Dorsey the Mail Dog

“Let us go back to California,” said Mr. Bush, “and I’ll tell you about a dog in that state that is a regular mail-carrier. His name is Dorsey, and he carries the mail between Calico and Bismarck in San Bernardino county. His official wages are small, and through the proper authorities he has made application to have them increased. At present he gets two beefsteaks a week. He wants his salary raised to seven steaks a week; his constituents have signed a petition to that effect, and the dog looks anxiously forward to the day when the Postmaster-General shall grant his appeal.

“Before Dorsey was appointed regular mail-carrier between Calico and Bismarck, his reputation was not the best. He was said to be lazy and would rather loaf away the summer days in a shady spot than work for a living. He is a black and white collie with sharp nose, bright, quick eyes, and the usual shaggy coat. The way he came to be installed as a government employe was this: The postmaster at Calico had a brother in the mines at Bismarck to whom he wanted to send word one day. The place was three miles up the mountain, along a bare, stony road, burning with heat. It was a hot, toilsome tramp, and no one in the village offered to go. So the postmaster thought he would send Dorsey, just to see how it would work. The letter was written and tied around the dog’s neck, his head was pointed up the Bismarck road and he was told to ‘git out fur Bismarck.’ He started, ran a few rods and stopped. But a shower of stones started him again, and that was the last seen of him in Calico that day.
“The next day he returned from Bismarck with an answering letter tied around his neck. He had been well treated at the mining camp, was fed well and petted on his return, and seemed very proud of his achievement. After this, other letters were sent in the same way, and by-and-by the miners asked that all their mail be sent up by the dog route. There were more than he could carry, so a little mail bag with brass trimmings was purchased and fitted to Dorsey’s back. The bag is fastened by two straps, one around his chest and the other around his fore-legs. When the bag was first strapped on his back a grand ceremony was held by the miners and the postmaster, and Dorsey was formally and officially installed as carrier with a salary of two beefsteaks a week, and promise of increased pay if he behaved himself. Now, residents of San Bernardino county have grown to look upon the dog as a regular institution quite in the ordinary run of affairs.

“Dorsey knows when the stage that brings the mail is due, and on those occasions he sticks closely to the post-office. When the letters and papers have been sorted out the postmaster says, ‘Dorsey, the mail is ready,’ and the dog stands soberly to have the bag strapped on. Then, with a sharp bark of farewell, he trots over the hills on a little trail that he has worn himself. If he meets a stranger he makes a wide detour to avoid him, and when other dogs try to be friendly he gravely declines and goes on his way. He will not run any risk of losing the mail. Arriving at Bismarck he stops at six or seven of the principal houses in town, and standing at the front door barks until some one comes out, examines the mail and takes what belongs to him. Then Dorsey trots on to the next house and so on throughout his route. Only a few known friends are permitted by him to open the bag. Then at night the miners give him a big supper and the next day he starts back for his office at Calico with letters bound for the post-office.

“Dorsey has been photographed repeatedly,” continued Mr. Bush.” The miners who live in the dog’s district feel so kindly toward the novel carrier that no cabin is considered complete without a picture of their pet hung in the most conspicuous place. Once a month or so, whenever a traveling photographer strikes the town, Dorsey has to submit to be photographed. He has grown to like the process now, and seems to understand what it is all about. Whenever one of these traveling artists appears, the dog is the first to scent him out and to pilot him to the country store that serves as post-office. Here he waits to have his mail-bag strapped on, and, when all is properly adjusted, he poses in full uniform as patiently as a society actress the day before her debut. The New York World and Harper’s Young People have published portraits of Dorsey and given sketches of his life, and think there’s no doubt of the truth of the story I’ve told you about this remarkable dog.”

Excerpted from Dog stories and dog lore By Thomas Wallace Knox – 1887

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