Southern Brooklyn

Talking Dog Saves Brighton Beach Man From Drowning, 100 Years Ago

Don, the talking dog. (Source: New York Evening World via The Bowery Boys
Don, the talking dog. (Source: New York Evening World via the Bowery Boys)

A century ago, Don, the talking dog, saw a man drowning at Brighton Beach, barked the word “help,” and dived in to save him. The Bowery Boys blog reported that Don’s ability to talk like a person saved the man from certain doom.

To get your head around this mind-bending piece of Southern Brooklyn lore, you have to begin in December of 1910 when the New York Times reported that a dog in Germany had the ability to bark actual German words and was heading to the United States to perform on the vaudeville stage. Don and his owner, Martha Haberland, headed to the United States, joining bills with legendary magician Harry Houdini all while receiving the astonishing sum of $1,000 a week (over $24,000 adjusted for inflation)! Needless to say, Don must have been doing something with his mouth because he was a hit.

The Bowery Boys report explains how Don came to rescue a waiter who slipped outside the Hotel Shelburne in Brighton Beach:

Don returned to Hammerstein’s Times Square stage in 1913, this time performing alongside the likes of young comedian Sophie Tucker.  Later that summer he arrived in Brighton Beach to delight Brooklyn audiences.  It was here, on one of his afternoons off, that he rescued a drowning man with his famed ubiquitous voice.

The man was a waiter for the Hotel Shelburne who was actually out walking Don that afternoon.  The man jumped in the water for a swim and instantly lost his footing.  Don saw the man flailing in desperation in the ocean foam and, then, according to the New York Sun, allegedly unfurled one of his new words — “Help!” — startling everyone on the beach.*  The performer then swam over to the drowning man and began pulling on his bathing suit.

A passing policeman leaped into the water on his horse to rescue Don and the waiter.  This whole scene — dog, horse, waiter, policeman — was in turn rescued by three lifeguards in a boat. [source]

Below, you can read the actual report from the New York Tribune dating back to August 28, 1913, exactly 100 years ago. Great stuff by the Bowery Boys blog. To read their full report on Don, click here.

Source: Library of Congress
Source: Library of Congress

In case you can’t get enough local history, check out the report we wrote on the founding of Manhattan and Brighton Beach we did back in June.

Here is what the Hotel Shelburne looked like when Brighton Beach was a resort paradise. (Source: Museum of the City of New York via the Bowery Boys blog.)
Here is what the Hotel Shelburne looked like when Brighton Beach was a resort paradise. (Source: Museum of the City of New York via the Bowery Boys)
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  1. That pic up there of the Hotel, does anyone know where exactly it was standing? For some reason I’m thinking where the Oceana condo’s are now.

  2. Good thing the dog didn’t have to do CPR, because “Call 911 and get back to me” is a lot harder to bark than “Help!”

  3. Judging from the street configuration, looks like it could be on the northwest corner of Ocean Parkway and SeaBreeze. That sure looks like Ocean Parkway and SeaBreeze had the Coney Island Avenue trolley.


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