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Meet the Red Cross wonder dogs

Move over Lassie. Red Cross has its own band of tail-wagging heroes, who for decades have been helping us support people in crisis all over the world.

Empathetic and brave, these furry wonder dogs have big humanitarian hearts. Introducing Caesar, Dando, Duke, Muggins and their counterparts in this canine-inspired hall of fame.

Image provided by Patricia Stroud. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. WW1 487.

Caesar and the dogs of war

New Zealand bulldog Caesar was one of thousands of brave dogs who helped Red Cross during World War I. Caesar, whose handler was an ambulance driver, was posted to the Western Front in France where his job was to find and help wounded soldiers.

Dogs like Caesar (yes, that's the correct spelling) carried saddlebags of first aid supplies, water, rations and writing materials through dangerous territory. Some also carried messages and acted as scouts. Reports credit Red Cross dogs with saving thousands of lives.

Sadly Caesar was killed in action. He was found next to a soldier he had tried to save, the man’s hand resting on Caesar’s head, says the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

K9s to the rescue

A bunch of our Red Cross counterparts have their own search and rescue dog squads. You will find them in countries as diverse as Austria, Bulgaria, Columbia, Costa Rica, Germany, Italy, Iran and Luxembourg. These highly trained specialist canines help our teams hunt for people who are missing, often after disasters such as earthquakes, landslides and avalanches.

 “What is Important for us is that the dog has on one side a long nose, and on the other side the dog must have the necessary motivation to work,” Luxembourg Red Cross Rescue Dog Team’s Jerry Ast told the Huffington Post

The PR hounds

Over the decades, a parade of publicity-friendly dogs have helped us spread the word for all sorts of causes here in Australia.

Among them was Armstrong the Bloodhound who appeared in a publicity campaign for our friends over at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service in the 1990s. Decades earlier in Melbourne, a Pyrenean Mountain dog by the name of Dando was enlisted to help sign up new Red Cross members. The super-adorable Dando was up for pats and handshakes, the catch being you had to be a member to get one. 

Another loveable pooch was also recruited as the poster boy for campaign we ran in the 90s. This one was to encourage volunteer collectors to join our biggest annual community fundraiser, Red Cross Calling.

Therapy dogs

“Never underestimate the power of a dog,” says Sarah, whose Kelpie Collie is an official Red Cross therapy dog. “There have been numerous scientific studies showing the positive effects that petting a dog has on a person.”

Over at British Red Cross, therapy dogs give comfort to older isolated people, some of whom have suffered a personal crisis. Sarah’s dog Twm provides support to some of these folks, including those with dementia.  

At American Red Cross they also have a family of therapy dogs, who with their owners volunteer in military hospitals, shelters and nursing homes. These canines give joy in the wake of disasters, comfort to military personnel and hope to people recovering from illness or injury.

The multi-talented Duke

Once a week former rescue dog, Duke, hangs at our Melbourne headquarters spreading good vibes among our staff. This Great Dane – check him out on Instagram under the nickname duketheverybigdog – has earned himself the title of chief wellness officer.

He recently took his volunteer duties a step further to don a pair of mock dragon wings for a Game of Thrones lunchtime photo shoot. With his owner Yvette, who heads up our international humanitarian law team, they pretended to be Daenerys Targaryen and one of her dragons – to promote our  war crimes analysis of the cult TV show. The pic and analysis are tongue-in-cheek, but the laws of war are serious business and every day protect the lives of people caught up in real life conflicts.

Muggins – the fundraising dog

And finally, meet the 12-inch high Muggins. During World War I, this white Spitz volunteered at a Canada Red Cross office in a burned-out part of Victoria, British Columbia. Each day Muggins would set off alone to tour the downtown area with two Red Cross donation boxes strapped to his back.

This fluffy fellow was a familiar sight in the city, bringing cheer during the dark years of the Great War, writes Canadian Red Cross’ Paul Jenkins. “He knew when his boxes were full and would return to his bunker. Over the course of his career, Muggins collected $21,000 and was awarded seven decorations for his work, including medals from the United States and France.”

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