I was struck by a recent news article which reported that in New York State, Upper East Side, New York City, Assemblyman Micah Kellner, has introduced legislation suggesting that New York adopt an official state dog. The surprise to me was that this official dog was not to be a breed but rather the "rescue dog." Republican Senator Joseph E. Robach is the co-sponsor of what seems to be developing into a very popular bill. The rescue dogs that they speak of are not search and rescue dogs, or the dogs used to try to rescue survivors from natural disasters, but rather dogs that have been rescued and adopted from animal shelters. Apparently both men are animal lovers who have adopted and fostered rescue dogs.
Assemblyman Kellner is quoted as saying, "Shelter and rescue animals are unconditionally loving and loyal pets that are eager to become beloved members of a family. It's time for New York State to throw these dogs a bone. New Yorkers are scrappy, just like rescue dogs. We often have a bone to pick. And a lot of us are mutts."
This led me to wonder as to which dogs other states have adopted as their official mascots or symbols. My first surprise was that only 12 of the US states have an official dog. The next surprise was that one quarter of these were breeds that are not recognized by the American Kennel Club. The idea of a state dog appears to be a recent phenomena, with the earliest being Maryland's adoption of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever in 1964. In fact three of the 12 states designated their official dog within the past six years.
Let me give you a rundown of official state dogs in alphabetical order, and I'll also note the date that this dog was adopted in parentheses.
Alaska: Here the choice seems quite obvious, and it is the Alaskan Malamute (2010). It is also consistent with the fact that the state sport is dog mushing.
Louisiana: The state of Louisiana has chosen the Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog (1979). This is not an AKC recognized breed. Like Alaska, Louisiana's state sport involves dogs, and it is officially designated as Uncle Earl's Hog Dog Trials. Begun in 1994, the event was named for three-time Louisiana governor "Uncle" Earl Long, an avid stockman and boar hunter who was born in Winnfield, Louisiana, in 1895. The aim of the contest is for the dog to control a hog by barking or baying in his face. Since hogs can be unfriendly and dangerous beasts, the dogs are outfitted with Kevlar vests, chest armor, and extra-wide collars to protect them from any major injuries.
Maryland: The state of Maryland was the first to designate an official dog (1964). It is the Chesapeake Bay Retriever which was developed to assist duck hunters in the cold water in the marshes around Chesapeake Bay. It has nothing to do with the state's official sport, which is jousting.
Massachusetts: Here we have another obvious choice, with this state choosing the Boston Terrier as its official canine (1979). It was developed by Robert C. Hooper of Boston in the 1870s, starting with a dog labeled as of "bull and terrier lineage."
New Hampshire: This state chose the Chinook (2009), which is not an AKC recognized breed. The Chinook owes its existence to one man: Arthur Treadwell Walden of Wonalancet, New Hampshire. The breed stems from one male ancestor born in 1917, named "Chinook," who was Walden's lead dog on the Byrd Antarctic expedition in 1929. This dog can be traced back to a crossbreeding of husky stock from the Peary North Pole expedition. Walden is credited with bringing the sled dog sport to New England. It is therefore a surprise to find the dog mushing is not the state sport, rather it is skiing.
North Carolina: It did not surprise me to find that the state of North Carolina has chosen a dog which is classified as a coonhound. This is the Plott Hound (1989). The ancestors of today's Plott Hounds were used for boar hunting in Germany many years ago. Johannes Plott left his native Germany and came to North Carolina in 1750. He brought a few wild boar hounds with him. These dogs had been bred for generations for their stamina and gameness. Plott and his family settled in the mountains of western North Carolina and their line of dogs became well known as hunting hounds with stamina, drive, and clear pure voices.
Pennsylvania: One of the more puzzling choices for state dog is Pennsylvania's selection of the Great Dane (1965). I can find no particular link between the Great Dane and the Keystone State. It certainly doesn't have to do with its origin, since Germany and Denmark are still battling over which was the nation that founded the breed.
South Carolina: This state chose the Boykin Spaniel (1985), a native breed, as its symbol. This breed descends from hunting dogs bred in the early 20th century as gun dogs in South Carolina. They are the result of breeding experiments by L. Whitaker Boykin (1861-1932) who wanted to develop a hunting and retrieving spaniel that was small enough to ride in the small boats used by hunters in the swamps.
Texas: This state is another that chose a breed that is not recognized by the AKC. It is the Blue Lacy (2005). The breed is named after named after the Lacy brothers (Frank, George, Ewin, and Harry Lacy) who in 1858 moved from Kentucky to Texas. According to the Lacy family it was a mixture of English Shepherd (or perhaps coyote), greyhound, and wolf. It was originally developed to be a herding dog to work the family's free-roaming hogs, and it appears to be the only breed of dog that can trace its origins to the state of Texas.
Virginia: This state chose an obvious breed which originated there. The American Foxhound (1966) was actually developed by one of the state of Virginia's most prominent citizens, the first American president, George Washington. It was in Mount Vernon, his family estate and farm, where he created the breed by crossbreeding the Virginia Hound (an earlier development of his) with some French hunting hounds which were sent to him by General Lafayette after the Revolutionary War.
Wisconsin: This state chose a gun dog which is little-known outside of North America, namely the American Water Spaniel (1985). This breed originated around the mid-19th century but its true origin is a mystery. Most experts have come to accept that it was likely developed in the Fox River and Wolf River valleys of Wisconsin.
If your state does not appear on this list, then perhaps you should be thinking about whether you would like an official state dog, and which breed it should be. In these days of political and economic turmoil such an issue would not be considered to be an important legislative matter. Still, discussion of the issue might lighten the tone in many a state legislature. In addition, designating an official state dog breed costs virtually nothing and should give the citizens of a state something to be proud of and to rally around--and of course to give a pat and a treat to.
Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Born to Bark, The Modern Dog, Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History, How Dogs Think, How To Speak Dog, Why We Love the Dogs We Do, What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs, Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies, Sleep Thieves, The Left-hander Syndrome
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