Some days things don’t quite go the way we plan, and today’s Morbid Monday was a good example. The day started with a post about San Francisco’s charming little pet cemetery (currently in the middle of gigantic construction zone), and quickly turned into a day dedicated to stories of extraordinary animals and loyal pets - nearly all tear-jerkers (sorry!).

Laika was my favorite:

Laika, the Space Dog


Laika, the first Russian Space Dog

A stray dog scooped off the streets of Moscow became famous as the first dog in space. After enduring some terrifying astrodog training involving tiny cages and centrifuges, Laika (which means “barker” in Russian) was the sole occupant of Sputnik 2 when it went into orbit on November 3, 1957. Sadly, she did not survive the flight. She died of overheating within hours of the launch, making her also the first orbital death. 

Her death was always part of the plan, since Sputnik 2 was not designed to be retrievable, but her sacrifice helped researchers learn how to support human life in orbit. Her loss also inspired debate and protests around the world about animal testing, and led to changes in the Soviet space program so that all future missions involving dogs were designed to be recoverable. You can read more of her story here

In 2008, a monument to Laika was erected in Moscow near the research facility where Laika trained for space. She also became the inspiration for a graphic novel.

Laika’s story led us to this article about other pioneering space animals in Long Shot Magazine: Sit, Stay, Soar: We were happy to hear that the sheep, duck, and cockerel who were first to sample the delights of hot air balloon flight in 1783 returned safely to Earth, along with the others in this story.

More stories of loyal pets and fondly remembered animals:

A statue in Sydney, Australia honors Trim, the circumnavigating cat

During WWI Japan’s Ueno Zoo ordered that all “wild and dangerous animals” at the zoo be killed, but the elephants John, Tonky, and Wanly refused the poisoned food. Sadly, they starved instead.

Florence Nightingale kept a little owl in her pocket

A famous statue in Edinburgh immortalizes Greyfriars Bobby, who sat patiently at the grave of his owner for 14 years

Jumbo the elephant was killed in an unlikely train crash and his stuffed hide was sent to Tufts University.  Destroyed by fire in 1975, now his ashes are in a peanut butter jar in the office of the Tufts athletic director. 

In Tokyo, a faithful canine named Hachiko waited for years at the train station for his master. Visit him at the National Science Museum of Japan 

Bummer & Lazarus were Victorian San Francsico’s most famous dogs. A plaque to their memory is in redwood grove park next to the Transamerica Pyramid in SF.

In Richmond, Virginia, a cast-iron Newfoundland stands guard over a child’s grave

A sweet memorial to Mrs. Chippy, the cat who did not survive Shackleton’s famous Antarctic expedition 

Owney the dog traveled w/ the Railway Mail Service train in the 1800s. Visit him at the National Postal Museum

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