Mike was no ordinary fire dog. In fact, he was no ordinary Dalmatian. As the son of Oakie and Bess, two of the most famous mascot dogs in the history of the Fire Department of New York, he was destined for greatness.
Oakie was raised in Newport, Rhode Island on Oakland Farm, the residence of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt. In March 1907, Vanderbilt shipped the dog by crate to Engine Company 39 at Fire Headquarters after he heard that their fire dog, Pinkie, was killed trying to slide down the pole at the firehouse. Oakie was placed in charge of Foreman Edward J. Levy.
Bess also came from a litter of aristocratic dogs, but her master is not known. As the story goes, he very much admired the work of the firemen who responded to a fire at his house, so he decided to give them a Dalmatian.
One day he drove up to the firehouse of Engine Company No. 8 in his touring car and gave them a puppy. He didn’t say who he was, but told them that the dog’s name was Bess and that he wanted her to be a real dog working with firemen.
Boisterous, beefy Michael Creegman, aka, Mickey the Breeze, clicked with little pup right off the bat, and took her uptown every night for dinner. Perhaps he had connections, or perhaps it was his dominating presence, but somehow Mickey got her a special pass to ride the Third Avenue Railroad trolley cars with him.
In March 1908, Bess gave birth to several noble pups. From the litter, a puppy the firemen named Mike was selected and turned over to driver David M. Lynx of Engine Company 8.
Third Avenue Railroad Pass
Shortly after Mike starting training for the position of fire dog with Engine Company 8, Bess was transferred to a quieter station house in Queens to recover from injuries sustained from running into burning buildings.
Since she would no longer need her surface rail pass, Fireman David Lynx escorted Mike to the office of Receiver Frederick Wallington Whitridge to see if it could be transferred to Bess’ son.
Now, Mike was not one for acknowledging anyone not wearing a fireman’s uniform. But according to David Lynx, he jumped right up on Whitridge’s lap “just like a politician asking for a favor.” Whitridge gave the fireman permission to transfer the pass to Mike, saying, “It’s the only pass of the kind ever issued by the road, and if Mike is willing to take all the risks and not sue the company in case of accident I guess we’ll transfer the pass to him.”
The special pass was engraved on a silver plate attached to his collar, which also held a tiny brass fire helmet. The inscription read: “To conductors: permission is hereby granted to carry a fire dog on the cars of this company. Third Avenue Railway Company. Frederick W. Whitridge, Receiver.”
All the conductors were instructed to honor this pass, which let him ride back and forth on the front platform of all the Third Avenue lines. Mike used the pass often to go home with the firemen for dinner and to visit his fire dog pals in uptown fire houses.
Mike and Jerry’s Excellent Adventures
One of Mike’s best canine friends was Jerry, an ordinary mongrel attached to what was then the 29th Precinct at 163 E. 51st Street. Jerry was brought to the police station on March 4, 1909, by a woman who had found him outside starving and shivering. Captain John J. Lantry accepted the dog and the men named him Jerry in honor of the station’s doorman (they were originally going to call him Bill Taft in honor of President William Taft’s inauguration that year but the vote went to Jerry).
One of the dogs’ favorite activity was taking the ferry-boat from East 53rd Street to Blackwell’s Island. If it was a warm day, they’d go swimming to cool off. Sometimes they would stay there for two or three days, but they always returned to their respective stations.
When it came to the job, though, Mike and Jerry were all business. Jerry would accompany the policeman on patrol or ride along with the patrol wagon that picked up the prisoners for night court, and Mike would ride along with the fire engines. The two never switched jobs or mixed pleasure with business.
Mike did his job very well, and the firemen say he saved many lives. He’d jump up and down in excitement as the horses, Jerry, Pat, and Miguel got into their harnesses, and would run ahead to bark and snap at pedestrians in cross streets to let them know the horses were coming. On the scene of the fire, Mike would always run into the buildings with the firemen, just like he mother once did. His reward on hot nights was getting hosed down with the horses when their work was done.
Mike and Tom and Jerry
Mike’s two other good four-legged friends at the firehouse were a big grey horse named Jerry who also arrived in 1908 and a large black cat named Tom. The three animals loved being together, and always slept in Jerry’s stall – Mike would put his head on Jerry’s neck and Tom would sleep on Jerry’s back. Jerry fussed over his small friends in the stall, and would always lie down carefully so as not to crush them.
When an alarm came in at night, Tom would jump out of the way and walk to the street to watch the engines pull away. Then he’d go back inside to sleep until his friends came home (who said cats were not as smart as dogs?) Actually, one time Tom tried to ride on Jerry’s back as he raced to a fire. He held on for a few seconds and then jumped, landing on his end and injuring himself (so maybe he wasn’t that smart).
Although Mike usually went inside the buildings with the men, he must have sensed that his friend Jerry was about to lose his job when he noticed the horse was falling asleep on the scene. According to Captain Joseph Donovan, no sooner would Dave Lynx place a blanket over his team, Jerry would drop down in the gutter and take a nap.
Dave and the engine men Dennis McNamara and Frank Leonard didn’t know what to do – but Mike had an idea.
For the next few nights, Mike remained outside with the horses and began nipping Jerry on the knees as soon as he started to kneel down. Sometimes he’d nip him 10 times in a half hour, but eventually the trick worked and Jerry stopped falling asleep on the job.
Mike Goes to Doggie Heaven
On December 5, 1914, Jerry stumbled and fell while racing to a fire. The large horse landed on top of Mike, crushing his hind legs. The firemen carried Mike back to the station and placed him in Jerry’s stall to quiet the horse – she seemed to know that the end was near for her dear canine friend.
This story is dedicated to the families and friends of the following firefighters from Engine 8, Ladder 2, and Battalion 8 who made the supreme sacrifice on September 11th, 2001.
FF. Robert Parro
CPT. Federick Ill, Jr.
FF. Denis Germain
FF. Daniel Harlin
FF. Dennis Mulligan
FF. Michael Clarke
FF. George Dipasquale
FF. Carl Molinaro
BC. Thomas DeAngelis
FF. Thomas McCann