Today’s blog post is guest written by Bernard Unti, Senior Policy Advisor / Special Assistant to the President, Office of the President CEO.
The new animated film Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero promises to renew the nation’s awareness of a remarkable tale of friendship, loyalty, and devotion. There are few accounts in the history of the human-animal bond to match the stirring tale of a stray mutt and a caring soldier who met on a Connecticut training ground and went on to serve together for a year and a half in France during World War I. For all who appreciate the service of dogs in war and the ties of loyalty that unite them with soldiers and veterans, the film’s a treat.
When their paths crossed, in June 1917, Stubby was a mixed-breed pit bull type dog living on the streets of New Haven, and Private Robert Conroy was a member of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) awaiting deployment to the battlefields of France. They bonded, and Conroy smuggled the dog onto the freighter that carried him and other doughboys to the warfront. There, Stubby, who learned how to salute and march in step with the troops, quickly became the spirited mascot for the 26th Infantry “Yankee” Division of the 102nd Infantry Regiment during the course of eighteen months in combat.
Stubby’s presence in their ranks helped Conroy and other soldiers to cope with the stress and anxiety of war. And since Stubby’s time, dogs have done still more in wartime service. Today, military working dogs serve as bomb or mine detection dogs, sentries, and even in special ops, helping to clear buildings, sniff out booby traps, and search for hidden compartments where targeted individuals might be hiding.
The strong bond between soldiers and dogs has been evident in the frequent accounts of American service members who’ve sought to help or rescue animals in conflict zones. It’s also common for soldiers to communicate their concerns to The HSUS and other organizations about cruelty to animals that they’ve witnessed or tried to prevent while on deployment.
In late 2017, in a partnership to honor the natural bond between soldiers and dogs, The HSUS and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) launched a program that promotes and celebrates pet keeping and animal adoption by Veterans and encourages their volunteerism with animal shelters, animal rescue groups, and humane societies.
Richard Lanni, the producer-director of the film, was certainly mindful of its continuing relevance to the humane ethic and to animal rescue. “While Sgt. Stubby is entertainment for the entire family, it also shares an important, life-altering message about animal adoption,” says Lanni. “When you adopt a pet, you get back as much as you give.”
That’s certainly one of the lessons of Stubby’s life, before, during, and after his time at war. In the 1920s, after his return to the United States, he became something of an ambassador for animal adoption, marching in humane education parades, and appearing at other special events. He did stints as a football mascot for both Catholic and Georgetown Universities, received a medal from General John Pershing, commander of the AEF, and met three presidents, including the dog-loving Warren G. Harding.
There are not too many dogs adopted through the nation’s humane societies, animal shelters, and rescue groups who can match Stubby’s colorful legacy as a wartime mascot. But in the final analysis, Stubby’s story is that of an ordinary dog who led an extraordinary life that underscores, as Lanni suggests, “what animals can do when given a chance in life, regardless of their origins.” In that sense, every one of them is extraordinary.
Catch Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero in theaters April 13!