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Patsy Ann—An Alaskan Hero

by Dianna Dorisi Winget

If you ever get to visit Juneau, Alaska, by cruise ship, one of the first things you'll notice on the wharf is a life-size bronze statue of a English bull terrier. The statue is a tribute to the legendary dog, Patsy Ann, who faithfully greeted nearly every ship that docked at Juneau from 1930 to 1942. Each year, hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Juneau and many of them stop to admire, take photos with, and even pet Patsy Ann's sculpture.

Although some details of her early life are missing, it's known that Patsy Ann was born in Portland, Oregon on October 12, 1929. Juneau dentist, Dr. Keyser, bought Patsy Ann for his twin daughters, Esther and Elizabeth. But for some reason the arrangement didn't work out, and the family gave her to the Dean Rice family. But Patsy Ann was not a one-family dog. She tended to escape and make her rounds, mingling with people and looking for handouts. Owned by no one, but liked by everybody, Patsy Ann soon became a canine citizen of Juneau.

It didn't take long for residents to notice two distinct things about the bull terrier. First, she was completely deaf, and second, the way she always headed for the wharf at a fast trot whenever a ship was due. In fact she'd head for the pier long before the ship came into sight. Her ability to "hear" the approaching ships remained a mystery. Could she smell the ship, or feel its rumble? And how did she always seem to know which of the seven docks it was headed for?

Residents loved to tell the story of the time there was a crowd of people standing at the wrong dock because of a misprint in the newspaper. Patsy Ann headed for the correct dock and staked her spot, casting occasional glances in the direction of the crowd, who eventually started walking toward Patsy Ann when they saw the ship headed for her dock.

For twelve years the friendly terrier gave a warm, wiggling welcome to virtually every ship that docked at Juneau. Despite bitter cold, pouring rain or stinging sleet, Patsy Ann always stopped whatever she was doing and headed for the wharf whenever a ship approached. She'd balance at the end of the groaning, surging dock, and stare straight ahead into the gloomy mist, her ears tossed by the biting wind that often ripped through Gastineau Channel. As the steamship finally broke through the fog and lumbered its way to the dock her little body would quiver with happiness. A hug or pat from the passengers or a tasty tidbit from the ship's cook was all she ever asked in return.

In 1934, Juneau Mayor Goldstein named Patsy Ann the official greeter of Juneau, Alaska. This gave Patsy Ann the special privilege of being exempt from dog-licensing laws, which was good, since she'd already removed the collar placed upon her.

In between ships, Patsy Ann liked eating at the old City Café, cooling off during the summer with a sip of beer at the Imperial Saloon, and curling up at the pot-bellied stove in the winter at the Old Alaska Empire. Most nights she slept in the Longshoremen's hall, snoring softly and twitching with doggie dreams. It was here that she passed away on March 30, 1942, at the age of twelve. The following day a crowd of mourners watched as her coffin was lowered into the cold waters of Gastineau Channel. The remarkable dog was gone, but definitely not forgotten.

In 1992, volunteers at the Gastineau Humane Society held numerous fund-raising events in honor of the 50th anniversary of Patsy Ann's death so that they could have an artist create a sculpture of the little dog. Albuquerque, New Mexico, artist, Anna Burke Harris, answered the call. Raised by a family of artists and animal breeders, and a breeder of bull terriers herself, Harris was the perfect person for the job.

"When I first heard of the effort to honor Patsy Ann," she said, "I decided to submit drawings and send a proposal. The importance of this remarkable dog and her story were something I wanted to work out in art."

Harris worked from a 1939 life drawing of Pasty Ann by Josephine Crumrine, along with photographs taken during the 1930s by Trevor Davis. Patsy Ann didn't have the typical upright ears of a bull terrier, so Harris crafted her in a natural "sitting and watching" pose with the down-eared expression of a dog waiting the approach of a friend. After Patsy Ann was sculpted and cast, she was crated up and shipped to Alaska—part of the way by ship.

On July 3, 1992, following a fancy reception aboard the Regal Princess cruise ship, the life size bronze statue of Patsy Ann was unveiled at Pasty Ann Square along the waterfront. Placed right on Juneau's main dock, "Patsy Ann" still welcomes visitors today as she did then.

When asked why she agreed to sculpt the statue, Anna Burke Harris replied simply, "For many, many years my work in sculpture has been a search for heroes." In Patsy Ann, she found one.

© Dianna Dorisi Winget