The other day, when Mom went to the USPS site to order some stamps, she was shocked to see a stamp with a dog on it. And it wasn't just any dog, it was a dog named Owney, who was the Postal Service mascot. The reason why Mom was so shocked to see this dog on a stamp was because she and I had never even heard of Owney before, even though he is a pretty famous dog. So right away, Mom ordered 60 stamps with Owney's picture on them, and then we started doing research on this brave and interesting dog.
The story of Owney starts in 1888, when a little terrier mix puppy wandered into the post office in downtown Albany, NY, and fell asleep on some mailbags. The postal workers liked the puppy, and they started feeding him and letting him ride in the wagons that took the mail from the post office to the train station. In those days, most mail traveled around in trains because planes and trucks hadn't been invented yet. And it wasn't long before Owney started riding on the trains to help deliver the mail.
The nice postal workers in Albany who first adopted Owney didn't want him to get lost, so they made him a collar with a tag that said "Owney, P.O. Albany N.Y." Then they let him go riding on the mail trains all over the place. Pretty soon, the mail workers on the trains realized that Owney was bringing them good luck, because no trains that he was riding on ever got into train wrecks. This was important because trains were not very safe back in those days, and you could get killed if your train ran off the tracks or got robbed or blown up.
Owney kept riding the trains, and he traveled all over, back and forth across the country. Wherever he went, the workers would put a new tag on his collar to show that he had been there. Pretty soon, Owney had so many heavy tags that in 1894, the Postmaster General gave him a sort of harness jacket thing to hang all the tags on. By the time he retired, Owney had gone more than 140,000 miles by rail. Newspapers liked to write about him in the cities he visited, and they called him the "tramp mail dog."
In 1895, Owney got to go on a trip around the world by ship and train as a goodwill ambassador. He was shipped as a "Registered Dog Package," and he traveled with his own little suitcase, which had a blanket, comb, and brush inside.
I am sad to say that Owney finally started getting old, and he had to retire from all his mail travels. He lived at the Albany Post Office, and he got really grumpy in his old age. He was blind in one eye, and he could only eat soft food, which is enough to make anybody grumpy, if you ask me.
Anyway, one day in June 1897, Owney ran off to the train station and got on a mail train. No one knows exactly why it happened, but Owney bit a postal clerk and a U.S. Marshall in Toledo, Ohio. So the local Postmaster told the Marshall to shoot Owney, and he did.
The postal workers in Albany took up a collection so that they could have Owney's body mounted. He has been on display in a glass case at the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. pretty much ever since then. Of course, after more than 100 years, Owney was starting to look a little scruffy, so when the USPS decided to make a stamp with his picture on it, the Smithsonian asked a taxidermist named Paul Rhymer to spiff Owney up a little bit. When Mr. Rhymer got finished working on Owney, he said "My restoration got it back about halfway to what it should have looked like. We decided to try to make him look a little better, a little more realistic." To do this, Mr. Rhymer replaced Owney's eyes, patched some bald spots on his fur, and carved a new snout for him.
Owney's stamp was released on July 27, 2011. It was designed by an artist named Bill Bond, who lives in Arlington, Virginia. It has a picture of Owney's head, and then in the background, there are some of the tags that he was given during his travels. Soon the Postal Service will also release an Owney smartphone application that makes a 3-D picture of Owney jumping and barking. Also there will be a kids' interactive e-book about Owney for iPad.
So that's the story of Owney, the famous Postal Dog. He had a good, long life, full of adventure, but at the end, I guess you could say he "went postal," and that's why he had to be shot. Rest in peace, Owney! We can now remember you forever because your picture is on a forever stamp.