What Was So Special About the First Therapy Dog?

therapy dog - yorkshire terrier

A four-pound (1.8-kg) Yorkshire Terrier found abandoned in the New Guinea jungle became a sensation both during and after World War II, and is remembered not only as a war hero, but also as the first known therapy dog.

The story begins in 1944, when a soldier found the dog, later named Smoky, in an empty foxhole. The soldier sold the dog to Corporal William Wynne, a photographer with the U.S. Air Force, and the pair endured the rigors of combat to complete their tour of duty. Smoky’s wartime service ultimately included 12 combat missions, and she also survived numerous air raids and a typhoon. She even laid a crucial telegraph wire at an Allied airbase, potentially saving hundreds of lives.


And when Wynne contracted dengue fever, doctors and nurses at a New Guinea military hospital found that Smoky lifted the spirits of other injured soldiers. The commanding officer of the hospital base, Dr. Charles Mayo – whose name now graces the esteemed Mayo Clinic – took Smoky along on his rounds, kick-starting the little dog’s post-war career as the world’s first known therapy animal.

The tiniest war hero:

  • Word of Smoky’s heroics spread through military magazines, starting a trend of doggy visits at hospitals all over the United States. By the end of 1947, about 700 dogs had been donated by civilians to serve as official therapy dogs.
  • Long after the war, Smoky and Wynne toured hospitals to comfort recuperating soldiers. Smoky retired in 1955 and died in her sleep two years later around the age of 14.
  • Smoky’s good deeds were later recognized by the U.S. War Dogs Association, and a statue memorializing her service was erected in Cleveland, Ohio, near her final resting place.

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