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The Battle for Statehood

From the pages of the July/August 2007 AKC Family Dog
© 2007 The American Kennel Club, Inc.

It takes a tough hide and dogged determination to achieve this singular honor.
By Michael Taylor

There may be eight million stories in the Naked City, but in all of the U.S.A. there are only nine official state dogs. While presidential pets gained notoriety through mere proximity with the Chief, the breeds that represent nine states had to fight for the privilege—and at times the fighting was fierce.

In Wisconsin, an endearing native with a curly coat and smiling eyes became the target of legislative wrath, a sort of canine Rodney Dangerfield whose sponsors were forced into a protracted battle.

When Lyle Brumm looks out of his front window, he can see the property where the late Dr. Fred J. Pfeifer spent 40 years developing the American Water Spaniel. Pfeifer, whose efforts led to American Kennel Club recognition in 1940, was still practicing medicine in 1960 when Brumm arrived to teach in New London.

In 1981, Brumm recognized the challenge involved in making government studies interesting to eighth graders and decided to personalize the process. He encouraged his students to draft a bill. They decided to push for recognition of the American Water Spaniel as Wisconsin's state dog.

Their bill was drafted in November 1982 and introduced by Representative Francis Byers in the 1983 legislative session. The state assembly passed it in a 74-24 vote.

Throughout the lobbying, Brumm's classes wrote hundreds of letters and made 11 trips to the state capitol at Madison. A parent of one of the students managed a local radio station, and put the story on the wire. The press jumped on it "like locusts," Brumm says.

Worms, Rats, and Catcalls
In 1984 the bill advanced to the Senate Committee on Urban Affairs and Government Operations. Students arrived at the hearing full of optimism but received a rude shock: Committee members greeted them with howls, barks, and insults.

Senator Mordecai Lee, of Milwaukee, declared flatly, "We don't need any more symbols." Besides making the legislature a laughingstock, he insisted that sending the bill to the senate floor would be "opening a can of worms on such measures."

"In fact," he stated, "I believe the worm will be the next state symbol," adding, "We shouldn't pass bills because a high-school class wants it."

Senator Dan Theno, of Ashland, put in his two cents, calling the American Water Spaniel a "flea-bitten mangy mutt that has the propensity to be ornery," adding it had a tail that was "like a rat."

"It shocked the kids," says Brumm. "They couldn't believe that adults would act like that. They felt they got no respect whatsoever."

In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, student Kristie Slosarek, fumed: "It makes me mad. I think the bill is real important, especially since the American Water Spaniel was developed in Wisconsin. For something to be a state symbol it should be something special, something developed in Wisconsin." Unlike, for instance, the robin or white-tailed deer, the official bird and wildlife animal, respectively.

Back in New London, Brumm marshaled his student forces. "You bet I'm not giving up," he declared to the press.

Within the next month, scathing editorials appeared—including one in the New York Times—raking senate committee members over the coals. The senate majority leader invited the students to "try it again," and Governor Anthony S. Earl made arrangements for a diplomatic visit with Brumm's class. When the Democratic governor arrived in the heavily Republican enclave of New London, he found 500 indignant students demanding to know what could be done.

Pausing to pose for photographs with a spaniel, Earl explained that the dog may have been a victim of the successes enjoyed by the cow, silt loam, and the muskie, all recently declared state symbols. As a gesture of goodwill, he promised to travel to New London to sign the state-dog bill in their presence—when, not if, it passed.

Another committee hearing was conducted at the state capitol on March 29, 1985. First to speak was Representative Byers, followed by writer Dave Duffey of Wautoma, Lyle Brumm, and eighth- grade president David Hanson.

The legislation was approved by acclaimation. On April 22, before 1,000 jubilant students in New London, Governor Earl signed Assembly Bill 16, designating the American Water Spaniel the official state dog.

Said Earl, "I can't resist a few puns. I've only been able to come here today because of the dogged determination you've shown. 'Brownie' Byers has spent five years hounding opponents of the bill, assuring them they were barking up the wrong tree. But when it finally came time to pass the bill, you didn't have a dogfight at all."

The governor and Lyle Brumm received plaques from John Hattrem, American Water Spaniel Club president, who told those assembled, "The little dog with the big heart will be a worthy representative of the state of Wisconsin." Dr. Pfeifer was present in spirit; his portrait flanked the bill-signing table and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren were special guests.

Fast forward 20 years and we find the rough-tongued Senator Theno, who did not run for reelection, living in Ohio, while the American Water Spaniel remains a proud symbol of the Badger State.

Maryland's Choice
When Maryland recognized the Chesapeake Bay Retriever as its state dog in 1964, many had long assumed it was already their canine representative. That year, an akc gazette columnist wrote, "Indeed, many of us were under the impression that this action had been taken some years previously." The Chessie had an indefatigable advocate in Elmer M. Jackson Jr., editor of the Evening Capitol of Annapolis and three other Maryland newspapers. After the governor signed the bill, the legislature issued a special resolution commending Jackson for "such service in informing the citizens of our State of Maryland of the history, nature and value of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever as the official Dog of the State of Maryland."

William Penn's Best Friend
In eight out of nine cases, candidates for state dogdom originated in the state they represent. The exception is Pennsylvania's Great Dane, a German import.

The Dane's claim to fame is its purported connection to William Penn. Pennsylvania muralist Violet Oakley, commissioned to paint a historical mural in the governor's mansion, chose to depict Penn's banishment by his father. At the young man's side is a fawn Great Dane, his "best friend." Officials in the governor's office speculate that Oakley may have seen evidence of the family's association with the Great Dane, since her research was extensive. But neither the state nor the Great Dane Club of Western Pennsylvania, sponsor of the legislation, has unearthed definitive proof.

In August 1965, the Great Dane became state dog in an oral vote composed of "yips, growls, and barks"—a first in the history of the Pennsylvania legislature.

Dogwood State's Dog
The American Foxhound, with roots that go back to the father of our country, was recognized by the AKC in 1886 and became Virginia's state dog eight decades later. The club responsible for introducing legislation was the Virginia International Foxhunting Association. AKC judge and American Foxhound fancier Polly Smith recalls that president Pat Ireland, of Culpepper, was "the moving force behind getting the breed recognized as state dog."

Bicentennial Breed
The dapper Boston Terrier needs no introduction. It is the country's best known and most decorated state dog. In 1975, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation commemorating Boston Terrier Week and Representative Thomas "Tip" O'Neill spearheaded a resolution in the U.S. Congress, declaring the Boston "our bicentennial dog." In his bid for recognition the "American Gentleman," as the Boston Terrier is known, had a tireless advocate in "a feisty Irish lady named Irene Ryan," as a Boston Terrier publication describes her. In 1978 after the senate turned down a bid made by fifth-graders from Marlboro, Irene took matters into her own hands. Working with Senator Arthur Lewis, she single-handedly wrote hundreds of letters resulting in the passage of the bill in April 1979.

Louisiana Leopard
No one knows for certain what the origins of the Catahoula (Kat-a-HOO-la) Leopard Dog are, but it is believed the breed is a combination of Mastiff, Greyhound, and Beauceron brought to this country by early explorers, crossed with red wolves kept by Native Americans. The breed was first registered as the Catahoula Leopard Stock Dog in 1951 by Tom Stodghill's Animal Research Foundation registry of Quinlan, Texas.

In 1977, Betty Ann Eaves and her father, Louisiana state trooper Kline Rushing, established a registry for Louisiana-bred Catahoulas. Eaves spearheaded the drive for recognition, and in July 1979 Governor Edwin Edwards signed a bill recognizing the Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog, "as registered by the National Association of Louisiana Catahoulas," as state dog.

South Carolina's Spaniel
Developed about 70 years ago, the little flop-eared Boykin Spaniel counts the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, the Cocker and Springer spaniels, and the American Water Spaniel among its ancestors.

According to Boykin Spaniel Society president Jim Latimer, the quest for state dog status began in April 1978 when the society noted that "legislation has been introduced in the South Carolina Senate." Although the BSS had not been the instigator, it rallied in support. The bill soon cleared the senate and was referred to the House Agriculture Committee, but went no further. In 1984 the topic surfaced again. The society's second attempt was a success, with Governor Dick Riley proclaiming the opening day of the 1984 mourning dove hunting season to be Boykin Spaniel Day and then making the breed's position as state dog official on March 26, 1985.

Tar Heel Hunter
In 1750 Johannes Plott traveled from Germany to settle in the western North Carolina mountains, bringing with him several Hanoverian hounds of the type used to hunt wild boar in his homeland. Plott developed his breed over 30 years, followed by family and friends who took up the breed's banner. Gola Ferguson, who kept and hunted with Plotts in the 1920s, noted that, against bear, a good specimen is a "one-man army." The governor signed a bill elevating the breed to state dog in August 1989.

Lone Star's Lacy
The Blue Lacy, the latest member of the state-dog club, gained the honor in Austin at the conclusion of a well-organized six-month campaign in 2005 by members of the pioneer Lacy family and the Lacy Game Dog Association. The Lacys are best known as one of three families to provide the granite for the Texas state capitol building.

The Blue Lacy is the result of a breeding program conducted by the Lacy brothers, beginning in the mid-1800s, utilizing scenthounds, coyotes, and either Greyhound or Italian Greyhound. The state recognized the Blue Lacy with a proclamation in 2001, following up with official recognition four years later.

Michael Taylor, regional director for the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of America, lives in Portland, Oregon, and is completing a book on state dogs.