Made famous from the Disney films 101 Dalmatians, the iconic black-spotted dog is a familiar breed to most people in the 21st century. Though Dalmatians were the coveted obsession of fur-seeking villain Cruella DeVille, they are also recognizable as the companion to fire chiefs around the country!
Dalmatian Breed history
Dalmatian dogs have been a distinguished breed for hundreds of years. The statuesque canines are painted next to courtiers in oil paintings dating back to the 1600’s, and they have been described in literature since the 1700’s. Though the breed was originally developed in England, they were once used as guard dogs and warrior companions for the nomadic people of Dalmatia. They naturally are loyal dogs, with highly protective instincts and suspicion of strangers. They were also useful as vermin killers, bird dogs, hunting companions, and their dynamic coats and markings also made them a popular feature at the circus. However, it was their role as Fire Station dogs that have won Dalmatians the greatest recognition.
How Dalmatians Became Fire Station Dogs
Dalmatians were originally chosen to partner with firemen when official fire stations were first established. The breed’s energy, swiftness, and ability to work well with horses made them a natural companion. The effectiveness of the fire brigade depended on speed of arrival, and using Dalmatians was an important aspect of rescue and relief. The Dalmatian dogs were trained to sound the alert when there was the smell of smoke, waking all the firemen and horses. They would then charge down the street before the horse-drawn fire carriage, barking and clearing the way so the fireman could pass with greater alacrity. The dogs were able to run great distances, keeping pace with the horses and showing greater courage around fire than their equine friends. They would also act as guard dogs at the station, warning of any horse thieves, or mischief makers while the fireman were asleep. Many speculate that Dalmatians were also chosen because of their deafness, making the sirens less distracting. Though Dalmatians as a breed tend to struggle with impaired hearing, this was not the reason the dogs were selected to work with firemen.
When the stations began to use motorized vehicles for fire-fighting instead of the horse-drawn carriages, the Dalmatians remained in service as mascots and pets. They often accompany fire men on school tours, educating children about fire safety, and how their stations function. Because of their honorable history as fire-fighting companions, many servicemen today choose to own Dalmatians, out of respect for their past and adoration of the breed’s valor.
When the hit films 101 Dalmatians came out, families flocked to buy their children charming Dalmatian puppies, causing the popularity of the breed to spike in the mid-90’s. However, because of a lack of awareness of the breed’s high energy and training needs, many families regretted the decision, returning the Dalmatians or leaving them homeless. From the years 2000-2010, registrations for Dalmatian dogs dropped by nearly 90%. In response to this crisis, rescue homes have been established to help find homes for these beautiful dogs.