The year 1925 began with very little to celebrate in Nome, Alaska, where a diphtheria epidemic raged. Life-saving serum was available in Anchorage, but there was no simple way to deliver it to the isolated village, almost 1,000 miles away. Dog sleds were the only solution, and more than 150 animals and their drivers endured blizzards, 40-below temperatures and vicious wind chills during their journey. The Siberian husky Balto led the first team to arrive in Nome carrying the precious medicine; later that year his achievement was recognized with a monument in New York’s Central Park. The sled dogs’ heroic performance is honored each year with Alaska’s annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which is run on some of the same trails.
For hundreds of years, the sturdy dogs raised by the monks at Great St. Bernard Hospice in Switzerland assisted countless travelers making their way through the snowy St. Bernard Pass in the Western Alps. Between about 1670 and 1897, the dogs, which came to be known as St. Bernards, were credited with saving more than 2,000 lives. One animal in particular, Barry, did more than his share, saving more than 40 lives between 1800 and 1812. To this day, visitors to the Natural History Museum in Berne can see Barry’s remains on exhibit.
St. Bernard dogs may be known for saving lives, but they’re also pretty good at generating laughs and warming hearts. Case in point: Beethoven, the star — and namesake — of a series of much-loved movies. The first one, 1992’s “Beethoven,” earned a spot on several lists of all-time best dog movies, including Us Weekly and USA Today. The sequel, “Beethoven’s 2nd”, was also a popular and financial success ($118-plus million, compared with the original’s $147-plus million); the two big-screen hits were followed by several made-for-video features.
John Travolta has been in some seriously popular films. Think “Pulp Fiction,” the ground-breaking, bucks-raking indie film that grossed more than $200 million and earned him a second Oscar nomination (Travolta’s first was for his star turn in the fan favorite “Saturday Night Fever”). Travolta extended his cinematic winning streak into the 21st century by lending his voice to the top-grossing dog film of all time: “Bolt,” a sweet road movie that pulled in $310 million.
Buddy, the first seeing eye dog, came to the U.S. in 1928. He had been trained in Switzerland by Dorothy Harrison Eustis for Morris Frank, a young blind man. Buddy demonstrated his skills in front of a crowd of news reporters by safely guiding Frank across busy Manhattan intersections. Frank founded the Seeing Eye Guide Dog School in 1929. Celebrating its 90th anniversary in January 2019, the school has provided guide dogs for more than 17,000 people who are blind or visually impaired. Astonishingly, tuition rates have not changed since the 1930s: $150 for the first dog, $50 for each subsequent dog, and just $1 for veterans of the military.