By Laurie Darroch
Although these five famous Labrador Retrievers may not bring instant recognition when you hear their names, each is famous in their own right, in their varied walks of life. From an accomplished hunting dog to a talented canine actor and a brave search-and-rescue dog, these Labs show just how versatile and accommodating the breed is.
King Buck was the first Labrador Retriever to be featured on a U.S. postage stamp. Born in 1948, the duck dog was struck with distemper early on in life. With nurturing care from his owners, the dog pulled through, and at 19 months he began field hunting. Initially vastly underestimated, the dog went on to win numerous awards at field trials. In 1952, King Buck became the best retriever in the country. With his intense field training accomplishments, the dog was also a phenomenal natural hunter. King Buck had 83 (out of 85) completed national series on his list of accomplishments; the closest another dog ever came to that impressive total was 62.
In 1959, the Federal Duck Stamp honored the work of Retrievers and their contribution to the conservation of water fowl. The artwork created by Maynard Reece showed King Buck carrying a mallard drake. King Buck died in 1962 and was honored by Nilo Kennels with a statue of the well-respected and highly accomplished duck dog on his grave.
Ben of Hyde
If you love yellow Labs, Ben was the first recognized yellow Labrador Retriever and belonged to Major Radcliffe. Ben was born in 1899. He and his son Neptune are considered to be the source of most of the yellow Labradors today.
The recessive yellow gene present in both the male and female parents resulted in what was considered a unique and peculiar coloration not seen in the breed. At the time, people wanted a dark colored dog of the breed. The lighter colored dog was considered an anomaly and the genetics of Gregor Mendel were not well known at the time, which would have helped to explain the appearance of the new colored dog, not as something strange, but a natural occurrence.
The Labrador Retriever was not recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club until 1917, although the breed had been recognized by the Kennel Club in England in 1903.
Although perhaps not commonly known by his real name, Spike’s acting career included the part of Old Yeller, the much loved dog of the 1957 Disney movie. His list of credits include multiple appearances in the television series Lassie as Barney in 1967, Chuka in 1970, and Skipper in 1971, along with two episodes as Lassie’s friend in 1964. He played Sam in 17 episodes of the television series Hondo starring Ralph Taeger in 1967. He also appeared in The Mickey Mouse Club.
Originally a rescue puppy from Van Nuys, California, the Labrador/ Mastiff mix was the pet and student of animal trainer Frank Weatherwax, who trained dogs for movies and television. Spike’s son Junior, following in his canine father’s footsteps, played Rontu in Island of the Blue Dolphins.
Jake the black lab was abandoned on the streets and rescued at 10 months by his owner, Mary Flood. He had a broken leg and a dislocated hip. Mary was a member of Utah Task Force 1. After Jake recovered from his injuries, Mary trained him to become part of the federal search and rescue team that responds to disasters nationwide. Once trained, Jake became a U.S. government certified rescue dog, a distinguished title given to less than 200 dogs nationwide.
Among his accomplishments as a search and rescue dog was a dangerous 17 day stint looking for human remains in the wreckage at Ground Zero following 9-11 in 2001. In August of 2005, he helped with rescue efforts following Hurricane Katrina, and again following Hurricane Rita in September the same year.
Along with the credits for rescue assists, Jake was a teacher to other handlers and their rescue dogs. Not to be limited by his rescue skills, he also worked with burn victims at a camp and as a therapy dog in nursing homes in Utah. Jake passed at 12 years of age in 2007.
This fictional Labrador Retriever was part of a traveling trio of animals in the beloved 1961 book, The Incredible Journey, written by Scottish author Sheila Burnford. It was followed by a movie of the same name in 1963. The story of the unerring loyalty and persistence of the odd trio, which included Luath as well as a Siamese cat named Tao and an old Bull Terrier called Bodger, is the epitome of the love and loyalty dogs and cats give their human companions.
A name of Gaelic origins, Luath means quick, swift or fast, an appropriate moniker for the fun loving and mischievous young Lab in this heartwarming tale.
The beautiful and loving Labrador Retriever has stepped into all walks of human existence as loyal companions of the highest caliber, capable of caring for and helping their humans in extraordinary ways.
Read more articles by Laurie Darroch