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Why are Dalmatians Firehouse Dogs?

Here's the Answer in Black and White Reprinted from May/June 1992
issues of Reminisce Magazine

Ever see a fire truck in a parade without a Dalmatian in the seat
up front or in the lap of a smiling fireman riding in back? Ever
visit a firehouse without having one of those black and white
spotted dogs come wagging up to you?

Why is that? Why do Dalmatians and firehouses go together like
smoke and fire? The answer is interesting, and one you'll likely
recall every time you see the Dalmatian/firehouse combo from now

It all began in the days of stagecoaches. Horse theft was so
common back then that many stagecoach drivers strung a hammock
between two stalls at night, then slept behind their horses to
guard against thieves.

But, if the driver owned a Dalmatian, he could sleep in the house
or the stagecoach hotel. Why? Because it was observed that
Dalmatians formed an amazingly tight bond with horses. When they
became close as with a team, no stranger would dare lay a hand on

Once the knowledge of this trait spread, more coach drivers went
to great lengths to get Dalmatians to watch their teams. In fact,
this practice became so common that Dalmatians were first called
"coach dogs". They were used by coach drivers centuries ago in
England, Scotland and Wales.

Horse's Best Friend?

"Dalmatians have always gotten along well with horses," says
Esmeralda Treen of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a recognized authority
on the breed. "Horses are gregarious and feel the need for
company. You can't leave them alone too long. Dalmatians take to
horses and become 'companions'. Back in the stagecoach days, the
'Dals' would run alongside the coaches, or under the rear axle of
the moving coach. They'd keep up with the team as far as it ran,
sometimes over 20 or 30 miles a day. "

When the coached reached the inn, the coachman left the dog to
guard the team as well as luggage in the coach," Esmeralda
explains. "IF the coachman stayed to guard, a robber would
sometimes distract him in conversation while others pilfered the
goods. They couldn't pull that ruse on the Dal, since they're
very alert dogs."

When horse numbers grew here in the New World, the number of
Dalmatians grew with it for the same reason they were popular in
the Old Country. And, since every firehouse back then had a set
of fast horses to pull the pumper wagon, it became common for
each group of firemen to keep a Dalmatian.

Again, the spotted dogs not only guarded the firehouse horses,
they kept them company during their long, boring waits between
fires. And, when they took off for a fire, the dog would run
alongside the pumper.

The horses are gone from the fire stations today, but the
Dalmatians aren't. The tradition has been carried on, and it may
be as much for the looks and appeal of these beautiful dogs as it
is for their nostalgic tie to yesteryear.

While all the facts are well founded, there is a common but false
rumor that these spotted dogs that breed enthusiasts would like
dispelled. It's that Dalmatians are kept at firehouses because
they're deaf and therefore, the siren does not bother their ears
nor make them "spook" like it would other dogs. "

I once heard that on national TV and could not believe my ears,"
says Chris Benoit, president of the Chicagoland Dalmatian Club.
"It's true that there is a problem with deafness in the breed,
but that story is totally false!"

What is true is that Dalmatians are the fastest growing breed of
dog in America today. A relative rarity until recent years, Dals
are expected to soar into the top ten soon, right up there with
beagles and dachshunds.

Spots in Fashion

Another thing that's true is that these dogs have spots
everywhere--even inside their mouths and on the bottom of their
paws! And they've become the polka dot darlings of advertising
and fashion photographers, who say they like the high contrast of
these black and white dogs.

Still, the Dalmatians haven't lost their old status as the
fireman's friend. For example, in Middletown Connecticut alone,
individual fire fighters own Dals named "Hydrant", "Chief", and
"Cinder". That tradition holds across America. Even today, where
there's smoke, there's likely fire...and where there's a
firehouse, there's likely a Dalmatian.

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