- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Ever heard the tale of Sergeant Stubby? It’s a good one.

Stubby was a World War I hero who earned medals for his bravery. He visited the White House and met several U.S. presidents. Oh, and there’s this - Sergeant Stubby was a dog.

According to the National Museum of American History, which holds the dog’s remains in its collection, Stubby’s military career began when he was a puppy.

He befriended Private J. Robert Conroy, who was training for combat at Yale University in 1917. The little dog became the mascot of Conroy’s division in the 102nd Infantry.

“He learned the bugle calls, the drills and even a modified dog salute as he put his right paw on his right eyebrow when a salute was executed by his fellow soldiers,” the museum’s catalog record says.

The museum record also includes details about Stubby’s wartime heroics.

Conroy smuggled Stubby aboard the S.S. Minnesota when the soldier shipped off to war. In part because he charmed Conroy’s commanding officers, Stubby was permitted to accompany his master on the battlefield in France.

The dog was a morale-booster, but he also pulled his weight in combat.

He could recognize gas weaponry and alerted troops to its presence. Stubby had a knack for discovering wounded soldiers and alerting medics to their presence. He once attacked a German spy, which earned him a promotion to sergeant - the first dog ever awarded military rank by the U.S. military.

After the war ended, Stubby met Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. For Stubby’s war service, General John Pershing presented the dog with a medal from the Humane Society.

A photo of this canine war hero hangs in the lobby of It Takes a Village Canine Rescue’s Stockwell Avenue shelter.

The photo is a reminder of what great dogs the so-called “bully breeds” can be, said It Takes a Village’s President, Susan Odoyo.

Bully breeds, or pit bulls, are an umbrella term generally used to describe breeds like the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire terrier and the Bull Terrier. (The American Kennel Club identifies Sergeant Stubby as an American Staffordshire terrier, though the breed was not officially recognized by the AKC until 1936.)

Despite Sergeant Stubby’s legacy, many people today think “fearsome beast” rather than “great family pet” when they encounter a pit bull.

“What we are doing is trying to change that image,” Odoyo told the Evansville Courier & Press (http://bit.ly/1HcgOdO ).

It Takes a Village specializes in hard-to-place dogs, and at any given time about half of the dogs in its care are bully breed types.

Odoyo says these breeds of dogs are tough to place because of their bad reputation.

“It takes us anywhere from three months to years to get a pit bull adopted.”

Pit bulls are big, tough-looking dogs, she said. If they do bite, their size and strength means the injuries are more likely to be severe. For these reasons, Odoyo said, some people believe all pit bulls are aggressive and dangerous. It’s not true, she says.

“I’ve never been bitten by a pit bull, and I have daily exposure to them.”

If they’re socialized properly, Odoyo says, pit bulls can be as friendly as any other breed.

Studies would suggest that Odoyo is correct.

In February, the American Veterinary Medical Association published “The Role of Breed in Dog Bite Risk and Prevention.” The report, which reviewed previous scientific studies on the topic, concluded that “breed is a poor sole predictor of dog bites. Controlled studies reveal no increased risk for the group blamed most often for dog bites, ‘pit bull-type’ dogs.”

The breeds that do tend to be more aggressive toward people, the report said, are small-to medium-sized breeds including collies, toy breeds and spaniels. Non-neutered dogs were also more likely to be involved in serious bite incidents.

The key to changing pit bulls’ bad rap, Odoyo believes, is to let people meet these dogs and see what they’re like.

Odoyo says her own foster dog, Paris, is a pit bull with a sweet temperament who loves people.

Many pit bulls are like this, Odoyo said - tough-looking, but friendly and lovable.

“They just need an opportunity to convince you.”

Speaking of It Takes a Village, the organization will host a fundraising ride, “Rollin’ With the Big Dogs,” June 20. The route begins at 10 a.m. at Bud’s Harley-Davidson, 4700 E. Morgan Ave. It ends at noon with DoggiePalooza, a festival at the rescue organization’s shelter, 1417 Stockwell Road. Cost is $20 per person or $30 per couple, and both motorcycles and cars are welcome.

For details, contact It Takes a Village at (812) 909-1306 or itvrescue@gmail.com.

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com

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