Stubby the War Dog

  • When a commanding officer addressed a member of the 102nd Infantry, the soldier snapped to attention, raising his right hand in salute. The smallest member of the force raised his right paw. With a furry coat and four legs, Stubby the dog did not look like the other soldiers, but he took his duty just as seriously.

    Adopted as the mascot of a regiment of World War I soldiers, Stubby became their comrade-in-arms. In the course of his remarkable life Stubby served on 17 battlefronts, suffered wounds from crossfire, became a national celebrity, met three Presidents, and found a best friend in American soldier J. Robert Conroy.

    The friendship that crossed battlefields, oceans, and even species now transcends history. Stubby's charm works its magic on modern audiences, who can't help but fall for his good humor and bravery. Suspenseful and heart-stopping, Stubby the War Dog is a from-the-trenches account of World War I, just in time for the centennial, and shows the hardships faced by ordinary soldiers—including poison gas, tanks, enemy spies, machine-gun fire, disease, rats, and harsh weather.

    Award-winning author Ann Bausum sifts through fact and fable to reveal the true story of Stubby, the war dog, and his inseparable companion, soldier J. Robert Conroy. Conroy's own grandson Curtis Deane writes a foreword with memories of a childhood shaped by the legacy of his grandfather's faithful dog.

  • One of the best parts about researching a book is that I don't know what I'm going to find. Each project is like a mystery, and I have the fun of solving it. Or, sometimes, each project feels like a jigsaw puzzle, except without a known picture. Slowly I uncover the facts, and the full picture comes into view. Every research journey has its surprises—I learn new facts every day—but with Stubby I enjoyed a wealth of wonderful discoveries, and each one made the solving of that jigsaw puzzle that much more fun.

    Stubby can be seen today at the ''Price of Freedom'' exhibit in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

    My favorite surprise by far was the discovery of J. Robert Conroy's descendants. When I began researching Stubby's history at the Smithsonian, where he resides, I asked museum curators what they could tell me about Conroy, the soldier who became Stubby's best friend during World War I and beyond. The answer, basically, was nothing. The museum had lost track of Conroy after he'd donated Stubby and his belongings to the museum in 1956, and they'd barely learned anything about him even then. Other people had tried to trace him, I was told, but with no luck.

    Research is not a particularly linear process. True, I may read a reference book from front to back, but the research threads I pick up in one source tend to fan out like rays to countless others. By the time I'm done, I haven't so much connected the dots; I've more nearly created a web of facts. The stronger that web—the more connections and overlap that I uncover—the better I understand the history.

    Those web-like rays inevitably lead me to unexpected places. One day a package of clippings arrived in my mailbox, as promised, from a librarian in New Britain, Connecticut. I'd tracked down the librarian by contacting the New Britain Public Library, and I'd contacted the library because New Britain was the city where J. Robert Conroy had grown up. I wasn't the first person to inquire at the library about Stubby, and Patricia Watson kindly sent me her usual packet of clippings. One of those articles had been published in the 1990s and featured a quote from a man named Curtis Deane, who was cited as being the grandson of J. Robert Conroy.

    Descendants of J. Robert Conroy joined me (standing) and publishing staff members at the National Geographic headquarters for a review of the design for Stubby the War Dog.

    This was news. Up until that time, I'd found no references whatsoever to Conroy having any descendants. Now I'd found one, or at least found out about one. Fortunately, Curtis Deane hadn't moved since he'd been quoted in that story almost two decades ago (a minor miracle, really, given how mobile people are these days). Before too long, I had been able to track down a phone number for him, and it actually worked. ''Can I call you back?'' he asked, after confirming that, yes, he really was the grandson of J. Robert Conroy. He was digging out from three feet of snow, he explained, and he had been without power until that hour. ''Sure,'' I said, having learned that patience is an important part of the research and writing process.

    True to his word, Curt Deane called me back the next day. We talked for 45 minutes and agreed to speak again soon. A number of conversations followed, and before long we'd made plans to meet in person. One thing led to another; the threads for that web stretched farther and grew thicker. Eventually Curt Deane introduced me to other family members, and I met more descendants of the soldier whose history I had set out to find. As we became better acquainted and I heard stories about the man these people had known as Grandfather Bob, Stubby's best friend became as real to me as the dog that he had helped make famous. Their story became richer, and so did my ability to share it with readers. Best of all, I had made new friends—one more surprise, one more bonus, during the adventure of researching a book.

  • Here are some suggested classroom activities that could be used in conjunction with reading and learning about Stubby.

    Writing exercises—Use these activities to explore some of the styles of writing people used to share Stubby's story.

    •    Poetry: During the spring of 1918, Stubby rescued Sgt. John J. Curtin from possible harm by awakening the sleeping soldier during an attack of poisonous gas. The grateful sergeant later wrote a tribute poem to honor Stubby. Using Curtin's style or other poetic forms, write a poetic tribute to a favorite pet or hero. Click here to download Curtin's full poem.

    •    Journalism—hyperbole, and humor: During Stubby's lifetime, news reporters often employed hyperbole (exaggeration) and humor in their stories about the famous military mascot. Use these techniques to write a news article about a real or imagined pet. For examples from Stubby's lifetime, see Stubby the War Dog (page 50) and Sergeant Stubby (pages 146-147, 164, and 167-168).

    •    Obituaries and tributes: Plenty of journalists joined J. Robert Conroy in writing tributes to Stubby after he died. Use this form of writing to compose a tribute about someone (or some animal) of personal importance to you. For examples about Stubby, see Stubby the War Dog (pages 54-55) and Sergeant Stubby (page 202). An obituary is a more formal summary of someone's life that is published after the person's death. Alternatively, write an obituary about someone you know who has died.

    •    Point of view: In his history about Stubby, Conroy tells the story of being hospitalized with the Spanish flu after the war, but he shares the events from the dog's point of view, not his own. Study the text (see Stubby the War Dog, pages 42-43, or Sergeant Stubby, page 137), then try to write the story from Robert Conroy's perspective instead. Next recall one of your own adventures, and try to write it two ways—as you remember it (using your point of view) and from the point of view of a human or animal who was there, too.

    Design projects—Using Stubby's jacket and the medals he earned with J. Robert Conroy as inspiration, try your hand at designing similar items. For related photos and information, see Stubby the War Dog (pages 42-43) and Sergeant Stubby (pages 211-214).

    •    Commemorative medal: Design your own medal to commemorate an historic event, either from your community or somewhere else.

    •    Stubby's jacket: If you could design clothing for Stubby, what style would you choose (for example, military, athletic, or casual), and what would it look like?

  • Stubby the War Dog and his Favorite Doughboy

    Available as a program for children, teens, or adults
    By Ann Bausum

    A stray dog named Stubby stole the heart of a nation during his lifetime and is charming new generations through the twin titles Stubby the War Dog and Sergeant Stubby. Readers of all ages fall in love with this four-footed participant in World War I.

    Using numerous unpublished images, this presentation pays homage to Stubby's enduring friendship with fellow doughboy soldier Robert Conroy and documents how Conroy helped his best friend become one of the most celebrated war dogs of all time. Woven into the program is the equally compelling story of how fortuitous twists of fate—rivaling those of Stubby himself—led the author to the descendants of Robert Conroy and helped rekindle Stubby's fame.

    Length: 45 minutes for program, 10-15 minutes for questions

    Technical requirements: LCD projector and projection screen

    Audience feedback on this program:

    "Fantastic presentation. Well-organized and thought out. Delivery lively, informative, accessible for all ages. The kind of scholarship is astounding."
    —Public librarian, Missouri

    "Your program was wonderful!...What a great story that all ages can relate to and learn. I like that you framed the story of Stubby with information about World War I and what warfare was like at that time. Whether someone enjoys history or a great dog's story, this was a fine presentation."
    —Public librarian, Wisconsin

    "Stubby was terrific! A program that parents and children could share. We had a wide range of ages and all were engaged and interested!"
    —Middle school librarian, literacy night event, Wisconsin

  • "The popularity of tales about dogs in war stems from the inherent poignancy—sweet, loyal, sad-eyed canines entered into the mad chaos of man-made destruction. But enter they occasionally do, and none more famously than Stubby....Bausum uses Stubby as a conduit to talk about WWI....The speedy story is surrounded by evocative period photos, including plenty of the goofy-faced Stubby....A triumph on three fronts: educational, emotional, and inspirational."
    Booklist, starred review
    April 15, 2014

    "....Dogs have had a special place beside their human companions throughout history, and Stubby is no different.....The dog lived the life of any soldier....Sergeant Stubby's heartwarming and inspiring story touched many lives....Bausum manages to weave in the general details of the last few years of World War I....a moving, thoughtful dog story. Period photographs of the war front in general and a few of Stubby specifically, sprinkled throughout this relatively short narrative, make this a choice offering for dog lovers and history buffs alike."
    School Library Journal, starred review
    April 15, 2014

    " In a story that reads like fiction, a remarkable bond between a soldier and his dog provides a unique look at World War I....Bausum successfully weaves Stubby's astonishing story together with information about the war and reveals how connections between people and animals brought an element of humanity into the difficulties of war. Conroy maintained a scrapbook about Stubby, so the text is enlivened with period photographs, including those of Stubby in his uniform. Dog lovers and budding military historians alike should find this canine perspective on the Great War an absorbing read."
    Kirkus
    April 1, 2014

    "...Archival photographs show Stubby in candid moments....Through the story of this scrappy canine soldier, Bausum supplies an appealing entry point into the study of WWI...."
    Publishers Weekly
    April 21, 2014

    "....Author Ann Bausum did extensive primary research through documents, photos, and mementos at the Smithsonian...and one of the intriguing aspects of her narrative is occasional comments on the challenges of separating fact from fiction....She also interviewed Conroy's grandson, who shared memories of his grandfather and his stories about Stubby. Numerous photographs of Stubby, Conroy, and other memorabilia are an integral part of a volume that includes a timeline, extensive bibliography, and wonderful research notes."
    CCBC Choices 2015

    "In a development that surprised even her, prominent chronicler of human history Bausum turns here to the story of a dog....She's a smart and good-humored historiographer...distinguishing fact from lore while expressing her appreciation of both. This is the dog biography for readers who didn't think they'd like a dog biography as well as those who did, and its careful inclusion of World War I's long-term ripple effects would make it an enriching addition to a war unit...."
    Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
    September 2014

    "...Perhaps the most famous animal hero from World War I is Stubby, a scrappy Boston bull terrier. Again, Ann Bausum delivers a first-rate package....In this vivid account, Bausum recounts the wartime experiences of a soldier, Bob Conroy, and his loyal canine companion, Stubby. The weighty content regarding the trenches and death are tempered by the amazingly clever exploits of Stubby....The scrapbook-style layout is engaging and lends itself to the historical nature of the content...."
    Ashville Citizen-Times
    May 18, 2014

    Recommended as one of two "Great War Stories for Young Readers"
    American History Magazine
    August 2014

  • Selection of the Junior Library Guild

    Society of Midland Authors
    2015 Children's Nonfiction Award

    2015 Outstanding Books by Wisconsin Authors and Illustrators
    Wisconsin Library Association

    2014 Eureka! Gold Award
    California Reading Association

    One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing in 2014
    New York Public Library

    Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People
    National Council for the Social Studies & Children's Book Council

    Choices 2014
    Cooperative Children's Book Center, University of Wisconsin

    Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Awards
    2015-16 program nominee

    2015 Jefferson Cup Overfloweth list
    Youth Services Forum of the Virginia Library Association

    Maine Student Book Award
    2015-16 title list

    New York State Reading Association Charlotte Award
    2015-16 program nominee

  • "Stubby: The Hero Dog of World War One"
    KCUR radio interview with author Ann Bausum
    Kansas City Public Media
    September 30, 2014

    First Division Museum at Cantigny
    1s151 Winfield Road
    Wheaton, IL 60189
    630-260-8185

    Maps and Battles of World War I
    "The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century"
    PBS—online resources

    National World War I Museum
    100 West 26th Street
    Kansas City, Missouri 64108
    816-888-8100

    Smithsonian Institution
    ''The Price of Freedom: Americans at War''
    National Museum of American History
    1400 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20001
    202-633-1000

    Smithsonian Institution
    National Museum of American History
    Stubby's object record

    The Stars and Stripes
    American Memory online exhibition
    Library of Congress

    The St. Mihiel Offensive, September 1918
    American Memory online exhibition
    Library of Congress

    West Haven Veterans Museum and Learning Center
    Honors the 26th Division and other Connecticut service members
    Home of Stubby's portrait
    30 Hood Terrace
    West Haven, Conn., 06516
    203-934-1111

    Historic American Sheet Music, online database
    Library of Congress and Duke University
    Including songs from the World War I era such as ''Over There''

    Books for Young Readers

    Freedman, Russell. The War to End All Wars: World War I. New York: Clarion Books, 2010.

    Kennedy, Patricia Burlin. Through Otis' Eyes: Lessons from a Guide Dog Puppy. New York: Howell Book House, 1998.

    Murphy, Jim. Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting. New York: Scholastic Press, 2009.

    Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. Dogs on Duty: Soldier's Best Friends on the Battlefield and Beyond. New York: Walker & Company: 2012.

  • •  Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I's Bravest Dog

    •  Publication date: May 13, 2014

    •  National Geographic Society

    •  $17.99

    •  80 pages, hardcover

    •  more than 70 archival photos and illustrations

    •  back matter includes a time line, research notes, bibliography, resource guide, citations, index

    •  ISBN 978-1-4263-1486-5

    •  Audio edition available from Recorded Books