Then there’s Spike, a Facebook fan favorite, who overcame a rough beginning to symbolize canine kindness at its finest. And let’s not forget Nani, a beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog, who tames waves and hangs 20 as one of the original So Cal Surf Dogs.
Certainly all of the above have earned the right to take well-deserved (play) bows, but the credit for sparking San Diego’s reputation as a pet-welcoming place belongs to a 19th century mutt affectionately named Bum.
Homeless, but far from hopeless, this Saint Bernard-Spaniel mix snuck aboard a steamship in San Francisco and stepped his paw for the first time in San Diego way back in 1886. Sniffing out the city’s beckoning climate and sensing the friendliness of its residents, it didn’t take this dog long to realize that San Diego was a better place to call home than the city on the bay. Now, that’s a smart dog.
Bum’s tale is one of the latest now being spotlighted by renowned historian, in-demand speaker and bestselling author Kate Kelly, creator of the beckoning website: America Comes Alive.
“Bum chose San Diego and he was happy to go from one establishment to the next and never showed any interest in belonging to one owner,” recalls Kelly, who resides in Los Angeles. “Bum wanted to be a dog of the people and everybody watched out for him.”
Kelly travels all over the country, blogs weekly on The Huffington Post, has written more than 30 books and can easily discuss the Detroit electric car, famous dads in comic strips and even Cracker Jack and baseball. But her favorite topic by far is telling the tales of dogs and other headline-making pets.
She’s shared the stories of Dorsey, a dog who delivered mail in San Bernardino County in the 1880s; the pack of dogs who roamed the White House when owner Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901; and explained how Dalmatians became the favorite of fire fighters.
And she feels Bum’s story, while embraced locally, deserves more national attention. And what a life he lived. During his 12 years, he ‘bummed’ food from local eateries, guarded children, led parades, hitched rides on streetcars and even learned to get around on three legs after losing his right paw and part of his tail to an oncoming train.
Near the end of his life, the City Council enacted a law requiring all dogs to have licenses – with the exception of Bum. When he died on Nov. 10, 1898, school children collected pennies to give him a memory-making funeral.
The City Council placed his picture on the first dog licenses issued. And, if you venture to the Gaslamp District by the William Heath Davis House museum, you will spot a life-size bronze statute honoring Bum.
“What makes Bum’s story special is that his adventures were chronicled at the time by a newspaper reporter named James Edward Friend,” says Kelly. “Bum lived during a time when there were no leash laws and a dog could take charge of himself. If he lived today, most likely Bum would have been taken off the streets by a rescue group and placed in a home.”
Kelly, who proudly has a pair of rescued dogs answering to the names Boo and Lucy, has visited San Diego and made a special point of visiting Bum’s memorial statute.
“Everyone in San Diego knew Bum and looked out for him,” she says. “Bum’s story is not well-known nationally and it deserves more prominence. I’m doing my part to share his story.”
What draws her most about Bum?
“His tale is that life isn’t always easy, but if you keep going, that’s what makes America great,” she says.
We are fortunate to live in a county with many famous canines as well as ordinary dogs bringing out the extraordinary in all of us. The next time you‘re in the Gaslamp District, please take a few moments to head over to the Bum statute. He deserves our appreciation for getting San Diego off on the right paw when it comes to being advocates of dogs and other pets.