How did that spotty black and white dog known as a Dalmatian come to be the number-one firehouse mascot in England and the United States?
Many people believe that the first established home of the Dalmatian is Dalmatia, a section of Yugoslavia that was once part of Austria. References have been made to the breed since the mid 18th century, but its roots almost certainly go back a long time before that. Dalmatians first appeared in an Italian wall painting dated about 1360 A.D., but it wasn’t until 1780 when the name “Dalmatian” was actually used in the English language.
The Dalmatian is a very physical breed with a strong, muscular body, weighing 25 to 55 pounds and standing 19 to 23 inches high. They are able to run great distances without tiring. Dalmatians have been used throughout history for serious work. They worked as shepherds, as draft dogs, as hound dogs, as hunting dogs, as retrievers and as performing dogs. The Dalmatian is a very loyal breed to its owners, and an admirable foe when challenged. Dalmatians are not only intelligent, but they also have excellent memories. They also have what seems to be a natural calming effect on horses. Over the years, Dalmatians formed a close bond with horses. As a result, the Dalmatian became the horses pet as it were, to help keep them calm under working situations.
During the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries when the mode of travel was by horse or carriage, Dalmatians were used to protect horses that pulled English stagecoaches. Typically two Dalmatians would run next to the horses as they pulled the coach. When other dogs tried to run out and scare the horses, the Dalmatian team would chase them away. During this time, horse theft was very common and stage coach drivers used the dogs as guards to protect the team and the luggage in the coach. Additionally, during this era the Dalmatian became a society dog and was trained to run along side women’s carriages. They were referred to as coach dogs or Ladies dogs. In fact, in Great Britain, Dalmatians are still nicknamed “English coach dogs” and “plum pudding dogs.”
It is during the era of horse drawn fire apparatus that the Dalmatian becomes forever tied to the Fire Service…
Because of the dog/horse bond, the Dalmatian easily adapted to the firehouse in the days of horse-drawn fire wagons. Since every firehouse had a set of fast horses to pull the pumper, it became common for each group of firefighters to keep a Dalmatian in the firehouse to guard the firehouse and horses. When the alarm came in, the Dalmatian led the way for the horse-drawn pumper.
The dogs were also used in the fire service when most fire companies were volunteer or privately operated. There was some competition for services. Some of the firefighters were actually recruited not only for their strength in fighting fire but for their fighting abilities to protect the company and its equipment. Insurance companies paid the fire company that put out the fire, so the one that made it to the scene, hooked up to a hydrant and completed the task, got paid. The dogs worked well at this task of protecting the horses and the equipment in both the stations and on the fire ground as well. In its long history in the Fire Service, there are also reports of how the Dalmatian has rescued trapped firefighters or victims. As a result, the Dalmatian became the firefighters’ companion and a symbol of the fire service.
Because of his loyalty, braveness and valiance the Dalmatian continued in the Fire Service once horses were replaced with mechanical apparatus. Today many firehouses in England, Canada, and the United States still have the Dalmatian acting as companions to the firefighters and as watch dogs protect the equipment!