|Tracking America's First Dog
Carolina dogs, discovered in the Southeast woods, may provide
clues to the primitive dogs that arrived with the first humans in America
not often that a registered breed of dog starts with a castoff that even
the pound didn't want and a stray plucked out of the woods. But it is even
less likely that such animals would provide one of those rare "Eureka!"
moments in science, drawing back the curtain on both evolution and human
culture, and providing clues to the mysterious origins of the long, fruitful
partnership that exists between humans and canines.
Lehr Brisbin, a senior ecologist at the Savannah River Ecology Lab in Aiken,
South Carolina, breeds and studies what he calls the Carolina dog: a scrawny,
medium-sized animal with a reddish-yellow coat, upright ears and a whiplash
tail curling up over its back — what rural Southerners have long called
a "yaller" dog. Through his work with Carolina dogs, Brisbin hopes to gain
a better understanding of their origins and possible relationship to other
so-called primitive dogs throughout the world, such as dingoes in Australia,
New Guinea singing dogs and the so-called pariah dogs of the Old World.
His research on a group of Carolinas has revealed that they share traits
and behaviors with the other primitive groups, and preliminary DNA studies
reveal a possible linkage.
The size, appearance and behavior of the Carolina dogs also suggest
they might be a relic of the first dogs to enter the Southeast region thousands
of years ago. Early paintings and ancient rock art depict dogs with Native
Americans that appear remarkably similar to the Carolinas.
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