A tiny Yorkshire Terrier named Smoky may not have looked tough, but the dog was a seasoned war veteran by the end of World War II. Not only that, her owner credited her with saving his life and she became the first ever registered therapy dog after the war.
Smoky was first discovered in an abandoned foxhole in the New Guinea jungle by an American soldier in February 1944. The soldiers originally thought she belonged to a Japanese soldier, but she did not understand commands in either English or Japanese, leaving her origins unknown.
It was while back at camp that Corporal William (Bill) A. Wynne of Cleveland, Ohio, bought Smoky for around $6.00 so that the other soldier could continue to play poker.
It turned out to be a fortuitous purchase – one that Wynne credits with saving his life.
One time, she lead Wynne to safety when they were being bombarded by shellfire from a transport ship. The explosions hit the men around them, but Wynne survived uninjured thanks to Smoky’s warnings.
For two years, Smoky endured the extreme conditions of the jungle and combat, sleeping with Wynne in his tent and sharing his rations. She became a member of the 5th Air Force and was credited with twelve combat missions and awarded eight battle stars fore her bravery and life-saving work.
She learned numerous tricks that kept the soldiers entertained. Her intelligence and stamina served her well when she had to run telegraph wire through pipes for the ground crewmen building an airbase. She had to crawl through soil-filled, narrow pipes.
According to Wikipedia, the work was dangerous as Wynne told NBC-TV:
“I tied a string (tied to the wire) to Smoky’s collar and ran to the other end of the culvert . . . (Smoky) made a few steps in and then ran back. `Come, Smoky,’ I said sharply, and she started through again. When she was about 10 feet in, the string caught up and she looked over her shoulder as much as to say `what’s holding us up there?'”
“The string loosened from the snag and she came on again. By now the dust was rising from the shuffle of her paws as she crawled through the dirt and mold and I could no longer see her. I called and pleaded, not knowing for certain whether she was coming or not.”
“At last, about 20 feet away, I saw two little amber eyes and heard a faint whimpering sound . . . at 15 feet away, she broke into a run. We were so happy at Smoky’s success that we patted and praised her for a full five minutes.”
When she returned home, she became famous, performing tricks on television and touring veteran hospitals. She is considered the first therapy dog on record. Very big shoes for a small dog. She is also credited with the enduring popularity of the Yorkie breed in the United States. She died at age 14 in 1957 and is buried in Cleveland Metroparks.
Great Big Story recently released a video highlighting Smoky’s story, which includes part of Wynne’s interview about Smoky.