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Dogs and Cats, Heroes of Wars - Was ‘Sergeant Stubby' Really a Pit Bull?


ANIMAL WATCH-Dogs are the most widely lauded animal war heroes, risking their lives to save one soldier, or an entire platoon.

But quietly and dutifully cats have also played an important role in combat situations throughout history, with little notice and even less credit.  

Veteran's Day is a chance to recognize and cherish the contributions of both felines and canines, of every breed, to the history of the U.S. and to revere all animals who assist and protect soldiers engaged in active combat or just guarding peace everywhere -- during the saddest and most dangerous moments of their lives. 

It is also a chance to honor "Sgt. Stubby" among the heroes and consider an opinion that he was a Boston Terrier, not a Pit Bull. 


For over 2500 years, cats played a role in warfare throughout the world -- used during military actions dating back to the reign of Cambyses II, king of Persia, who conquered Egypt in 525 BC. The fate of the cats was less than humane. "In some accounts, he and his soldiers captured several cats and used them as shields in their attack on the city of Pelusium," or they just turned them loose as a distraction on the battlefield, according to Military History.)  

"How Cats Were Used in Warfare: Feline Soldiers and Saviors," tells us that, "Sevastopol Tom (or Cremian Tom). . .was an accidental hero." And he appears to be the first unofficial  military cat. In 1854, when British and French troops occupied the Russian port town of Sevastopol, Tom led the famished troops to caches of food beneath the rubble, which had been hidden all along the waterfront by the Russian defenders. Tom was adopted as a mascot by the grateful soldiers and was taken along to England when the troops were called back." 

In a charming and very educational post, "The Brave Cats of War," filled with photos of soldiers and military felines. author/historian Pauline Connelly takes us on a heartwarming photo tour of cats in military camps and interacting with soldiers during WW1. 

Connelly explains that in 1919, a publication, “Jon O' London's Weekly" first told about British cats gathered from the streets and highways (apparently today's 'feral' cats) and unwanted cats solicited in advertisements, which were to be distributed to soldiers on the front lines during World War 1 to detect gas in the trenches -- commenting that she hoped they did not meet the deadly fate of canaries in coal mines. 

"As a sideline to their active military service, the furry troops kept down the rat population and provided companionship to the men," Connelly adds. 


In World War I, the British army employed over 500,000 cats as ratters and mobile gas detectors, according to Military History. "Because the cats were so much smaller than soldiers, they would feel the effects of the gas faster, giving the soldiers time to react." 

By World War II, cats (along with dogs) were definitely one of the more common animals used as military mascots and adopted as pets, but they often played a useful role as well," writes Toni M. Kiser of the National WWII Museum.  

Cats kept down rodent populations and even some insect populations on posts, around mess or dining halls, and often aboard ships.” Not only did these cats serve as companions, they also helped to warn of bombs about to drop. 

Prior to sniffer dogs, cats were used for their own built-in bomb detectors. "Whether they are simply attuned to changes in atmospheric pressure or they have a sixth sense, some cats are particularly good at knowing when a bomb is about to hit," Kiser tells us. 

Among the most famous cats of WW2 was "Bomber," who could distinguish sounds made by RAF and German aircraft. When Bomber headed for shelter, his family followed, making him a feline early warning system. 

Today most military cats still play an important part in keeping morale high among troops everywhere.  

See photos and profiles of Famous War Cats here. 


Some twenty thousand dogs served the U.S. Army, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps, during World War II, according to Buddies: Soldiers and Animals in World War II. 

Dogs performed such services as guarding posts and supplies, carrying messages, and rescuing downed pilots. Dogs were scouts, leading troops through enemy territory, exposing ambushes and saving the lives of platoons of men in combat. War dogs have proven their intelligence, courage, and steadfast loyalty time and time again. 

Many photographs in the National Archives document the heroic exploits -- and the sacrifice -- of America's animal warriors. 

The Veterans Site--Greater Good, tells the full stories of "6 Historic Military Dogs Who Gave Everything For Their Country." Following is an abbreviated description of three of these brave canine heroes.  

SALLIE - Civil War 

Sallie was the mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and served with the soldiers on the front lines of many battles. She was a Staffordshire Terrier. During the Battle of Gettysburg, she became separated from her regiment but was found three days later on the battlefield, still guarding wounded and dead soldiers. She was later killed in action. 

CHIPS – World War II 

Chips was a German Shepherd /Collie/Husky and was the "most decorated military dog of World War II." He was part of the Dogs for Defense program initiated after the attack on Pearl Harbor and served in General Patton’s Seventh Army in Germany, Italy, Sicily, France, and North Africa. When Chips and his fellow troops became pinned down by machine gun fire from a pillbox in Sicily, Chips singlehandedly charged into the pillbox and captured all four soldiers inside. Later that night, Chips heard enemy soldiers approaching for an ambush, and woke and alerted the sleeping soldiers, saving their lives. 

NEMO – Vietnam War 

Nemo, a German Shepherd, served with the Air Force in the Vietnam War. While on guard duty one night with his handler, Airman Robert Throneburg, Nemo sensed enemy soldiers approaching and alerted Throneburg. 

"Both Nemo and his handler were shot during the fight with the Viet Cong guerillas, Throneburg in the chest and Nemo in the nose and eye. Despite the gunshot wound, Nemo helped keep the attackers at bay long enough for Throneburg to radio for help. When Throneburg fell unconscious from his wounds, Nemo guarded his wounded handler from attacking forces until help arrived. . . Both recovered from their injuries. Throneburg received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal with Valor and Nemo was given a permanent kennel to retire." 

Nemo was one of the first dogs allowed to return to the United States after serving overseas since World War II, according to the Veteran's Site.  

(Read the entire stories of all six dogs here.) In Meet the Real Sergeant Stubby, historian and author Ann Bausum maintains she is providing  "the true story about this irresistible dog," and provides "facts--not fancy." 

Among these are: 

"Stubby was not a sergeant in the U.S. Army. Stubby was never addressed with a military rank during his lifetime. People just called him Stubby." She says, "Stubby seems to have been ‘promoted’ by his fans on the Internet." 

"Stubby was not a pit bull. The Internet seems to have spawned this rumor. . .but nothing in the historical record supports the suggestion," she writes. 

She points out that he was a stray dog. But she writes "evidence suggests that he was related to early Boston terriers.” This is in agreement with many published accounts of Stubby's career and life.

Bausum provides a balanced and well-documented discussion of these and other legends about Stubby, but does not diminish his value and credits Private J. Robert Conroy, who met Stubby in 1917 while Conroy trained with other members of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, for being Stubby's lifelong best friend. Stubby became an official mascot for Conroy's company and served alongside the troops in France. 


By WWII the United States had enlisted thousands of animals. Other animals, including horses, mules and pigeons--who never had a name--were enlisted officially by the U.S. military to aid troops, and have provided vital support to soldiers in remote and desolate locations and in battles all over the world.  

They, along with the dog and cat heroes whose stories have been told, all deserve a moment of silent appreciation from those who treasure our freedom on Veterans' Day.


(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.