As the famous saying goes, every once in a while a dog enters your life and changes everything. As pet parents and dog lovers, we all know this to be true.
But, every once in a while, a dog also enters a life and changes the course of history.
It’s safe to say that, without dogs, the world as we know it would be entirely different. Throughout history, dogs have played important roles in changing and shaping the world around us. From inspiring innovative inventions, to advancing human lives, and saving entire civilizations, here are 6 dogs that forever changed the course of history.
1. Balto: The Dog Who Saved Nome, Alaska:
On January 28, 1925, newspapers and radio stations broke a terrifying story — diphtheria had broken out in Nome, Alaska, separated from the rest of the world for seven months by a frozen ocean.
With aviation still in its infancy and one of the harshest winters on record, only ancient means of travel — dogsledding — could save the town. In temperatures 60 degrees below zero, over 20 men and at least 150 dogs, among them the famous Balto, set out to relay the antitoxin across 674 miles of Alaskan wilderness to save the town.
The story of Balto, the lead sled dog in the final leg of the transport into Nome has become known as the greatest dog story ever told.
The journey of these remarkable men and their dogs eventually became the course for the annual Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Up next, a dog that would forever change the way we fasten our shoes, keep binders neatly closed, belts tight, and more.
2. The Dog That Inspired the Invention of Velcro:
In the early 1940’s, Swiss inventor George de Mestral took his dog for a walk. When he returned home, he discovered that his dog’s coat was covered with cockleburs that, although they weren’t sticky, were holding onto the fur, but could also be easily removed.
He took a look at the burs under a microscope and discovered they had a natural hook shape. This discovery was the basis for his invention of a new, 2-sided fastener he called Velcro, named for the French words velour and crochet.
Up next, in the race to pioneer space travel, it was a dog who actually became the first living being to leave our atmosphere.
3. Laika: The First Living Being to Enter Space:
A sweet-tempered stray dog plucked off the streets of Moscow was thrust into the global spotlight when she became the first living being to be sent into space in 1957, forcing other countries in the “race to space” to shift their focus to putting a man on the moon.
When Sputnik 2’s canine passenger, Laika (nicknamed “Muttnik” by the media) hit orbit, the Soviet Union became the first to attempt sending a living being into space. Sadly, however, in their rush to be first, they were more focused on getting Laika out of Earth’s atmosphere than on her safety, comfort, and well-being. They had made no plans for how she would return to Earth safely.
“She died before reaching orbit, and before any real data was gleaned about sustaining life in that environment,” says Dr. Stanley Coren, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of “The Pawprints of History: Dogs and the Course of Human Events.”
Years later, in 1960, Belka and Strelka became the first dogs to visit space and return alive. Strelka eventually gave birth to a litter of puppies, one of which was gifted to U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline.
Now meet Peritas, the dog that saved civilization!
4. Peritas: The Dog That Saved Civilization:
Alexander the Great dominated, conquered, and created one of the largest empires in ancient history, paving the way and laying the groundwork for western civilization as we know it today – and it was all possible because of his brave and heroic dog, Peritas.
Peritas was a Molossian, a breed of ancient Greece that’s now extinct, thought to be the the ancestor of the Mastiff. As legend would have it, the loyal dog saved Alexander’s life during a battle in India, defending the wounded Alexander from the attacking Mallians, holding them off long enough for Alexander’s troops to arrive and save him. Had Alexander not survived this battle, civilization as we know it may not exist.
Peritas was fatally wounded while saving his human and, as a tribute to his best friend, Alexander the Great named the city of Peritas, India in his honor.
Up next, when a world famous psychotherapist noticed a change in his patients when he brought his dog to the office, the idea of therapy dogs was born.
5. Jofi: The World’s First Therapy Dog:
While he’s best known as the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud was a pioneer in canine-assisted therapy as well! Freud’s Chow, Jofi, is considered by many to be the world’s first therapy dog and the inspiration behind modern day pet-assisted therapies.
Freud often brought Jofi along to his office while he met with patients. Not only did Freud believe her presence had a calming effect on his patients, particularly on children, he noted that patients were much more open and candid when Jofi was in the room.
Up next, a very special German Shepherd showed the nation that dogs could provide a valuable, necessary service to impaired owners, paving the way for modern service animals and the laws that provide for them. Who was this amazing pup?
6. Buddy: America’s First Seeing Eye Dog:
Morris Frank was 6 years old when he lost the vision in his left eye after a horseback riding accident. Ten years later, he became completely blind when a boxing match claimed his right eye. In 1927, when Frank was a 20-year old student at Vanderbilt University, his father read to him a newspaper article that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. The article, entitled “The Seeing Eye”, was written by an American dog trainer named Dorothy Harrison Eustis who, while living in Switzerland witnessed how veterans who’d lost their sight in World War I were being assisted by dogs.
A very independent man, Frank had for many years been frustrated at his need to rely on other men to guide him around. He immediately wrote to Eustis who arranged for him to come to Switzerland and meet one of these amazing dogs. In 1928, Morris Frank became the first American to be presented with a trained seeing eye dog, a female German Shepherd named “Buddy.”
Frank spent 30 days in Switzerland with Eustis, learning to work with Buddy, bonding with her, and learning to trust that she could safely navigate him through even the busiest city streets. It was during their time together that Frank and Eustis agreed to bring seeing eye dogs to other impaired Americans. Eustis agreed to provide financial backing for the endeavor – under two conditions: one, it would have to be proven that guide dogs could help the blind navigate through busy city streets, and two, that the public would need to be educated to allow guide dogs in all public spaces.
Frank created The Seeing Eye, the first institution in America that trained guide dogs for the blind. With Buddy by his side, the pair were instrumental in the creation and passing of American access laws that would become the foundation for today’s American’s With Disabilities Act service dog laws.
In his own words, hear how Morris Frank described meeting Buddy, his very own “Declaration of Independence” and the pioneer of guide dogs, and ultimately for all service dogs, in America:
So, it goes to show, that fluffy fur ball curled up by your feet will undoubtedly change your life, but he could someday change the course of history, too!
Do you love dogs and history? Take another walk down memory lane by meeting every dog that’s ever called the White House home. Click here to learn more!