Friday, February 7, 2020

Dogs on Public Transportation - a Century of Progress

On February 7, 2020, on a segment of the Fox News show, The Five, Pete Hegseth featured a story about a black Labrador dog in Seattle who occasionally rides on public transit alone to visit the dog park. 

Hegseth was not breaking any new ground.  Versions of the story had been circulating around the internet since at least 2015.  First “discovered” by Seattle radio host Miles Montgomery and reported on KOMO-TV[i], a black Labrador named Eclipse occasionally gets on the bus without her owner, Jeff Young, and rides the bus to the dog park, where Young meets up with her later.   An updated version of the story from the Daily Mail[ii] revealed that Eclipse now leaves home, gets on the bus, visits the dog park, and returns home alone nearly every day.

Nor was Eclipse breaking any new ground in canine public transportation.  Nearly a century earlier, a Fox Terrier named “Spot” famously rode the third-rail electric railroad between East Weymouth, Pemberton, Nantasket and Braintree, Massachusetts, perhaps even eclipsing Eclipse’s accomplishments, leaving a spot on her impressive record.  Spot reportedly followed a regular schedule, hopping on and off trains at various stations, at certain times, timed to meet the regular train schedule. [(For more information on the connection between Boston-area third-rail systems and the idiom, "the third-rail of American politics," see my earlier post, "Rotgut Moonshine, Boston and Politics, a Potent Mix - an Electrifying Etymology of the "Third Rail" of American Politics.")]

Some reports about Spot were “fake news,” so a railroad employee set the record straight in an interview with a reporter from the Boston Globe.

Ever since the broad gauge electric car system was introduced at Nantasket the employes of the road have had a mascot in the form of a little scrubby and tailless dog which they proudly claim belongs to the fox terrier species.  There is little danger of controversy on this point, for even a connoisseur in dog flesh would not attempt to task of denying the purity of his breed in the presence of his admirers.

Although Spot has unquestionable tendencies to vagrancy, he has acquired a widespread reputation for possessing a remarkable intellect which his friends, the conductors and motormen, never tire talking about and praising.

Dogs in many instances have manifested strong propensities for railroading, or rather for traveling, using with undeniable intelligence the steam railroad to this end.

Spot has already acquired considerable newspaper notoriety, but in a rather ambiguous way, so far as facts are concerned, and entirely unsatisfactory to the railroad men, who have made an urgent and unanimous request that a simple and truthful statement of facts be published.

One of the conductors, whose enthusiasm over the sagacity manifested by the dog is moderate compared with that of many others, gives the facts in the case, as follows:

“We want The Globe to give the facts, as the stories that have appeared in other papers have been ‘away off,’” was his preliminary remark.

“Spot, the pet and pride of the railroad men from Braintree to Pemberton,” he continued, “first came to notice in 1892 by falling into the hands of H. F. Bates, railroad agent at East Weymouth, when only four weeks old.  Mr. Bates reared him and taught him many tricks, but three years ago he was obliged to give him away, not having any place to keep him.

“He found a good home with H. L. Hayward at East Weymouth, but continued to be a constant visitor at the depot, and since the advent of the third rail electrics in 1895 has become a regular railroad fiend, and few are the travelers on the road who o not know him.

“A wonderfully sagacious dog,” continued the conductor, growing enthusiastic, “displaying many traits which are almost human.  At first he used to ride on the front end of the cars with the motorman, but one day a sudden stopping of a car pitched him off, and since then no amount of coaxing nor sweet-meats from the motorman’s pail can persuade him to ride on that end of the car.

“Generally he will start out in the morning from East Weymouth and go through to Pemberton, where he will remain the greater part of the day, going the rounds of the railroad boys, and taking a dip in the sea.  Then, again, he will get off at Nantasket, make his rounds there, and take a later train to Pemberton, or go through to Braintree. . . .”

When not riding on the cars Spot rambles about the beach, strictly attending to his own business.  He seemingly knows when trains are due, running north or south, at the different stations.  He seldom loiters about the way stations, having apparently regular times for making his connections.  In this familiarity with the time tables of the road he shows remarkable intelligence and memory, considerably more than many people.

The Boston Globe, September 15, 1898, page 8.

[i] “Black lab rides bus alone to dog park,” USA Today Network, Associated Press, published 10:02 p.m. ET January 13, 2015 (accessed February 7, 2020).
[ii] “A public transit pub! Meet Seattle dog who takes the bus by HERSELF every day to visit her favorite dog park,” Faith Ridler,, published 12: 16 EST, February 7, 2020.

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