Part of a continuing weekly series on Alaska history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage or Alaska history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.
On July 2, 1935, the S.S. Yukon of the Alaska Steamship Co. pulled into Juneau with its regular assortment of wide-eyed, world-hopping vagabonds. As most of the tourists aboard crowded the deck and windows, Laddie Kyle, an experienced traveler, instead slept in her cabin. She was familiar with Alaska, and Alaskans were familiar with her. Nearly a decade prior, she tried to stow away on a polar expedition flight out of Fairbanks but was discovered when pilot Carl âBenâ Eielson threw a bag on her. In her cabin, she snoozed happily until suddenly jolted from her slumber. A white bull terrier was barking on the dock directly below her cabin porthole. This was Patsy Ann, the official greeter of Juneau. Only now had Kyle truly arrived.
Patsy Ann arrived in Juneau sometime around 1930. Her obituary claimed that she had been previously owned by âDean and Mrs. C. E. Rice.â Yet, by the early 1930s she was emancipated, whether via her initiative or that of others. Thereafter, she lived the life of a free dog, roaming the city when, where, and as she pleased. She was stout and outgoing, a welcome sight in any business, whether begging for food or catching a nap by a fire or stove.
More than anything, she loved to greet the ships when they docked, waiting at the edge before even the first line could be cast ashore. No matter that she was deaf, she sometimes arrived at the docks before a ship was even in sight. At least, thatâs how the legend went. The people swore, âShe never missed a boat,â and the ships she greeted carried the story up and down the West Coast. Soon, tourists arrived in Juneau with the stated wish to see Patsy Ann. Otherwise, a trip to Alaska was incomplete. For a time, she was maybe the most photographed individual in Alaska, the star of countless postcards and vacation snapshots, a foremost emissary of Alaska goodwill.
For all the love shown to Patsy Ann during her life and since, she briefly had an enemy. In early July 1934, Kenneth Corliss was appointed as city dogcatcher. His orders were to apprehend any dog without a proper license tag affixed to their collar. The brass tags cost $2 for male dogs and $4 for female dogs.
And per those Juneau ordinances Corliss was sworn to enforce, no dog was more a bandit than the free and unhindered Patsy Ann, who showed no inclination of paying the necessary fee.
Within a day of Corliss taking his position, the Alaska Daily Empire, now the Juneau Empire, published a concerned article asking, âIs Patsy Ann in Danger?â The wheels of local bureaucracy in this instance turned swiftly. From that moment, in seemingly every home, cafe and bar, the dog was at the forefront of conversation, with donations pouring into the Empireâs office, enough âto purchase a gold-plated collar and tag.â Yet, by even then, Corliss had capitulated. His office acknowledged Patsy Annâs supremacy and donated a tag.
Moreover, the city leadership took steps to ensure Patsy Annâs legal status for the rest of her life with a dockside ceremony held on July 12, 1934. The event was scheduled for 6:30 that evening, timed with the expected arrival of the S.S. Prince George, thus ensuring the bull terrierâs attendance. Freshly washed with nails trimmed, Patsy Ann was declared the official greeter of Juneau. The lady of the hour regally accepted her new collar and tag, then leapt to her proper position, ready to welcome the passengers and crew of the Prince George.
The drama over Patsy Annâs legal status had an unexpected impact. Due to the publicity garnered by her case, more Juneau residents knew about the need to license their pets than ever before. Within a week of Patsy Ann receiving her license, 42 additional dog owners visited the city clerkâs office and paid the required fee. Only halfway through the year, 144 licenses had been issued compared to 87 the year before.
Everywhere Patsy Ann went, she was spoiled and accepted, whether stealing a morsel from a kitchen or interrupting a baseball game by stealing the ball from the pitcher. In 1935, she was the honored guest for a musical performance, especially resplendent given an âunaccustomedâ bath. As the Empire drolly noted, âA born trouper, Patsy Ann wrote her own lines, and near the end of the performance wandered up and down the aisles inspecting the audience, presumably with an eye to box office receipts.â
For all the fuss raised over her status as an unlicensed dog, her collars came and went. Many of her pictures notably show her without adornment. Yet, there was no need for another campaign in her defense. Wherever she went was home, and a succession of citizens and organizations, including spells with the police and fire departments.
Though not political â treats were welcome from all politicians regardless of party affiliation â she was, however, a devoted advocate for unions. For example, she rode the longshoremanâs float in the 1937 Labor Day parade, her presence noting her favor. The bull terrier was something of a mascot for the longshoremen; their union hall was perhaps her favorite non-dock destination, a place where she could be assured of a warm bed, good company and food.
Still, some residents ran some risks and took little liberties with the treasured greeter. In 1935, Juneau photographer Leonard Delano painted âWelcome Navyâ on her sides. Two Navy destroyers were in port, and, as with many photographers, nothing was more important in the moment than the perfect shot. Patsy Annâs career as a walking sign lasted longer than the visit.
The story of Patsy Ann has been somewhat mythologized, exaggerated despite little need. Rather than meeting every single boat that docked, she missed a few, though her absences were notable. A single line item in the May 23, 1934 Empire read, âHas anyone seen Patsy Ann?â In 1939, the Canadian Pacific steamship Duchess of Richmond stopped in Juneau, then the largest passenger liner to visit the Alaska capital. The several hundred passengers enjoyed the visit but as one expressed regret that none of them met Patsy Ann.
Frequently described as âstone deaf,â Patsy Ann was undoubtedly hard of hearing but could possibly hear a little, or at least enough to be surprised by particularly loud sounds. In 1936, she was positioned along the edge of the dock when, per the Empire, âthe half hour whistle of the Yukon so startled Juneauâs famous and ostensibly deaf canine that she fell off the dock and had to be rescued.â Some residents speculated that she could feel the vibrations of the whistles, even from great distances.
Still, it is inarguable that the canine queen of Juneau was spoiled rotten, the eager recipient of treats from visitors and locals alike. By the late 1930s, she had noticeably thickened and slowed. Nobody talked about it, but maybe a few ships came and went without an official visitation. On March 30, 1942, she greeted her last ship and then passed quietly in her sleep at her favorite union hall. The next day, the city gathered for her funeral. Patsy Ann was placed in a wooden coffin and dropped into the Gastineau Channel, in the waters by her beloved dock.
In 1992, a bronze Patsy Ann statue designed by New Mexican artist Anna Burke Harris was installed on the cruise ship wharf, standing watch for new arrivals. Her collar is off and laid across one of her paws, an appropriate representation of the free dog. Today, most of the statue has turned green from the exposure, except for the head shined by hundreds of visitors rubbing her head.
âIs Patsy Ann in Danger?â [Juneau] Alaska Daily Empire, July 11, 1934, 2.
âJuneau Going Over Top, Dog Licenses.â [Juneau] Alaska Daily Empire, July 19, 1934, 2.
âJuneau Sees Giant Liner Here Sunday.â [Juneau] Alaska Daily Empire, August 7, 1939, 1, 8.
âLabor Unions Celebrate in Regular Style.â [Juneau] Alaska Daily Empire, September 7, 1938, 8.
âLaddie Kyle Visits Here; Real Purpose.â [Juneau] Alaska Daily Empire, July 9, 1935, 3.
âPatsy Ann Attends Minstrel Show in Really White Coat.â [Juneau] Alaska Daily Empire, October 17, 1935, 4.
âPatsy Ann Dies of Old Age on Monday Evening.â [Juneau] Alaska Daily Empire, March 31, 1942, 5.
âPatsy Ann, Now âOfficial Greeterâ of Juneau, Will Not Forget Former Friends.â [Juneau] Alaska Daily Empire, July 13, 1934, 2.
âPatsy Ann âSavedâ; No Dog Pound for Her; Citizens and City Come to Greeterâs Aid.â [Juneau] Alaska Daily Empire, July 12, 1934, 8.
Rudolph Murphy, Claire, and Jane G. Haigh. Gold Rush Dogs, 2nd ed. Fairbanks: Hillside Press, 2012.
âWetting Fails to Subdue Patsy Ann.â [Juneau] Alaska Daily Empire, September 25, 1936, 1.