The new stamp of Owney the postal dog (National Postal Museum)

Did you know the U.S. Postal Service has a mascot? It’s a dog named Owney, and he lives at the National Postal Museum.

Well, sort of.

Owney was a fearless stray dog who wandered into the Albany, New York, post office in 1888 and began hopping on trains that carried bags of mail around the country. In those days, most mail was delivered by rail, but today it’s all done by truck or plane.

As he traveled the country on mail trains, Owney became known as a good luck charm: Mail trains used to have a lot of accidents but never a train with Owney onboard. As he traveled the country, postal clerks would add tags to his collar from each stop, but eventually Owney had so many tags the clerks had to make him a special dog vest to put them on!

Owney lives on

When Owney died in 1897, the Postal Service had him stuffed to create a lifelike replica of the dog using his own fur. The stuffed Owney, with all his tags, has been on display at various museums ever since. He has been the star attraction at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington for years. But now Owney is coming back to life in a whole new way. In a whole lot of ways, actually.

Tomorrow, the Postal Service is releasing a new Forever stamp with a picture of Owney. At the ceremony to unveil the stamp, the stuffed Owney will go back on display at the Postal Museum after being restored.

Next month, the Postal Service is also releasing an Owney app that creates a 3-D, jumping, barking Owney on your screen. It will soon release an interactive e-book about Owney for the iPad.

And finally, tomorrow kicks off an Owney look-alike contest. If you think your living, breathing pooch “has the same characteristics or demeanor” as the real Owney, said Marty Emery of the National Postal Museum, tell your parents to go to for details on how to enter.

What Owney can do for you

All the fuss about Owney “is just a fun way to try to engage the younger generation in stamps,” Emery said. Many kids today use e-mail instead of regular mail, so they may never even buy stamps (which pay for mailing a letter). The declining use of regular mail means the Postal Service has a lot less money to operate and has had to cut back service.

New stamps come out frequently, and some people even enjoy collecting the cute, funny and historic designs. So if you don’t know much about stamps, Owney is a good reason to check them out.

And maybe you can write an old-fashioned letter while you’re at it.

— Margaret Webb Pressler