2014-06-18 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

When you think “war dog,” a German Shepherd or Doberman Pinscher probably comes to mind. However, one of the most famous hero dogs of World War II was a four-pound, seveninch tall Yorkshire Terrier who was discovered when she popped her head out of a foxhole in New Guinea.

“Smoky” the tiny Yorkie became a wartime sensation, flying along on a dozen combat missions, surviving more than 150 air raids and entertaining the troops. She is also credited with being the first therapy dog on record and bringing renewed interest to her breed. That’s just the beginning of her multi-talents and bravery, all realized because she was an exceptional, tiny dynamo who wound up in the best of hands.

In February 1944, an adult Yorkie was found by an American soldier in an abandoned foxhole in Papua, New Guinea. Another GI shaved her silky coat because he thought she was too hot. The soldiers thought she belonged to the Japanese but after bringing her to a prisoner of war camp they found out she didn’t understand commands in Japanese or English.


Smoky” in a GI helmet during World War II Smoky” in a GI helmet during World War II Soon after, Corporal William A. Wynne of Cleveland, Ohio, serving with the Army Air Corps 26th Photo Recon Squad, bought her from the finder for two Australian pounds ($6.44 at the time), the amount needed so the seller could return to his poker game. Wynne had been around dogs all his life and was familiar with obedience training. Now 92, Wynne eventually taught Smoky over 200 commands and chronicled his life with this amazing peewee pup in his memoir titled Yorkie Doodle Dandy, available at amazon.com.

The toy-size Terrier fit in his helmet and would ride in his knapsack into battle. For almost two years, Smoky endured heat, hell and humidity in the South Pacific jungles. She weathered a typhoon in Okinawa and ran on coral rocks without injuring her paw pads. She shared Wynne’s tent and C-rations. Smoky was never sick despite the lack of a balanced diet and medical care given to the official military dogs.

Not long after adopting Smoky, Wynne was hospitalized with dengue fever. After a couple of days, Wynne’s friends brought Smoky to see him, and one nurse, impressed by the tiny dog, asked if she could bring her to visit with other patients who had been wounded in the Biak Island invasion. Smoky slept with Wynne on his bed at night, and the nurses would take her along on patient rounds during the day. She was a big hit, and continued her therapy dog work for the next 12 years, before there was such a term as “therapy dog.” It just so happens that Dr. Charles Mayo of the renowned Mayo Clinic was the commanding medical officer who let Smoky sleep in the hospital bed with Wynne and travel the wards with the nurses.

Wynne noticed the powerful effect Smoky had on the patient and, once discharged, began broadening her repertoire to such varied stunts as playing dead and parachute landings on a blanket. Her ultimate trick was spelling her name out of letters, no matter how they were placed. The letters were made from cardboard boxes. In 1944, Yank Down Under magazine named Smoky the “Champion Mascot in the Southwest Pacific Area” over 400 other photo entries.

One of Smoky’s most famous exploits was at a crucial airstrip in the Philippine Island of Luzon. The dog pulled a telegraph wire through a narrow 70-foot pipe, saving three days’ digging and construction time and keeping workers and engineers safe from enemy fire. Wynne tied a string to the wire, attached it to the Yorkie’s collar and then coaxed her to run through the pipe.

Smoky also used her sharp sense of hearing to warn of incoming artillery shells. Wynne claims Smoky saved his life while they were on a transport ship. As the ship deck was booming and vibrating from antiaircraft gunnery, Smoky alerted Wynne to duck the fire that hit eight men standing next to them.

Upon their return after the war, Wynne and Smoky were featured on the cover of the Cleveland Press. Smoky soon became nationally known. Yorkies regained popularity. For the next 10 years, the duo traveled to Hollywood and around the world, performing demos of Smoky’s remarkable skills, which included walking a tightrope while blindfolded. Smoky appeared in 42 live-television shows without ever repeating a trick. Smoky and Wynne were also popular visitors at veterans’ hospitals. On Feb. 21, 1957, “Corporal” Smoky died at the approximate age of 14. The Wynne family buried Smoky in a World War II ammo box at Cleveland Metroparks in Lakewood, Ohio.

Nearly 50 years later, on Veterans Day, 2005, a bronze life-size sculpture of Smoky sitting in a GI helmet atop a two-ton blue granite base was unveiled there. It is placed above Smoky’s grave. There are five other memorials honoring Smoky throughout the US including one at the AKC Museum of the Dog in St. Louis.

Paw Note: Smoky’s brilliant bio is reminiscent of many other dogs who would never have realized their pooch potential if they had not crossed paths with the right person. What if the finder had kept Smoky or handed her to another soldier? The world would never have known this hero dog.

William A. Wynne made the Smoky miracle happen which reminds me of Jasmine in “Pets” last week who is going to be a therapy Afghan at age eight; or the amazing purebreds and mixes that were discarded or surrendered to shelters because they had too much energy, only to excel later in agility or other performance sports. How many dog diamonds in the rough are sitting in shelters now waiting for the right person to notice them?

For Adoption at Babylon Animal Shelter (631- 643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: Brindle girl “Stella” 13-54 came into the shelter a year and a half ago as an emaciated stray. She gained seven pounds the first week. She was restored to health long ago, but still waits for someone to see her capabilities. “Stella” plays with certain dog pals at the shelter.

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