Remembering Muggins, Victoria’s legendary four-legged wartime fundraiser

A “muggins” is usually defined as a foolish or gullible person, but there was nothing foolish or gullible about Muggins, a small, white dog from Victoria that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars during World War One and after. Now that story is being shared in the new book Muggins: The Life and Afterlife of a Canadian War Hero.

“So many people, over 100 years ago, took this little dog very seriously. He wasn’t a toy. He wasn’t an amusement. He was considered a soldier on the frontlines of the war effort,” explains author Grant Hayter-Menzies. “It wasn’t just his little get-up wearing the two collection tins on his harness, as depicted on the cover of the book, it was his personality.”

“He had what were described as ‘speaking eyes,'” Hayter-Menzies explains. “He would show his appreciation for donations put in his collection tins and, like all dogs, he wanted to be loved and made that very obvious to perfect strangers.”

Hayter-Menzies picks up the Muggins tale from the dog’s origins, from being born to a well-to-do household in Calgary in 1913 to getting to meet the future King Edward VIII on the lawn of the BC Legislature where he helped dedicate a statue of Queen Victoria in 1919, a year before his death.

Muggins was a purebred Spitz, a type of Pomeranian, what at the time was known as a collection dog, sent out to gather donations on behalf of the Red Cross and later the Great War Veterans Association. Hayter-Menzies says Muggins was especially popular among children.

“He was quite the draw. And, of course, where the kids wanted to go, their mothers had to go. And, so, the coins got dropped in the tins and, one thing led to another, and he ended up raising a lot of money.”
In fact, his draw was so powerful, after his death, Muggins was kept in a glass case and continued fundraising during World War Two. And his appeal endured long after that.

“Just as people leave impressions that last for generations, animals do the same thing,” he explains. “He left an indelible mark on many people who worked with him, who just met him, people who lived abroad, people who lived in the US who came through Victoria between 1916 and 1919 who met Muggins and couldn’t forget him.”

Muggins is the latest in a series of biographies of historic animals and the people they inspired. Hayter-Menzies has also written Woo, The Monkey Who Inspired Emily Carr: A Biography, The Lost War Horses of Cairo: The Passion of Dorothy Brooke, and From Stray Dog to World War I Hero: The Paris Terrier Who Joined the First Division. He hopes the reader takes away a greater appreciation of animals and what they bring to our lives.

“I take animals seriously. I hope through the writing of all of my books about animals that people see that they should be taken seriously, and their loyalty and love appreciated.”

Muggins: The Life and Afterlife of a Canadian War Hero is available from Heritage House Publishing.

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