These are Dog Days at the US Post Office

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August 01, 2011

Have you heard of mail dogs?

Not male dogs, as in the masculine half of the species. Dogs that actually carried letters and packages in the days of the Old American West. And pooches that tagged along with mail carriers so loyally that they became the stuff of legend.

A scruffy mixed terrier named Owney, for instance. He just got his own U.S. Postal Service stamp - one of the so-called "forever stamps" that will be good for first-class postage no matter how high rates go in the future.

Owney was a pal of the clerks at the Albany, New York, post office in the late 1800s. He even spent the night there and would tag along when the clerks went to the railway station to pick up incoming mail pouches.

Before long, he was catching rides in the mail-sorting cars aboard the trains and soon was touring the entire country by rail - a sort of canine hobo, given a lifetime pass by the entire postal service. He even traveled the world on mail-carrying steamships.

After Owney's death, his body was preserved. In fact, it has recently been fixed up a bit and is now the favorite attraction at the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

The late postal pal is displayed there along with several of the dog tags and other tokens given to him by his human buddies over the years.

That's not just because mail clerks liked the little mutt. He was also a good-luck charm. Busy mail trains had their share of accidents. But never once did a train derail with Owney aboard.

So Owney remains an enduring postal mascot.

So much so that, later this month, the Postal Service will launch an interactive e-book about him and an app for handheld devices in which a three-dimensional Owney lookalike jumps and barks.

He doesn't sort the mail, though, so far as we know.