Everyone loves the distinctive spots and striking black and white coloring of Dalmatians. They're a loyal and healthy breed that draws looks from any dog lover. They even have a whole Disney franchise based on the premise of how rad you'd look in a coat made from their skin.
At least I think that was the message of those films.
But other than mentally unstable fashionistas, ask any person which profession they associate these spotted dogs with, and the overwhelming answer will be firefighting. In modern times, this might seem a little odd. Sure, to this day we still have dogs aiding a wide variety of careers, but what practical application does a spotted dog have when you're running into a burning building or aiming a high-pressure firehose?
Though these days, Dalmatians are only part of the firefighting image as mascots, their use in the past was quite practical for several reasons.
Back in the day, fire-fighting was not a government-run service back in the day. Today, the fire brigade is viewed as part of the emergency service trio (police, paramedics, and firefighters), so it may come as a bit of a surprise to find that firemen of old worked as either volunteers or private businesses. Firefighting companies were in stiff competition with one another. At the first notice of fire, each company would literally race to the scene of the fire, partly because it's an emergency, but also because the insurance companies only paid the company that put out the fire. So if you're the first one on site, you have a higher chance of finishing the job and getting paid.
Because of the nature of the business, many firefighters were hired because of their physical strength, not just for fighting fires, but for fighting rival companies who might sneak in and sabotage their equipment in the dead of night. To aid in security, many firehouses decided to bring guard dogs into the mix.
But here's another wrinkle: not just any dog will do, because all the equipment the firemen brought to the site was drawn by horses. Not all guard dog breeds interact well with horses, so early firefighters made the logical choice of picking a breed that fit both criteria.
Dalmatians belong to a family of breeds known as coach dogs, bred specifically to protect and run alongside horse-drawn carriages. For this reason, Dalmatians get along great with their equine friends and were used to protect the firehouse, horses, and equipment.
When an actual fire would break out, Dalmatians would spring into action as full members of the crew. The spotted dogs would run at the front of the convoy, barking to clear a path for the horsedrawn equipment. In the event that another company was encountered on the way to the fire, the Dalmatians would do their best to slow them down, nipping at the legs of rival horses and doing whatever it took to hamper their progress.
Though these days, they don't play such an active role in the industry, their legacy still marks them as firedogs in teh public conciousness, even if most people don't know exactly how that legacy came to be.
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