Mike Dalmatian Engine 8

Mike was the fire dog of Engine Company 8 from 1908 to 1914. Twice, he won the blue ribbon in the Dalmatian class at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden.

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.

Vanderbilt Oakland Farm

Mike’s father, Oakie, was raised on Oakland Farm, the country residence of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt in Newport, Rhode Island.

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.

Alfred G. Vanderbilt Sr.

Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Sr. was the third son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Claypoole Gwynne. He was among the 1,198 passengers who died on the RMS Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915, off the coast of Ireland. He was called a hero for helping others into lifeboats – he even offered his own life jacket to a woman with an infant even though he couldn’t swim. Vanderbilt’s body was never recovered.

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.

Engine Company No. 8 FDNY

Metropolitan Steam Engine Company No. 8 was organized on September 11, 1865. The company spent the first four years at 128 E. 50th Street, and then moved to its current location at 165 East 51st Street in 1869. Today the company shares headquarters with Ladder Company 2 and Battalion 8.

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.”

Frederick W. Whitridge

Frederick Whitridge of 16 East 11th Street was appointed Receiver of the Third Avenue Railroad on January 6, 1908, following its foreclosure under the collapse of the Metropolitan Street Railway, which then controlled the rail company. In 1910, the Third Avenue Railway was chartered, acquiring all the properties of the former Third Avenue Railroad. Whitridge was named president of the new company around 1915.

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.

Horse-drawn carriage

The Third Avenue Railroad Company formed in 1852 and began operating its horse-drawn cars on July 3, 1853. By 1859, using the 125th Street Railroad and tracks along 10th Avenue (Amsterdam Avenue), the line ran from the Astor House (Broadway and Park Row) north along Park Row, the Bowery, and Third Avenue to 130th Street near the Harlem River, a distance of about 8 miles.

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.

First Third Avenue Cable Car

By the mid-1880s, the Third Avenue Railroad Company began operating cable cars on the Tenth Avenue cable line and 125th Street line. The surface railway used cable cars as well as horse-drawn streetcars until 1899 when the company switched over to electric-powered trolleys.

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.

Old 17th Precinct Stationhouse

Mike’s friend Jerry was attached to the 29th Precinct – originally the 19th – which was established at 163 East 51st Street on September 7, 1877. Today it’s known as the 17th Precinct.

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).

Tom, Jerry, Mike, Engine Company No. 8

The four-legged buddies of Engine Company 8.

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.

Mike wins Westminster Kennel Club Show

Although Mike had a short life, it was a very rewarding one. Not only did he help save lives, he also took first place in the Dalmatian class at the 34th annual Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden in 1910 and 1911. The class was specifically dedicated to firemen’s dogs. In 1910, second place went to two-year-old Smoke II of Engine Company 68 on Jay Street in Brooklyn.

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

  1. […] amusement park to demonstrating her hatching abilities. One can also read a dog-ography of Mike, the mascot dog of Engine Company 8, who rode the Third Avenue trolley cars. (Perhaps Mike was a distant relative of mine? After all, I […]