Mans constant quest for explanations about and subsequent exploration of space is well documented. We look up at the stars and wonder. In, what we term as modern times, it is not unusual to hear about space shuttle travel, exploits of spacemen that capture the imagination and new information about planets that are millions of miles away.
What should never be forgotten is the role that dogs had in the early days of space exploration. Their sacrifice paved the way for the beginning of the necessary understanding that has, in our time, led to comparatively safe space travel for an elite few.
Laika (Barker in Russian), was one such dog. She was a stray, thought to be a crossbreed but mainly Siberian husky and found on the streets of Moscow. Laika found herself at the Moscow research centre where she was thought to be suitable for canine astronaut training. Russia, at that time was a main contender in the 'space race'. The use of dogs in space was thought to be an opportunity to further knowledge about what would be needed to enable a human being to be fired into the unknown and survive.
Laika went through all the training that was required of her. She got used to being immobilised in the capsule of what would be Sputnik 2 while relying on battery powered life support systems that would not only feed her but also be essential for her oxygen and safety.
Sputnik 2 blasted off from the Soviet Union's Baikonur Cosmodome on November 3rd 1957. Laika was the first animal to go into orbit however, Sputnik 2 was not made for recovery; as the batteries of her life support ran down, so brave little Laika died. The capsule later fell into the atmosphere and burned up on April14,1958.
Laika became world famous and captured the imagination of nations. America called her little 'Muttnik', the press told her story while questioning the morality of using dogs for such experiments. Forty years after Laika's journey into space, the Moscow research centre where she was trained remembered her by unveiling a plaque in her honour.
In all Russia launched thirteen other dogs into space to further their knowledge. They too should not be forgotten and deserve a mention here as brave little souls like Laika.
Bars (Panther or Lynx)
Damka (Little Lady)
Lisichka (Little Fox)
Mushka (Little Fly)
Pchelka (Little Bee)
Strelka (Little Arrow)
Ugolyok (Little Piece of Coal)
Verterok (Little Wind)
Zvezdochka (Little Star)
Sadly, five of these dogs died in flight or at launch, they were; Laika, Lisichka, Pchelka, Bars and Mushka. When we next look up at the stars and wonder, we should also remember those dogs that helped mankind seek out new horizons and ultimately help to make space travel possible.
Balto was a Siberian husky, born in 1923 in Nome, Alaska. He was thought of as a 'scrub dog' and was viewed as inferior to the 'real' sled dogs. He spent his early working years as part of a team that delivered supplies to miners.
On January 21st 1925, some children in Nome were diagnosed as having diphtheria, a very contagious and potentially fatal disease. The vaccine that was required to save the children and prevent an epidemic was in a hospital in Anchorage, nearly a thousand miles away. The weather conditions were such that normal methods of transport were non-existent. A train was found to transport the vaccine to Nenana but that was as far as it could go. This left another 674 miles to cover if the population of Nome were to be saved. After great deliberation, the only way that could be found to transport the vaccine was by dog sledge and it was estimated that the trip, if it was to be successful, would take about thirteen days.
The vaccine arrived in Nenana and was put into a cylinder and was further protected by being wrapped in more protective material. More than twenty mushers and dog teams were to take part in a desperate relay, not only racing against time but also the consequences of a disease that could soon be out of control.
The battle against the weather and time began. Blizzards, gales, temperatures well below freezing were all to be faced and defeated if Nome was to be saved. The men and dogs battled against all the odds and on February 1st 1925, the vaccine was handed to Gunnar Kassen in the village of Bluff. Kassen's dog team was led by Balto.
Balto, 'the scrub dog' was given the responsibility of lead dog for the last leg of the journey. Shortly after leaving the village, the team had to face extreme blizzard conditions and temperatures of below 50 degrees. The trail became impossible to navigate and Kassen despaired of ever reaching Nome let alone getting there on time to save the people.
The courageous Balto took charge; he knew the trail well and with the use of his sharp instincts led the team through the blizzard. Balto slowly and carefully found the trail and some twenty hours and 53 miles later; at half past five in the morning, delivered the vaccine to Nome.
Balto became a world hero and went on a nationwide tour with the dog team. Later Balto and the famous team were sold to a Vaudeville museum and took part in stage acts while living in squalid conditions. They were found by George Kimble who started an appeal and raised the funds to buy them. They were taken to Cleveland and received a hero's welcome. Balto was a major attraction in the Cleveden Zoo for six years until he died in1933 at the age of ten. His body can still be seen in the Cleveden Museum of Natural History.
The legend of Balto lives on to this day. There is a statue of him in New York's Central Park; the inscription reads: 'Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed the toxin 600 miles over treacherous waters, through artic blizzards, from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the winter of 1925 -Endurance, Fidelity, Intelligence'.
Balto will never be forgotten his legend will live on with the annual Iditerod Trail Sled Dog Race that has been run from Anchorage to Nome since 1973. The Iditerod meaning 'a distant place', commemorates the sled dogs that have been a major part of life in Alaska as well as the relay race to Nome that saved so many lives.
Fala was the Scotch Terrier owned by Franklin D. Roosevelt. As a pup he was given as a gift to the President by his cousin Margaret. He and his master became inseparable.
Eleanor, his wife, did not consider the White House a proper place to bring up a dog and although the President had owned pets before, Fala became his friend in a way no other dog had!
Fala accompanied him everywhere, eating his meals in Roosevelt's study and sleeping in a chair at the foot of his bed.
After a few weeks the pup came down with stomach trouble and it was discovered that the White House kitchen staff and everyone else was feeding him titbits! A stern memo came down to the entire White House staff. 'Not even one crumb will be fed to Fala except by the President'
Fala became witness to History and during the last week of December 1941 twenty six nations at war with the Axis had negotiated a declaration of unity and purpose. The document was signed in the President's study with Fala stretched out on the carpet asleep and snoring gently!
The Secret Service of the day would try as they might to keep the President's trips secret. However, two things always gave the game away! One was the ramp that had to be installed for his wheelchair and the other was the presence of Fala! They could sometimes dispense with the ramp but certainly not Fala! The sight of a little Scottie dog was a dead giveaway to the nearby presence of their Leader. Little wonder then that the Secret Service gave Fala a Code Name. He was known as 'The Informer'.
On D-Day during a White House press conference Fala was seen running free through the Oval Office.
Fala had Roosevelt well trained. Feeding was a ritual. No other person than the President was allowed to feed the little Scottie. You had to hand the bowl to the President and he would feed Fala out of his own hand! No matter who you were everyone had to wait for their own supper until the little dog dined!
President Roosevelt died in 1945 and on April 15th was buried. West Point Cadets raised their rifles and gave the customary three volleys. After each volley a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt noted that Fala barked, a child whimpered and then it was over.
The little Scottie who had been the constant companion of one of the world's great Leaders rode his Master's funeral train from Warm Springs to Washington. Now five years old he attended the Hyde Park burial services with the very person who gave him to Roosevelt as a pup! He cowered and whimpered at the gun salute and rolled on the grass during the hymn. He barked furiously at the gun volleys but was led away quietly at the end.
Readjustments had to take place which were especially difficult for Eleanor Roosevelt. She observed that her husband's little dog never got used to losing the President.
When an automobile came down the drive of their home accompanied by the wailing of sirens Fala's ears pricked up, his little legs straightened out and she knew the little dog was expecting to see his beloved Master!
Fala accepted Eleanor after her husband's death but felt that she was just someone to put up with until his Master's return!
Some dogs forget, Fala never did. Whenever he heard the sirens he always became alert and felt again that he was an important being as in the old days.
Although initially parted after the funeral Fala was eventually reunited with Eleanor Roosevelt and they became inseparable. They went on long walks through the woods together, he sat beside her chair in the living room and greeted her when she returned to the home. Still Fala missed the President! He never gave up hope of seeing his Master coming down the drive.
The little Scottie died in 1952, and he was buried near Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York.
A statue of him can be seen sitting by the President at the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Patsy Ann, a Bull Terrier, was born in 1929 and came to Juneau, Alaska as a pup. She was stone deaf but somehow 'heard' the whistles of approaching ships to the port and headed down to the wharf to greet them long before they actually came into sight! Never wrong she sat patiently waiting for them to dock. She had a natural affinity with the sea and ships.
During the day she did the rounds of her many friends in local businesses who gave her titbits including a daily candy bar! Patsy Ann was a celebrity in the beer parlours and hotel lobbies. She became known as Old Juneau's Ambassador, more photographed that even Rin Tin Tin.
During the 1930's her photo was used for postcards and for many visitors she was the highlight of their visit.
The distinctive Bull Terrier gait slowed over the years and too many rich treats made her a portly figure but she never failed to head for the docks when steamship whistles sounded.
Not having a fixed address or known master she spent most of her nights in the Longshoreman's hall, peacefully dreaming, and it was there that she died gently in March 1942.
She had captured the hearts of Juneau's citizens with her dignity and devotion to duty as 'Official Greeter of Juneau, Alaska' so they made her a tiny coffin and lowered her into the Gastineau channel.
Fifty years after her death a statue was commissioned by the 'Friends of Patsy Ann' to be installed on the wharf she knew and loved so well!
Clippings of dog hair from all over the world was included in the bronze sculpted by New Mexican artist Anna Burke Harris. This was symbolically uniting the spirit of dogs all over the world and on July 3. 1992 the statue was put into place on the dock.
Julie Ann now sits greeting the hundred of thousands of tourists who visit Juneau on cruise ships, just as she did in real life during the 1930's.
They greet her and touch her and are reminded of the wonderful loyalty and devotion dogs like her show to humankind. May her spirit live forever!
Smoky was a Yorkshire Terrier weighing in at only 4 lbs in weight. She was originally found as a puppy struggling to get out of a foxhole in the jungles of New Guinea by a compassionate G.I. who not wanting to keep her himself gave her to a young soldier, William A.Wynne during World War 11.
He trained her to do tricks never before seen and she accompanied him during combat flights in the Pacific. She became a war hero, unequaled for her knowledge, obedience and endurance. She served with the 5th Air Force 26th Photo Recon Squadron, flew 12 combat missions and entertained troops, being awarded best mascot in the South Pacific by Yank Down Under Magazine. She also assisted engineers in getting the airbase operational at Lingayen Gulf Luzon (War Dog).
When the war ended Bill took Smoky home to Cleveland. Ohio. She was hidden in an altered flight oxygen mask carrying case. The local newspaper took up her story and published a photo of her on December, 1945. Smoky became an overnight sensation!
It was natural that she should go into show business and she entertained numerous people appearing on some of the earliest television shows in the Cleveland area, including a show of their own during the late 40's and early 50's.
Smoky epitomised the saying good things come in small packages! An inspiration to all of her breed!