2013-05-22 / Columnists

Pets pets pets

Nice news! Shelter dogs and cats are now Colorado’s official state pet. Last week Governor John Hickenlooper, accompanied by his own shelter rescue dog, Sky, signed the bill into law at Denver’s shelter. School children proposed this resolution as a part of a project to learn about the legislative process.

According to the Denver Post, the debate was a bit of a dog fight; the students clashed with professional lobbyists representing purebred dog clubs, groomers and retailers. One 14-year-old advocate testified that the official designation was “a matter of life or death” for millions of shelter and rescue dogs and cats. Someone else felt the bill discriminated against birds, reptiles, insects and other mammals, yet, the measure passed by a vote of six to three.

Actually elevating rescue dogs to an official state status is not a new idea. In 2011, NYS Assemblyman Micah Kellner and State Senator Joseph E. Robach cosponsored a similar bill with Kellner 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.” Well, it seems that Colorado threw shelter pets a bone first.

Eleven-year-old "Marco," Babylon Shelter alumnus at WKC agility match (Photo by Mary Bloom) Eleven-year-old "Marco," Babylon Shelter alumnus at WKC agility match (Photo by Mary Bloom) Eleven other states already have designated breeds as their official state dog. Several are regional varieties and the rest American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized breeds. Maryland was the first state, naming the Chesapeake Bay Retriever in 1964. Legend has it that in the early 19th century, an English vessel shipwrecked off the Maryland coast, and a pair of surviving Newfoundlands bred with the local Coonhounds. Pennsylvania followed the next year, choosing the Great Dane because early settlers in the state used them as hunting and working dogs, and because some say the outline of the state’s boundaries resembles a Dane’s head.

Virginia’s choice- the American Foxhound- is obvious because George Washington, a prominent resident of the state, is not only the father of our country but the father of this breed having developed it from French staghounds shipped to him by the Marquis de Lafayette after the American Revolution. (See Beacon “Pets” 1/17/13 online.) Wisconsin’s connection to the American Water Spaniel is more obscure. Experts believe the breed was developed as a gun dog in the mid-19th century in the Fox River and Wolf River valleys of the state.

North Carolina adopted the Plott Hound, named for Jonathan Plott, who developed the breed in the mountains of North Carolina during the 1750s to hunt wild boar. Other official state dogs also are native to their state, including the Boston Terrier (Massachusetts) and the Alaskan Malamute (Alaska). South Carolina chose the Boykin Spaniel, a native breed, as its symbol. This breed descends from local hunting dogs bred in the early 20th century as gun dogs by L. Whitaker Boykin (1861-1932) who wanted to develop a retrieving spaniel that was small enough to ride in the small swamp boats. Kansas is working on officially embracing the Cairn Terrier because of Toto and The Wizard of Oz. All the breeds mentioned so far are AKC recognized.

The Chinook, which will be newly AKC recognized soon, represents New Hampshire. The breed was developed by Arthur Walden in NH in 1917. Chinooks stem from one male 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.

As for the regional varieties, Louisiana boasts the Catahoula Leopard Dog as its state dog while the state sport of Louisiana is boar hunting. Catahoula Leopard Dogs are used to control the hogs by barking right in their faces. Since hogs don’t like this and since they also have sharp tusks, the dogs wear Kevlar vests, chest armor and wide collars to keep from getting hurt. Texas has a state dog called the Blue Lacy that few have ever heard of. (It’s news to me.) The breed is named after four Lacy brothers who in 1858 moved from Kentucky to Texas. Supposedly it was a mixture of English Shepherd (or perhaps coyote), Greyhound and wolf, developed to herd the Lacy family’s free-roaming hogs. (Do you notice a Porky Pig theme here?)

Colorado beat New York to the shelter dog selection, so is there a breed that best represents us? No breed can trace its roots to the Empire State. Last Sunday, Westminster

Kennel Club (WKC) held an AKC sanctioned agility match at Old Bethpage Restoration, and while we were watching the agility aces have a blast in the rain, this became a topic of conversation. I asked David Frei, WKC director of communications, and Mary Bloom, WKC photographer for New York State breed suggestions. David said that Shih tzus, French Bulldogs and Cavaliers seem to be the most popular on New York streets but we wanted a breed that embodies us statewide. We zeroed in on German Shepherd dogs because of their intelligence, courage, stamina and versatility as police, detection and service dogs. Shepherds were the first guide dogs, and served valiantly after 9/11.

Then, something perfect happened. We watched Deb Feliziani’s “Marco”, an 11-year-old German Shepherd adopted from Babylon Shelter when he was a puppy with an imbedded collar wound, jubilantly run the agility course. And Babylon Village was the home of the Westminster Kennel Club from 1880-1904; Sensation, the WKC mascot, is buried here. The dog gods had spoken. German Shepherd Dogs really are the quintessential New Yorkers. They, like us, can conquer all obstacles.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter: (631- 643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: Speaking of German Shepherds, “Alice” #13-260, came in as a stray from Ralph Avenue in Babylon last week. No one has claimed her; nor has anyone come for this young female Black & Tan Coonhound #13-281 picked up in Deer Park. Come visit all the dogs and cats that need loving homes.

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