Alaskan malamute becomes latest official state dog

(Mary Bloom/copyright American Kennel Club)
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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Three years ago, an Alaskan kindergartner decided her state should have an official dog. Her fellow students at Polaris K-12 School in Anchorage liked the idea so much that they did research, made phone calls and testified before the state legislature. In May of this year, Alaska became the 11th state to bestow an official title on man's best friend.

The students chose the Alaskan malamute because of its long history in Alaska. For thousands of years, malamutes were valuable work dogs to an Inuit tribe (the Mahlemuts) because they could haul very heavy loads over long distances in the Arctic's harsh environment. They resemble huskies, but are much stronger and are the largest of the Arctic sled dogs.

Other breeds have names that honor geographical locations, such as the Chesapeake Bay retriever, Maryland's state dog.

In fact, in 1964 Maryland became the first state to so honor our canine friends. Popular with hunters for their ability to retrieve water birds such as ducks and geese, "Chessies" seem to be descendants of a pair rescued from a sinking British fishing boat in 1807: Sailor, a male, and Canton, a female named after the American ship that rescued the dogs and the crew.

Other states honor dogs to highlight some historical period in their region. In the governor's reception room in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a painting of that state's founder, William Penn, includes a Great Dane, brought over from England when Pennsylvania was still a colony.

Choosing a state dog isn't always taken as a serious matter. In 1965, when Pennsylvania's speaker of the House called for a vote to approve the Great Dane as the state's dog, legislators responded with various barks. The "arfs" won in what is known as the "barking dog vote."

Here's a look at the other state dogs and when they got their official designation.

-- Ann Cameron Siegal

Virginia: American foxhound. Originated in the 1700s as a cross of English and French hounds primarily for use in the sport of fox hunting. This foxhound received its state designation in 1966.

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