A Four-Legged WWII Veteran – How the Very First Therapy Dog Got the Job

In honor of Veteran’s Day, guest blogger, Terre J. Scott sent me this wonderful article she wrote just for us:

Smoky (c. 1943 – 21 February 1957), Yorkshire Terrier and famous war dog who served in World War II. Photograph from "Yank" magazine

Smoky (c. 1943 – 21 February 1957), Yorkshire Terrier and famous war dog who served in World War II. Photograph from “Yank” magazine

It may seem as though using dogs for therapy has been around since the beginning of time, but in reality the idea of a therapy dog began during World War II when a soldier literally stumbled upon an adorable little Yorkie in an abandoned fox hole. Little did this small dog know what a huge impact she would have on helping soldiers to cope and to heal from battle wounds. Smoky was the first hospital therapy dog, and she came with high credentials approved by Dr. Charles Mayo of the Mayo Clinic.

In 1944, a small Yorkshire Terrier full-grown dog was found by a soldier in an abandoned fox hole in a jungle of New Guinea. When American soldier William Wynne saw the dog, he knew he had to have it and bought the dog from the other soldier.  He named the dog Smoky for what amounted to about $6 US currency. Smoky served alongside Wynne in the South Pacific, flying reconnaissance missions, digging through culverts to lay wire, and even parachuting. Wynne also credits her for saving his life by guiding Wynne to duck the fire of anti-aircraft that hit the other men standing nearby, which earned her the name, “Angel from the Foxhole”.

During the not-so-intense moments of war, Wynne taught Smoky to do tricks. It was these tricks that paved the way for becoming a therapy dog. Smoky entertained in war hospitals by performing these tricks. But, it wasn’t until Wynne became ill that the idea of a true therapy dog was born. Wynne tells of the experience himself in a book he wrote post-wartime where Smoky is featured, Yorkie Doodle Dandy: Or, the Other Woman Was a Real Dog. The book tells of the detailed stories during wartime and post-war entertaining.

In July 1944, Wynne developed jungle fever that put him flat on his back in the hospital. During his stay, his war buddies thought it would be a good idea to allow Smoky to sleep on the bed next to Wynne. The attending commanding officer, Dr. Charles Mayo, gave the O.K. not only for the dog to sleep on Wynne’s hospital bed but also to accompany nurses on rounds to see and cheer the incoming wounded from the battlefield. Smoky continued to work as a therapy dog for 12 years during World War II and beyond. After the war, he and Wynne made appearances for troops and civilians performing tricks she had learned from Wynne during moments when the war was less demanding.

While this wartime hero dog made way for hospital therapy dogs today, perhaps one of her most impressive feats are all of the tricks she learned without the reward of doggie treats. Wynne fed and trained Smoky during any downtime that the war allowed, so the two were sharing only their c-rations with nothing left over for offering treats.


National War Dog Memorial

National War Dog Memorial




Smoky Photo with attribution – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoky_(dog)#/media/File:Smoky_(dog)_in_helmet.jpg


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4 Responses to A Four-Legged WWII Veteran – How the Very First Therapy Dog Got the Job

  1. Mary E. Trimble November 11, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

    I’ve always had a fondness for war dogs, but I usually think of them as big, strapping dogs. But a Yorkie! This is a wonderful story, Patricia. Thank you for sharing it on this important day we set aside for veterans–the 4-legged as well as the 2-legged.

  2. Norman W Wilson November 11, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

    A great story and a wonderful reminder of the devotion we human beings receive from our animal beings.

  3. Ann Barbas November 11, 2015 at 4:19 pm #

    God bless all of the therapy dogs.

  4. Linda Ablin November 12, 2015 at 12:08 am #

    Wonderful story, however like ‘Mary’ I also expected a large strapping (bury your face in his fur) type of dog. I have learned over the years, it’s never the size of the dog in the fight, but rather the size of the fight in the dog.
    keep up the good work.

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