around the block. How happy they are to please you, and how much they want you to be happy. Dogs are loyal, faithful, and clearly express love for their owners.
Some dogs are so special that their loyalty and willingness to do anything for their owners is recognized by everyone. Such dogs get statues made to commemorate them. I have visited the statues of several such dogs, and these are their stories.
First is Greyfriars Bobby, the little Skye Terrier who became famous in Edinburgh for returning to sleep on his master’s grave for 14 years until his own death. Bobby himself died 150 years ago this year, and is still remembered with great affection and respect in Scotland. They even had a special service to commemorate this anniversary! His statue is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Edinburgh, so of course when I took my daughter to visit Edinburgh it was high on our list of things to see!
Bobby’s story is not exactly happy, although it does have some charming aspects. Bobby belonged to John Gray (known as Auld Jock), who worked in Edinburgh as a night watchman. Jock and Bobby made the nightly rounds together, no matter what the weather. When Jock died in 1858, he was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, and his faithful dog refused to leave his grave, even in the worst winter weather. The caretaker of the Kirkyard tried to evict Bobby when he locked up for the night, but to no avail. Bobby always found his way back to sleep on his master’s grave. The caretaker gave up and put sacks beside the grave for Bobby to sleep on.
During the day, Bobby would make his way to the Coffee House where he and Jock always ate, and was fed a meal. Bobby became famous in Edinburgh for his devotion to his master’s grave where he sat all day, except for this routine trip every day to eat his free meal. When the city passed a law that all dogs must be licensed, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh paid for the license and gave Bobby a collar with the inscription “Greyfriars Bobby from the Lord Provost 1867 licensed.” The collar is on display in the Museum of Edinburgh. When Bobby died in 1872, he was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, not far from his beloved master’s grave that he had faithfully guarded for 14 years. The philanthropist Lady Burdett-Coutts, President of the Ladies Committee of the RSPCA, commissioned a granite drinking fountain with a statue of Bobby to be placed atop. The Scottish sculptor William Brodie made the life-size statue (so it’s quite small!). The fountain with Bobby’s statue was erected at the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge, opposite the entrance to Greyfriars Kirkyard.
A headstone for Bobby’s grave was erected by The Dog Aid Society of Scotland and unveiled by the Duke of Gloucester on May 13, 1981.
Bobby’s headstone reads “Greyfriars Bobby – died 14th January 1872 – aged 16 years – Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all” – a nice touch!
Then we have Hachiko, the Japanese faithful dog. He was an Akita dog, a Japanese breed famous for their loyalty to their owners, their courage and dignity, and their alert expression. I don’t seem to have a photo I took of his statue, although I remember visiting it in Tokyo at the Shibuya train station. It’s a small bronze statue, similar to the one of Greyfriars Bobby, really.
Hachiko belonged to Professor Hidesaburo Ueno, who worked at Tokyo University in the 1920s. The professor commuted to work, taking the train from Shibuya Station. Every day Hachiko left the house and went to the train station to meet his master coming home from work.
On May 21, 1925, Hachiko went as usual to meet Professor Ueno at Shibuya Station, but he did not get off the train. The professor had suffered a stroke while teaching his class, and died without returning home. Hachiko faithfully continued to go to the station every day to meet the train, waiting for his master’s return. He arrived on time for the train every day until his own death, nine years, nine months and fifteen days later, on March 8, 1935.
While at first Hachiko’s presence was not entirely popular, after a newspaper article appeared telling his story, people started to bring Hachiko treats and food to eat while he waited at the station. His faithfulness became a symbol of loyalty for the Japanese. And when he died his ashes were buried beside his master’s and his fur was stuffed and is on permanent display at the National Science Museum of Japan. We didn’t go to see that!
We did see the bronze statue at Shibuya Station. Actually, this is the second version, the first having been melted down for use in World War II. The statue is such a popular meeting spot that the station entrance/exit beside it is called “Hachiko Guchi” (Hachiko Entrance/Exit).
Other statues of Hachiko have been erected in various places, including Woonsocket in Rhode Island where the American movie “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” was filmed.
Hachiko remains a beloved symbol of loyalty and devotion in Japan, and there is an annual ceremony of remembrance held every year on the anniversary of his death.
Somehow, I find Hachiko’s story to be more sad than inspiring. The poor dog didn’t understand that his master had died! At least Greyfriars Bobby knew that, and stayed at his master’s graveside to keep him company as he did during their life together. But I have to admit, they both showed amazing faithfulness to their beloved masters.
Now we move on to dogs who were not just faithful to their master, but served a larger community.
First we have Balto, the Siberian husky who was one of the heroic leaders of the sled dog teams who brought the life-saving serum safely to Nome, Alaska when the community was suffering a severe outbreak of diphtheria back in 1925. Their efforts are also commemorated in the annual Iditarod sled dog race of approximately 1,000 miles from the start in Anchorage to Nome.
When Balto died his remains were stuffed and donated to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History where he is on permanent display. I haven’t seen that either – seems I prefer the statues!
There is a statue in Central Park, New York to commemorate the sled dogs who relayed the lifesaving serum for hundreds of miles. My sister owns huskies, and has even run a few races with them, so we were especially interested in seeing this statue. We visited it on a chilly winter day. It’s quite impressive!
The fact that the plaque on the statue in Central Park is dedicated to all the sled dogs, to their indomitable spirit, their “Endurance · Fidelity · Intelligence,” shows the importance of team work, the power of the dogs working together, with a lead dog (or two) totally united with their human musher. It’s kind of awesome!
Finally, we have Bamse (Norwegian for teddy bear) a St. Bernard who joined the crew of the Norwegian minesweeper, Thorodd, which was stationed in Dundee and Montrose in Scotland. He was given a special helmet to wear as a registered member of the crew and stood guard at the foremost gun tower, never leaving his post until the action was finished.
Bamse became famous among the locals in port for rounding up the crew when they went ashore and escorting them back to the ship, especially when they had overindulged in the local pubs. Bamse traveled around the town by bus (with his own bus pass) to all the pubs to collect his crewmates. On occasion he acted as peacemaker when fights broke out, calming his men down (he was a big dog, so no-one continued fighting when he stepped in) and leading them back to their ship. He also rescued a crewmate who had fallen overboard, barking to draw attention, and jumping into the water to pull him back to the shore.
When Bamse died in Montrose he was buried with full military honors. He was even awarded, much later, the Norges Hundeorden (Norwegian Order of Dogs) in 1984. In 2006, he was awarded the PDSA Gold Medal (the “animals’ George Cross”) for gallantry and devotion to duty, the only World War II animal to have received this honor. Good going Bamse!
I really enjoyed visiting Bamse’s statue in Montrose. It’s pretty big, definitely larger than life! And there’s not only a plaque on the granite base he stands on, there is also a memorial with photos of Bamse and his crewmates, and a lovely account of his life and service on the Thorodd.
You can learn more about Bamse in my article “Bamse, the Sea Dog War Hero.”
So there you have it. Four special dogs who earned the love and respect of people to the extent that statues were erected to memorialize them. There are numerous other dogs who probably did the same, and maybe even have statues, but these are the ones I have visited. Thank you, special faithful dogs!
My final thought here is what about cats? Dogs are faithful, man’s best friend, worthy of statues in their honor. How about cats? They are certainly different from dogs! They are very special. Maybe some are faithful. Some are famous. But that would be another story.