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Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 2/5/2012

Dog lover has 'Carolina' on her mind

BY MARY ALICE POWELL
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

ON THE ROAD, HEADING HOME -- The ice scraper is on the front seat. The gloves and boots are nearby. Two wool blankets are on the back seat and bottles of water and snacks are packed in an insulated carry-on.

Note that no dog is mentioned in the front or back seat, but it was a close call just days before departure.

It's not just the pending weather report that prompted me to be prepared for storm conditions en route much as a Boy Scout would prepare for winter camp. It's what people say when I tell them I am driving back to Michigan.

"Alone?" they gasp. "Michigan in February, are you crazy?" And someone always manages to add "Your timing is great. What if you get stranded?"

The last statement is accurate. It is bad timing. I expect to see many Michigan and Ohio cars heading south as I am driving north. Maybe next year I can plan a southern travel schedule that better misses winter's wrath.

My choice for the 807-mile drive from Aiken, S.C., to Posey Lake, Mich., is mostly on I-77 North before turning west at exit 83 to drive through Ohio Amish country and a stop at Der Dutchman in Sugar Creek for mashed potatoes, noodles, and coconut cream pie. After tallying the expenses since Nov. 17 when I headed south, I figure two more motel bills on the way home won't hurt the travel budget too much. I could make it with one overnight but decided on two stops. Reservations have been made in Wythville, Va., and New Philadelphia, Ohio, which breaks the drive to about five hours a day.

I miss not being segregated to the pet-friendly rooms in motels. It was always fun to commiserate with dog owners when we walked our pets morning and night and always knowing I had the best dog. I must admit I got closer to rejoining the dog owner's fraternity in South Carolina.

If I were to weaken, 13 months after Digby's death, what kind of dog would it be? That's a question I ask myself at least once a day. For sure, it would have to be a rescue dog.

My last few days in South Carolina were spent talking to people and going to the library to learn more about the Carolina dog. How appropriate that would be. A breed of dog named for the state I seem to have adopted.

The state claims the breed because the first ones were discovered roaming wild at the Savannah River Site, the nuclear plant near Aiken. Carolinas are also called American Dingos because of their similarity to the Australian Dingo.

L. Lehr Brisbin, Jr., is credited for discovering the wild dogs living in isolated stretches of long leaf pines and cypress swamps. Mr. Brisbin was a senior research ecologist at the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Lab. The dogs were captured and moved into captivity and are now being bred and sold.

After Jane Rittenhouse Gunnell, of Aiken, took in 14 of the dogs from Mr. Brisbin and domesticated them on her farm, she wrote Carolina Dogs: The American Dingos. Perfect Dogs: the Remnants from Ages Past. My Canid Odyssey, a book that describes her affection for the Carolinas and details their personalities.

Carolina owners say they are extremely loyal to their masters. Kate Hutchings, a real estate salesman in Aiken, rarely leaves home without Luke, her 2-year-old Carolina. It wasn't her plan to have a dog until she found two abandoned puppies in a foreclosed house. "She is very devoted and goes everywhere I do in the house. She wants to be close at all times."

Other pluses for the rare breed are that they have short hair, shed little, and have no odor. Ms. Gunnell identifies the breed as similar to the Australian Dingo, but with a finer head and larger eyes. Others say the bodies are similar to Native American rock art that depicts dogs.

Their ancestry is believed to date back thousands of years when the first dogs crossed the Bering Land Mass. The United Kennel Club that recognizes the breed, as does the American Rare Breed Association, classifies the Carolinas as pariah, a class that includes other primitive breeds including Basenji of Africa and the Thai Ridgeback.

If I should happen to encounter a stray dog on the long road home, I'm prepared. My motto: never leave home, or anywhere, without dog food in the trunk.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.



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