The Heartwarming Stories Of 11 Of History’s Most Loyal Canine Companions

Published November 28, 2023
Updated November 29, 2023

From the English Pointer who won a medal for her heroism during World War II to the Newfoundland who accompanied the Lewis and Clark expedition, these brave dogs made a furry mark on history.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Roselle the guide dog was taking a nap under her owner’s desk on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center when terrorists flew an airplane into the North Tower. Roselle quickly got to work, leading her owner and his office to safety below. She even navigated him into a subway station as the air grew thick with smoke and debris.

For this, Roselle was awarded for her bravery. But she’s just one of many famous dogs in history who accomplished extraordinary feats.

There’s Balto, who helped save the town of Nome, Alaska, during a diphtheria outbreak; Zanjeer, the Indian bomb-sniffing dog whose work prevented greater catastrophe during the 1993 terrorist attacks in Mumbai; and dogs like Judy and Sergeant Stubby who fearlessly stepped up during wartime. There are also dogs like Greyfriars Bobby and Hachikō, who became famous simply due to their undying loyalty to their owners.

Read on to learn the stories of 11 famous canines, from the real dog behind Toto in The Wizard of Oz to Buddy, the first American seeing eye dog.

Balto, The Famous Dog That Saved An Entire Town

Famous Dogs

Public DomainGunnar Kaasen with Balto, who became a national hero during the 1925 Serum Run.

In January 1925, disaster came to the small town of Nome, Alaska, in the form of a deadly diphtheria outbreak. People had started to die, and the town’s 1,400 residents desperately needed a serum to stave off a catastrophe. But with the ports blocked by ice and planes grounded by winter weather, there was only one way the serum could get there: by sled. Before long, one intrepid dog named Balto became a national hero.

Born around 1919 in Nome, Alaska, Balto was a black Siberian husky with a distinctive white leg. During the 1925 Serum Run, Balto was tasked with leading the final 54-mile leg of the 674-mile route alongside his musher, Gunnar Kaasen, and another dog named Fox.

Though they were the last of the sled teams to embark on the six-day mission, Kaasen, Balto, and Fox faced extreme conditions as they carried the life-saving serum toward Nome. Temperatures plunged to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, and a harsh wind created whiteout conditions that Kaasen could hardly see through. At one point, his sled even flipped, which meant that Kaasen had to dig through the snow with his bare hands to recover the precious antitoxin package he was transporting.

On Feb. 2, 1925, Balto and his team finally arrived in Nome and delivered the serum to the town’s residents. “Damn fine dog,” Kaasen said of Balto.

Gunnar Kaasen And Balto In Central Park

Bettmann/Getty ImagesGunnar Kaasen, Balto, and the Balto statue in Central Park.

For Americans across the country who had followed the harrowing story on the radio, Balto quickly became a national hero. But not everyone saw Balto that way — including his breeder Leonhard Seppala.

Seppala had also participated in the 1925 Serum Run with another of his dogs, Togo. He thought the praise lauded on Balto was unfair because Balto had co-led the final leg with Fox and because Togo had covered more miles over rougher terrain. Togo ran 261 miles, whereas Balto ran just over 50 miles.

As such, Seppala believed that the praise for Balto was overblown, and he didn’t think that Balto deserved to have a statue erected in his honor in New York City’s Central Park. (Today, Togo also has a statue, albeit a smaller one, in the city’s Seward Park.)

“I hope I shall never be the man to take away credit from any dog or driver who participated in that run,” Seppala said in his memoir. “We all did our best. But when the country was roused to enthusiasm over the Serum Drive, I resented the statue to Balto, for if any dog deserved special mention it was Togo.”

It can be agreed today, however, that Balto, Togo, Fox, and all the other dogs who participated in the 1925 Serum Run played a heroic role in delivering life-saving medicine to a desperate town.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.