Out there in the bush, lurking in the grass but rarely seen, roam the modern-day descendants of the world's first dogs.
Long after the Cherokee and Creek Indians vanished from the savanna lands of Georgia and South Carolina, the shy, resourceful dogs who shared their campfires still thrive in the most remote areas of the southeast.
According to Dr. Leer Brisbane, the first dogs were domesticated in the Middle East from smallish wolves about 11,000 years ago. They followed primitive humans across Asia into North America and then spread across this continent. Their progeny can be found around the globe: the dingo in Australia, the Canaan dog in the Middle East and the Akita and Shiba Inu in Japan.
But until recently the descendants of these early dogs were unknown in North America, probably because American wolves and coyotes interbred with them and co-opted their genes. But in the early 1970s, while trapping fur-bearing animals for study on the 310-square-mile Savannah River Site, Dr. Brisbane and his associates at the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Lab, located on site, first noticed a breed of reclusive, mid-sized wild dogs that looked very much like the Australian dingo.
In the past several years Dr. Brisbane and his colleagues have studied and genetically confirmed that these shy canine SRS inhabitants are, indeed, a separate breed related to the early Indian dogs. They have also developed a captive breeding program and a registered breed from the now-named Carolina dog.
This newly discovered breed can be socialized to live with humans and one of Dr. Brisbane's pack of 50 in domestication currently ranks third in the country for confirmation in the American Rare Breed Association.
If you're interested in adopting one of Dr. Brisbane's captive-bred Carolina dogs and helping him continue his research, call (803) 725-2472.
- Stephen D. Hale
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