Felix Was Only A Dog ….. "Only" A Dog
A Historical Vignette
by Tom Parquette
Part One of Three
History tells us, with some specificity, that fire dogs first came on the fire service scene sometime in the 1830's. First as mascots and fire house pals, then later the true value of our canine buddies became more apparent. Today, we have specially trained and conditioned dogs who are specialized in arson investigation as well as search and rescue. These fine furry staff members are so well regarded nationally that many, if not most of our court systems will allow the behavior and training of the four legged squad member to be used as prosecutorial testimony in criminal trials. But it didn't start out that way.
That same history gives us many examples of unexplainable heroism on the part of these animals over the years. First, in the recorded beginning, firehouse dogs were just that. Only dogs. Usually mongrels shilling for some love and food until a kind hearted bunch of firefighters took them in. Later it took on a more useful proportion when the Dalmatian was introduced. The Dalmatians came to us from Europe where they were coach dogs as well as hunters. Early fire companies found them aggressive and useful, especially on alarm calls, in transit. There are many stories of the Dalmatians running with the horse drawn pumpers and engines and in fact, running right between the horses legs without fear. The Dalmatians would bark and carry on when needed and chase off anyone or any other dog which got in the path of the equipment. So, our spotted canine buddies got their reputation as "fire dog" and got that rep honorably as well. But not all houses could afford to acquire a Dalmatian in those days of meager pay. They just as often just 'adopted' some energetic pooch and passed some time with them.
In Chicago, for example, there was a survey done by an interested reporter for the Chicago Tribune which revealed that of the entire CFD system, 65% of the houses had at least one, often more, but at least one station dog. At one point, a CFD commander, (whom I will not name only in the interest of not naming the putz) decided that since a Dalmatian had taken to biting a citizen once, that all fire house dogs had to be muzzled and chained up at all times. More brilliant management coming forth. But his dictate only lasted shortly before an uprising in the ranks forced him to back off of the command. You see, this brilliant, unnamed moron should have remembered Felix. No, not Felix the Cat. Felix the Hero of Engine Company 25. And Felix was a hero!
Tomorrow: Felix Joins the Fire Service
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