Stubby's story: All about the iconic World War I 'war dog' ... and star of an upcoming animated film

Courtesy photo via Air Force

War hero. Friend to presidents, generals and grunts alike. Pioneer in his field, respected by military and academic institutions, visited by millions of people a year, subject of a variety of internet-fueled legends and soon to be the subject of a major motion picture.


Not bad for a dog. Especially one that’s been dead for more than 90 years.

The story of Stubby, commonly referred to as Sgt. Stubby, is one of great service, trust and loyalty. It began in Connecticut, crossed the Atlantic into the battles of World War I, and returned home to a hero’s welcome. After a lifetime of honors at the side of his owner, James Robert Conroy, Stubby died in 1926, received a 15-paragraph obituary in the New York Times, and would eventually become part of the Smithsonian’s collection— his coat, laid over a cast, is on display at the National Museum of American History.

However, the details that make up the stuff of legend — the animated “Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero,” is set to hit theaters in April — are a bit hazy. Chief among them: The dog’s rank.

“I’m quite convinced that he was promoted by the internet,” said Ann Bausum, who has written two books about Stubby. “It sounds so good, we want it to be true … and one of these reasons I think this isn’t true is that there is not a single contemporary story from his lifetime, and I looked at hundreds of newspaper articles of Stubby, there is not a single one that calls him ‘Sgt. Stubby.’”

Part of the confusion may come from Stubby’s vest, also on display at the Smithsonian, which includes a patch with three chevrons. While they may represent a sergeant’s rank today, they were used in World War I to identify soldiers — and, apparently, dogs — with overseas service.

“He was just ‘Stubby,’” Bausum said. “And that was good enough for him.”


Stubby was no ordinary stray dog, but that’s how he started out: One day he happened to show up at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where soldiers were training prior to deploying for France during World War I.

He came in with his stubby little tail and won the hearts of the men training there — he was taken along for the deployment, though the exact details on how Stubby made it to France aren’t certain. It’s said that then-Pvt. Conroy stowed him away on the soldiers’ ship, and when found, Stubby saluted the commander. That gesture earned him passage for the rest of the journey.

In France, Stubby was said to have saved the entire division by finding and detaining a German spy. His New York Times obituary breathlessly relays the tale, saying the dog “stole out of the trenches and recognized — a German.”

“Attempts by the German to deceive the dog were futile,” the obituary notes.

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