Dogsheep

Black Lab Koala relaxes on a dog bed
Would a Koala-wool blanket keep us warm in a Montana winter?

We all know about sheepdogs — dogs whose job it is (or was) to herd sheep, protect flocks, and herd small children … but what about dogsheep?

A recent New York Times article describes an ancient dog-human relationship: Coast Salish peoples, who lived in the Pacific Northwest, kept large numbers of small dogs … for their fur. The dogs were sheared like sheep (not killed for their fur), and the fur was used, along with fibers from goats and other animals, to make wool for weaving. The dog fur strengthened the yarn.

This is an intriguing possibility. Research indicates that these dogs, like their humans, ate a diet made up primarily of seafood. The dogs ate a lot of salmon, anchovies, and other Pacific fishes — much like Koala’s modern-day diet. Koala has a gorgeous thick, glossy coat. She appears to have far too much of this luxurious fur, as she leaves copious quantities of it … well, everywhere. Perhaps we should be gathering it and knitting it into warm blankets.

There’s another piece of this article that is interesting: The dogs were often buried with their humans or in the same burial grounds, and some graves are as much as 5,000 years old. As researchers dug into the evidence of the dog-human relationships, they realized that Coast Salish raised and bred animals far earlier than many history books reveal.

Unfortunately, the small woolly dog breed no longer seems to exist. As the NYT says, “with colonization” came imported textiles and reduced demand for the local wool. Though who knows? The recent re-discovery of New Guinea singing dogs offers some hope that a “lost” ancient breed could still survive … somewhere.