The Stray Dog That Became The Most Decorated Animal In U.S. Military History

When World War I sparked a fighting frenzy around the globe, the United States Army needed soldiers for the front lines. A lot of the drafted young military men, however, didn’t know a battlefield from a backyard, but that wasn’t the case for one United States trooper… one with four legs!

The stray puppy wandered on to army training grounds and couldn’t help but watch the soldiers train. And though the boys in training at first saw him as little more than a mascot, they didn’t realize their lives would come to depend on the small pooch whose name would go down in history…

 Before diving headfirst into World War I, the United States Army didn’t want to send its men out to battle unprepared. So officials held three-month-long basic training camps across the nation to prepare the youth for combat.


Utilizing any space they could occupy, soldiers spent their days marching, exercising, filling their ranks, and learning warfare techniques. It was a grueling business. 

It was when the new recruits of the 102nd Infantry began their basic training in the squares of Yale University that they gained an admirer. He observed their routine from the sidelines and desperately wanted to be a part of it all.

It was a stray mutt who wandered around campus, hungry and homeless. The pit bull mix, thought to be just under a year old, went unnoticed by the college students, but he did not go unnoticed by the 102nd Infantry.

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The men began to play with the stray as a distraction from their bleak future. Day in and day out, the short and stocky mutt came around, so they gave him a name: Stubby!

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One man, in particular, grew very fond of Stubby. Private John Robert Conroy, a 25-year-old orphan, found a friend in the abandoned pooch. There was just one problem, though: soldiers were forbidden from having pets.

The ranking officers saw how Stubby boosted morale, so they let him stick around as a mascot. Stubby was fed scraps by the soldiers and was even allowed to go inside and drink from the toilets when he was thirsty.

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Stubby wanted to be with them all the time. When the soldiers jogged and marched in formation, Stubby was right there beside them.

Even more impressive, Stubby learned how to respond to bugle calls and drills. Unfortunately, the time came when training was over. It was time to go to war.

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Conroy couldn’t bear the thought of abandoning Stubby. He couldn’t leave for war without his best friend. He planned to go against Army orders and smuggle Stubby onto the USS Minnesota and across the Atlantic.

All of the privates vowed to keep Stubby a secret from the officers. Stubby would hide in coal bins, under military blankets, or even in Conroy’s coat. 

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The machinist on board even engraved dog tags for Stubby since he was “one of them.” Still, the reality was that Conroy couldn’t keep him a secret forever, and the vessel was nearing France.

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Stubby was secretly moved from the USS Minnesota to Conroy’s assigned base. He could conceal him for a little bit, but eventually, Conroy’s commanding officer discovered the little dog.

It was a serious risk, but he just couldn’t leave the pooch behind. He was in violation of army regulations, and Stubby was at risk of being let a stray.

Despite being in a lot of trouble, Conroy had an idea. As a last ditch effort, he showed his commanding officers just how special the dog was. Conroy said, “Present arms!” and Stubby threw up his paw as if to salute.

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The officers thought Stubby was a delight and agreed to let him stay, but Conroy had to keep Stubby with him at all times, and that meant putting him in the middle of the war. 

For years, France had succumbed to terrible and dangerous trench warfare. Even seasoned soldiers were dropping like flies — how would the dog survive?

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For eight grueling months, the soldiers engaged in combat surrounded by the harsh trench environment. Lucky for them, Stubby didn’t mind. The pooch actually chased away the rats that ate the soldier’s rations and carried diseases!

The fighting was under control until one day in February, 1918. The Americans were under attack as the Germans bombarded them for a month straight. Stubby wasn’t afraid though. He jumped into action alongside his military friends.

Stubby learned to detect incoming artillery quicker than human ears could. He barked and warned the soldiers to take cover. When it was time to enter “No Man’s Land,” Stubby jumped the barrier to find injured soldiers, able to tell the difference between American and German voices.

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As the fighting continued, tactics of warfare became more gruesome. Deadly mustard gas began filling the trenches, and gas masks were in short supply. It was then that Stubby’s lungs became damaged by the harsh chemicals.

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Stubby was evacuated to a field hospital. He was badly injured, but the doctors made his health a top priority. Stubby was a fighter and determined to return to his troop. Thankfully he made a full recovery.

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Conroy wanted to make sure the little dog was protected, so he made him his own gas mask. In true Stubby fashion, it only took one time for him to learn his lesson. Now, when a gas attack loomed, Stubby detected the odor immediately.

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Time and time again, Stubby proved he was a loyal member of their unit. Soldiers made him medals for his bravery and women from a liberated French village made him a leather coat to keep him warm.

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Being truly fearless, Stubby did something that earned him the honor of being the first dog inducted into the military — and as a sergeant no less!

One day, an undetected German spy was stalking the troops. Without hesitation, Stubby attacked, sinking his teeth into the German’s uniform. He wouldn’t let go until the spy was captured!

By the war’s end, Sergeant Stubby had more medals than he could count and earned more respect than anyone in his unit. He had survived a total of 17 battles and received many honors, including a Purple Heart. 

Sergeant Stubby became the U.S. Army Yankee Division’s mascot and “spokes-dog” for war bond sales. He was also honored and praised by three different U.S. presidents: Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Warren G. Harding.

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Eventually, Private Robert Conroy enrolled in law school at Georgetown University, where he and Sergeant Stubby lived a relaxed life.

When Conroy joined the football team, Sergeant Stubby was right there to rally the players and even took the field at half-time as the official football mascot.

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For many years, Stubby lived on as a symbol of freedom, hope, and patriotism. He was glorified by all who met him and thanked by those who were honored to fight alongside him. Sargent Stubby was the definition of a true American Hero.

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The bonds that military personnel forge during their services are unbreakable— anyone who worked with Stubby could tell you that. Yet, many of these close friends go their separate ways once they return home. A recent incident in Syria taught one British soldier this lesson the hard way.

After two tours in Afghanistan, Sean Laidlaw (left) figured he could handle anything Syria threw at him. But when the British Army deployed Sean and his comrades in the Royal Engineers in 2018, he leaped into a rescue attempt that he never saw coming.

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Sean was an expert at defusing and removing bombs. The Syrian Civil War had ravaged the country over the last several years, especially in the city of Raqqa. While many buildings crumbled around him, others still had undetonated explosives inside. 

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Even when Sean wasn’t on patrol, the army life was a grind. Exciting moments in the camp were few and far between, and troop morale suffered greatly. When Sean got a call to investigate a bombed-out school in February, he was almost grateful.

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As Sean patrolled the area, he couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. When he really focused, however, he thought he could hear a faint whimpering somewhere under the rubble. Sean followed the noise and started digging.

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It was a puppy! The canine, which appeared to be some kind of Asian shepherd mix, backed away from Sean as he reached out. Sean knew he had to do something to help the poor thing, but then a horrific sight made him recoil.

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A few other puppies surrounded the one Sean just found. Tragically, none of them had survived the collapse of the building. Now that the dog lost her family, Sean realized he couldn’t just leave her in the wreckage alone.

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The pup still wouldn’t go near any strangers, so Sean did the sensible thing. He pulled out some water and a couple of bites of food, and that was enough to draw the reluctant animal out from her hiding place.

Soon after, the orphaned canine let its guard down and allowed Sean to pick her up. There was an immediate bond. Sean decided to bring her back to base and introduce his new friend to all his squadmates. First, of course, she would need a name.

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Sean called her Barrie, and she soon became a fixture in the Royal Engineers, barely ever leaving Sean’s side. Once she got settled in, Barrie accomplished quite a bit of good as well. 

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The Army interacted with a number of Syrian children, many of whom lost their homes and family members. Amid the chaos and destruction, having a friendly dog roam around made a big difference in their lives.

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Sean also believes that having Barrie around gave him an escape from the stress and trauma of military life. Whereas some of his comrades developed mental illness or PTSD, Sean at least had an outlet and companion. 

Incredibly grateful to have such a valuable friend, Sean said: “I feel like it may come across that I saved Barrie’s life, but I feel like she saved mine.” They got so close that Sean could no longer imagine being apart from Barrie.

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Barrie became such a big member of the team that Sean decided to make it official and sewed together a custom bomb squad vest for Barrie. Aside from being a big fashion statement, the vest kept her protected from danger. However, it turned out that her biggest threat was right around the corner.

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In autumn of 2018, Sean received word that his stint in Syria was almost over. He was going home — but only with one ticket. What would happen to Barrie once he left? He didn’t know if he would ever see his dog again, or even if she would still have a home at the Army base.

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Sean’s comrades celebrated the entire trip back to the United Kingdom, but Barrie weighed heavily on his mind. Then, an idea popped into his head. He remembered hearing about a charity called War Paws that helped reconnect veterans with their military dogs.

War Paws workers seemed confident they could help Sean, but there were no guarantees. They instructed him to go to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris to await the arrival of a military plane. He waited nervously, hoping Barrie would be one of the passengers getting off.

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As the airline staff rolled out a dog crate, Sean recognized a familiar face peering through the door. Barrie made it to Europe after all! Holding back tears of joy, Sean reached out to hand her a gift.

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He got Barrie a new and improved vest! She took a look in the airport mirror to size up her new duds — and her new surroundings. The streets of Raqqa, Syria, were all Barrie had ever known, so Sean hoped she would adjust to British life easily enough.

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With Barrie back in his arms, Sean returned home to Hornchurch, Essex. She settled in immediately — a far cry from the scared puppy that wouldn’t come out of the ruined school. Thanks to a stable home and steady diet, Barrie grew like a weed too!

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A full-grown dog, Barrie continued to live happily with Sean. After going through so much together, there’s no doubt that this pair would never let anything split them apart ever again.

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