Bill seeks to name state dog

Kindergartner's idea spurs legislation for Alaskan Malamute

Posted: Sunday, January 25, 2009

ANCHORAGE - It's time to stop dissing the dog.

Al Grillo / The Associated Press
Al Grillo / The Associated Press

That's the message that an inquisitive kindergartner brought to her teacher more than two years ago when she wanted to know why Alaska - the state that has a fondness for most things canine - didn't have an official state dog.

She even offered up her personal choice: the Alaskan Malamute.

The youngster's idea, and the hard work of other students, inspired a bill that if passed would make the Alaskan Malamute the official state dog. The large, rugged dogs with super thick coats suited for Arctic climes would join the list of other official state symbols, including the state insect (four spot skimmer dragonfly), the state fish (the Chinook salmon), the state flower (Forget-Me-Not), state gem (jade), and the state fossil (Wooly Mammoth.)

Rep. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, is sponsoring the bill in the House. It got its first reading on the opening day of the Legislature on Tuesday and was referred to the State Affairs Committee.

Gardner is asking for a quick hearing so that the children can see the rewards of their hard work soon, she said.

"To tell you the truth, I don't have a great passion for why the Malamute or why we should have the state dog," Gardner said. "This is their project and I am simply their tool."

Carol Bartholomew, a teacher at the Polaris K-12 School in Anchorage, said the school decided last year to forge ahead with the project, which was broken down into several segments. The youngest students researched what the dogs look like. The next older group looked into the connection between the dogs and the Mahlemut tribe. The oldest students put the dog in a historical context.

"I found out that the Alaskan Malamute originated in Alaska and the Mahlemut tribe used to use them to haul game, take care of children, and helped in World War II to haul stuff where people couldn't. They also helped in Arctic explorations," said 10-year-old Atticus Madland, a Polaris student.

"They are known to usually be nice to people and kind of take care of them. Sometimes they are mean to other dogs but generally are really nice to people," he said.

The students came up with a PowerPoint presentation. They got letters from community and city leaders. They collected signatures of support. They got the American Kennel Club and the Student Government Association of Alaska to support the idea.

The students submitted a legislative packet before the Dec. 15 deadline.

Madland hopes lawmakers pass the bill.

"After all the hard work, I think we deserve it," he said.

The Alaskan Malamute would be a good choice for the state dog, said Ione Zeller, former president of the Alaskan Malamute Club of America who has lived with and loved Malamutes for 35 years.

"I believe most Alaskans think for themselves. They seem to be rather independent. They are not the kind that fawns over people and things, and neither are these dogs," she said.

According to the AKC, the Alaskan Malamute is one of the oldest Arctic sled dogs. They were named after a native tribe, the Mahlemuts, that settled along the shores of Kotzebue Sound in northwestern Alaska. The dogs were used primarily to haul game, belongings and supplies. The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1935.

Nancy Russell, in charge of judges education for the Alaskan Malamute Club of America, said the Alaskan Malamute is the only AKC registered breed that is native to the United States. While other breeds were developed here, the dogs used to develop those breeds came from outside the United States.

The Alaskan Malamute was already here, Russell said.

"The Alaskan Malamute is basically the native dog of the United States," she said.

Russell had a team of her Malamutes in the 1994 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to see if the dogs, better at hauling freight than running marathons, could do it. Most of the dogs used in the 1,100-mile race are Alaskan huskies, a mixed-breed dog bred for speed.

The Malamute team made it 600 miles before scratching.

"They did just fine," she said. "They got to Ruby. That is not too bad for a Malamute team."

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