Published DateAlthough deaf from birth, she somehow knew long before anyone else did that a ship was coming up the Gastineau Channel to dock in Juneau, Alaska. Off she would go at a brisk trot, forgoing whatever else she may have been doing, in order to be at the dock, wagging her tail in greeting as the ship pulled into its berth.
Her name was Patsy Ann, a white English bull terrier, and for eight years during the 1930s, she was officially given the title of Juneau, Alaska’s Official Greeter. The little dog never shirked her duties, happily hurrying to the docks whenever a ship made its way up the channel. After all, who knew what new friends she might make or what tasty morsel might be available from the ship’s cook? There were perks to be had as the town’s official greeter.
Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1929, she was bought by a local Juneau dentist and brought to Juneau as a pet for his family. Despite being loved and treated kindly, Patsy Ann preferred her independence and spent her time roaming around, exploring the streets of her adopted town. She was especially drawn to the docks, and her uncanny ability to know when a ship was arriving (this was in the days before such arrivals were commonplace) soon caught the attention of the town’s people. It soon became clear that Patsy Ann was not meant to be anyone’s pet. Patsy Ann was everyone’s friend and welcomed wherever she went.
Several folks chipped in to pay for her license and to buy her a collar, as required by law. But the dog’s endurance for such confining things was short lived, and one day her collar mysteriously disappeared. The town fathers decided to give her an official title any pay for her yearly license themselves, thereby exempting free-roaming Patsy Ann from any further indignities. Eventually, Patsy Ann decided to make her home at the Longshoremen’s Hall, perhaps sensing a kinship with those who also eagerly anticipated the arrival of ships.
The little, white English bull terrier also had another uncanny ability. Not only did she know long before anyone else when a ship was coming up the channel, she also seemed to know to which of the town’s seven docks it would tie up. One of the stories on the two plagues that tell Patsy Ann’s story on the plague-lined boardwalk along Juneau’s waterfront tells of the time that a crowd gathered on a dock that had been announced as the one to which an incoming ship would tie up. Patsy Ann momentarily took her place with the crowd. But then she moved on to another dock and sat there, occasionally looking back at the folks on the other dock. They soon got the message, and, sure enough, Patsy Ann proved to be right.
When Patsy Ann died in her sleep at Longshoremen’s Hall, in 1942, her coffin was carefully lowered into Gastineau Channel not far from where the two plagues and beautifully realized memorial statue now stand. The statue is a story in itself.
Fifty years after the dog’s death, a group calling itself the Friends of Patsy Ann raised the money to have a statue of her placed on the town’s boardwalk. New Mexico sculptor Anna Durke Harris accepted the commission to create the memorial statue. Partly of Native American heritage, Harris chose to make it a “spirit piece,” meaning that bits of human hair and animal fur would be pressed into the wax before the final bronze casting, thereby assuring the contributors’ immortality.
At the statue’s unveiling, Cy Peck, Jr., a Native Alaskan spiritual leader, blessed it in the name of harmony and the spirit of friendship between animals and humans, and prayed that such friendship would also prevail in all human relationships.
This quotation from one of the plagues says it all, I think. “Please greet Patsy Ann as she greets you and, in leaving, carry the blessings of friendship throughout your life’s journey.”