It wasn’t until Shep retired from lighthouse duty that the world learned of the bronze medal he was awarded for saving lives.
In fact the world learned of it when his master Laurence E. Knight came to register him at Maine’s Portland City Hall many years after the event and his retirement from lighthouse duty. In what started as a casual conversation with the clerks at city hall. Upon hearing the story he was declared by the clerks as the best dog to ever visit City Hall.
Having been born in North Haven Maine, Shep was actually quite famous even before he became a lighthouse dog. It seems that while he was a young pup famous aviator Charles Lindberg on one of his many visits to Maine took the dog up for a flight.
It was said he was born in hope and perhaps because his mother was a collie and his father was a German Sheppard.
While still a young puppy, Shep became the property of Lawrence E. Knight and went to live at Hendricks Head Light in Southport, Maine where Laurence’s father Charles L. Knight was serving his last years as a lighthouse keeper on the Maine coast.
It was said to be a blustery night in the fall of 1932 that Shep came from behind the lighthouse kitchen stove and caused quite a furor with his loud and persistent barking. It was obvious he wanted out and out he was let.
From within the house Keeper Knight could hear the continuous yelps of the dog barking like mad. Mrs. Knight rushed down to the shore and found Shep’s nose pointing toward the sea, "his barks roaring out in the darkness," according to the newspaper account of the time.
Since Mrs. Knight could see or hear nothing, which might be cause for the dogs barking, she tried to quiet him down to no avail, however she also trusted the dog’s instincts, which she stressed to her husband keeper Knight who was no stranger to the dangers of the open water. After all, he had read hundreds of reports of mishaps and rescues while working as a clerk in the office of the Inspector of the First Lighthouse District before he became a lighthouse keeper at Goose Rocks Light and Squirrel Point Lights. He started sounding an alarm through use of the fog signal.
Further down the coast owners of two powerboats heard the alarm and gazed over the water to see if they could spot anyone in trouble. They soon found a young couple about 200 yards off the lighthouse who has somehow lost the oars to their boat and were about to be carried off by the high winds into the open sea where they surely would have capsized and perished.
When word spread of Shep’s word a representative of the Anti-Vivisection Society of New York awarded him a bronze medal.
Keeper Knight, then retired recalled Shep’s day at the lighthouse saying, "You couldn't induce him to bite anything. I’ve seen him pick up chickens in his mouth and carry them to the pen."
This story appeared in the
April 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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