Dogs in Love

It’s Valentine’s Day, so let’s talk romance, or at least whatever the canine equivalent of that is. Because let’s be frank, both Railroad Jack and Owney were intact male dogs gallivanting around the country. As you might expect, this caused for some not-so-PG-rated Lady and the Tramp-like scenarios. And lucky for us, the historical records reveals some of these anecdotes (don’t worry, I’m not going to make this weird).

In 1892, Jack got himself beaten up by another dog in Salt Lake City, Utah. A helpful railroad friend affixed the following descriptive tag to his collar to explain what happened:

“Jack went out chippy-chasing last evening and became involved in a dispute with a bulldog over a blue-eyed Scotch terrier. He is badly injured and is going to San Francisco for repairs. Treat him kindly.”

The incident opened the door for the Omaha Daily Bee to further expand on the dog’s love life. According to their report, Jack had “found a mate” in Boston sometime in 1891. The couple traveled across the country, the lone traveler was no longer solo. That is, until they reached New Orleans. There, “Mrs. Jack” got in a fight and died of her injuries. A depressed Jack returned to Albany alone.

Owney had his own mates. The Boston Globe described him as “somewhat of a flirt” with “a canine lady-love” he frequently visited in Springfield, MA:

“There is apparently a strong attachment between these two dogs, and it is a pleasing as well as an amusing sight to see them trotting along a Springfield street side by side, casting furtive love glances at each other, and to all appearances happy as human lovers.”

Of course, we need to take these romanticized stories with a few grains of salt, but I think they’re interesting for a few reasons. There was a lot of emphasis on Jack and Owney being tough and getting into fights. These romantic narratives interestingly both support that and give a counterpoint. How many of their fights were over “chippies”? [And I won’t even get started here on the late 19th century gender politics being anthropomorphized here with the slut-shaming term “chippie” as used in the Jack anecdote. Note the female dog is the chippie, not the dog literally riding trains to girlfriends in cities across the country]. They also show a softer side to the dogs.

With reports like this, you’d expect that people would be claiming to have Railroad Jack and Owney puppies all over the place. However, I have only ever found I reference, and it is a rather suspect one. In 1908, the Harrisburg, PA press reported on Nixie, a supposed daughter of Owney, who was riding mail cars. While it’s not impossible, it seems unlikely. The reports were from 11 years after his death and nothing indicates that Nixie was old. Other details of the articles were incorrect, too. They referred to Owney as a her and claimed “she” had died in San Francisco. Were there actually Railroad Jack and Owney puppies? Probably. Have a terrier mutt at home? You might have a Jack or Owney descendant (many generations removed).

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