I must admit at the start that I am a dog lover–and a fan of history–so when I discovered this trio of books about a dog named Stubby, I found an irresistible match of these two interests. This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, so there is a spate of new titles about that historic event. Among them are these books about a dog that played an important role in the legend and lore of the American doughboys who served “Over There.” I hope others will enjoy reading Stubby’s story as much as I did.
No one knows where Stubby came from. He just showed up on the Yale campus sometime in 1917, just as troops were arriving for training to join the Great War in Europe. He was about a year old, a Boston terrier mix with a docked tail—thus, his name, Stubby. He took a special liking to an enlisted man from Connecticut, Pvt. J. Robert Conroy; the feeling was mutual, and the two became an inseparable pair for the next nine years. It was one thing, of course, to become a mascot at a stateside training camp, but quite another to travel overseas to a war zone. However, within six months the dog had befriended not only Conroy, but the whole regiment with his cheerful personality, intelligence, and general pluck. Thus, Conroy, with the help of sympathetic sailors, smuggled Stubby on board the troop ship Minnesota. Once in France, the story goes, Stubby “persuaded” Conroy’s commanding officer to let him stay when he sat up on his haunches and saluted the officer with his right paw.
In his tour of service, Stubby endured the same privations as his human companions. Life in the trenches was dangerous, harsh, uncomfortable and noisy. Yet, his unique canine qualities served a real purpose: he was a wonderful companion to the soldiers; his keen sense of smell warned of poisonous gas; his expert hearing alerted the troops to incoming shells, and his loyal presence comforted injured soldiers as they awaited rescue. Stubby was even injured himself at one point. By that time he had so endeared himself that he received expert medical care and recovered completely. A member of the regiment even made Stubby his own uniform, to which Conroy duly pinned on medals and sewed on patches until he became among the most decorated soldiers in the division!
Once the war was over, Stubby and Conroy returned to civilian life. However, Stubby’s celebrity, which had begun with wartime reports from abroad, continued, albeit aided and abetted by Conroy, who never tired of promoting the wonders of his canine friend. The duo briefly took part in vaudeville reviews, but, although Stubby enjoyed performing, Conroy did not. However, there were parades, appearances at veterans’ events, presentations to presidents, and even a brief stint as a collegiate football mascot. In 1926, Stubby died peacefully in Conroy’s arms. As a testament to his devotion to his friend, Conroy never owned another dog. He had Stubby taxidermied and donated his likeness and his uniform to the Smithsonian Museum, where they are safely preserved to this day.
Happily, there is a Stubby book for almost all levels of readers, so his story can be widely enjoyed. Two of the books, for middle school and high school readers are by the same author, Ann Bausum. A third, by Blake Hoena, is aimed at the early elementary crowd.
Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation, by Ann Bausum. 9781426213106. May 2014. Grades 9-12.
Stubby the War Dog: the True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog, by Ann Bausum. 9781426314865. May 2014. Grades 5-8.
Stubby the Dog Soldier: World War I Hero, by Blake Hoena. 9781479554652. May 2014. Grades K-2.