by Kristin Urban
October is national Adopt-A-Dog Month. The American Humane Association estimates between 3-4 million shelter dogs are euthanized every year because they are unable to find their forever homes. Rescue dogs make wonderful companions, but did you know some even become stars? Here are a few canine stars you might not have known were rescues.
Rin Tin Tin
Rin Tin Tin was one of the most beloved and well-known dogs for generations. Although he did not come from a shelter, he was definitely a rescue dog: he was found in a bombed out farmhouse in Europe by Lee Duncan, an American soldier during World War I.
Duncan brought the beautiful and expressive pup home and began training him. Rin Tin Tin, or Rinty, first starred in a silent film, and audiences found him irresistible. He eventually went on to appear in 27 films. He was even nominated for an Oscar!
The 2008 film Marley & Me, based on a book by the same name, employed 22 yellow Labrador Retrievers of different ages to play the boisterous Marley. Six of those dogs were rescue animals. One of them, Rudy, was just one day away from being euthanized by Hillsborough County Animal Services in Florida when a volunteer with Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida, Inc. saved him.
Rudy’s boisterous personality blossomed. A stubborn dog that loved to eat everything and never tired of running, his resemblance to Marley was uncanny. So when Larry Madrid, the animal trainer for Marley & Me contacted the Rescue group looking for a dog to play Marley, Rudy was automatically the perfect fit. Rudy’s story was featured in his hometown newspaper.
Although there are a number of film adaptations of Benji, the first Benji was played by a little mixed dog named Higgins. Renowned dog trainer Frank Inn found Higgins in the Burbank Animal Shelter and from there, Higgins’ future soared.
He starred in a 1960s television series before Benji. Frank Inn, who also trained Lassie, is said to have considered Higgins one of the most intelligent, expressive, and trainable dogs he ever came across.
Old Yeller (Spike)
One of the most iconic of dog films, the big yellow dog in Old Yeller was played by Spike, a goofy and sweet Labrador Retriever/Mastiff mix. Frank Weatherwax, a prominent animal trainer, thought the pup with the big paws at the Van Nuys Animal Shelter looked trainable. So, Weatherwax paid the $3.00 to rescue him. Spike was raised and trained by Weatherwax, and grew up amongst dogs and children, becoming a sweet, docile dog – one you wouldn’t expect to see running wild in Texas.
But when Old Yeller casting came out, Weatherwax took his chance: Spike was so lovable that they first thought he couldn’t play the intimidating farm dog. But when Spike showed he could at least pretend to be a tough dog, he was eventually cast in the role and the rest, as they say, is history.
Owney may be the least well-known of this group, but he is no less special for that. In 1888, this little terrier mutt wandered into the Post Office in Albany, New York, and fell asleep amongst letters and mailbags. The Postal workers decided to keep him on, and soon Owney was helping to deliver local mail, riding atop horse drawn mail carriages.
Over the years, Owney’s mail responsibilities grew and he traveled on mail trains, crossing state lines. Owney was soon seen as a good luck charm by postal workers, as the trains he rode always reached their destination, which wasn’t a common occurrence back then. This little terrier’s collar soon was filled up with tags put there by Postal workers to mark his travels.
The tags were eventually removed from his collar when he simply had too many Instead he was given a harness for all of his tags, – which altogether marked that he traveled more than 140,000 miles while on the job!