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Smithsonian Magazine March 1999
Brisbin is a senior ecologist on the sprawling Savannah River Site, a huge nuclear reservation carved out of the local farmland in the 195os by the federal government, which built reactors there for the defense program.  The reactors are shut down now, and the Savannah site-3io square miles of mostly forest and wetlands-is a National Environmental Research Park.  Fenced off with barbed wire  and closed to the public, it is a fertile haven for wildlife despite some areas
with residual radioactivity.
     Brisbin, a trim man in his late 50s with bottomless energy, is a polymath with professional interests that range from alligators and box turtles to wood storks and furbearers.  His graduate work on the bioenergetics of reptiles and birds first led him to study red junglefowl, the ancestors of modern chickens.  And that sparked a curiosity about the process of domestication in animals, which in turn meshed neatly with his lifelong passion for dogs and dog training.
       And that led him, eventually, to Horace and Marion. Horace was a stray, white with brown markings, found wandering in the late '70s on the boundary of the Savannah River Site.  There wasn't anything terribly special about him- he seemed just a typical rural mutt of the sort you'd find chained to back porches and doghouses from the Carolinas to Texas.  Brisbin, whose specialty at the time was training American Staffordshire terriers and bloodhounds, added Horace to his kennel of show dogs, and for several years didn't spare him much more thought.
       Which is a little odd, because Brisbin was beginning to think about feral dogs.  Early in his research on domestication, he became fascinated by the origins of truly wild dogs, like the dingo in Australia (P- 54), a honey-gold dog believed to have come to the island continent with humans about 4,000 years ago.  He wondered whether 
   


 

Little Sister (top), a wild-caught 
alpha female of a captive 
Carolina dog pack, rears up 
over tall grass to spot her prey 
before being joined by her son 
Sam (below, in the background) 
during a hunt.

the dogs that came  to North America with humans might have been similar to dingoes, and he studied the archaeological and anthropological evidence.  And he spent his spare time learning about the so-called pariah dogs of the Old World, which share traits with dingoes.
    In many corners of Europe, Asia and Africa, on the margins of human civilization, there are dogs lurking in the shadows-not pampered house pets, but untamed, often malnour ished animals scavenging for scraps and garbage, avoiding people, surviving on the edge between wild and tame.  Regardless of the setting-Afghanistan, Korea, Malaysia, the Papua New Guinea highlands-they frequently share common attributes: shorthaired coats that may be multi-colored but are often ginger, curled tails, erect ears and foxlike faces.  In India these animals are called pariahs, after the low-ranking social caste, and that name has come to be applied to such populations elsewhere.  In fact,
    Brisbin has defined a "pariah niche," a pervasive canine lifestyle that revolves around scavenging garbage near human settlements.  One winter day several years after Horace arrived, Brisbin had him out f'or a run with his other, pedigreed dogs.  That day, for some reason, Brisbin looked beyond Horace's piebald coat to his shape and proportions, and it struck him that the dog looked just like a dingo, like the pariahs halfway around the world.  "At that moment everything just fell into place," he says now, 20years later.
    Brisbin realized that he'd been seeing dogs that looked like dingoes for years, roaming the woods of the Savannah River Site, often turning up in the traps he'd set as part of his regular forbearer surveys.  On a hunch, he drove that day to an animal shelter just to see if they had more of these dingo-like dogs.  

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