Dogs have helped humans for thousands of years. Why exclude them from national parks?. The history of domestic dogs is parallel to the history of humanity. When Europeans arrived in North America, their Eurasian dogs met dogs whose ancestors had crossed the land bridge to North America centuries before. It seems that the first humans to cross that cold land bridge to America didn’t bring dogs with them but they followed them with people migrating into the new world a bit later. Dogs then spread across North and South America.
ScienceNews reported that the oldest dog bones found in the Americas are 10,000 years old but humans have been here for at least 15,000 years. Interestingly the dog found had been buried and died of natural causes, a hint at the esteem placed in the ancient canine. Dogs have helped humans for thousands of years. Why exclude them from national parks?
By the time Columbus and waves of Spanish, English and French invaders arrived, native dogs were everywhere people were. In Alaska and Canada, dogs pulled the sleds of Inuit hunters. Across the Great Plains, dogs helped hunt small game, guarded camps and long before horses arrived, pulled the heavy travois of their humans from camp to camp. Sometimes Native Americans ate dogs. Some tribes considered dog meat a delicacy, but for others it was taboo.
In an airport in Ecuador, my fiancé Erin and I saw a strange medium sized dog, nearly hairless with a shock of ‘rock star’ hair on his head. It reminded us of another dog we had seen in Ecuador, a nearly black dog without fur, an animal we thought might be sick; appearing more like a giant wingless bat than a canine. It turns out that there is a Peruvian Orchis is a usually hairless dog that was bred by the Inca since pre-Columbian times. The dogs were apparently bred to carry messages between villages through the Andes, adding yet another job carried out by Native American dogs. Or was the dog we saw the Xoloitzcuintli (Xolo) or Mexican Hairless Dog on a South American vacation? Xolos are partially descended from pre-Columbian dogs believed to protect their homes from evil spirits.
Dogs are humans’ oldest and closest friend; it’s a cliché but one that is true. Like many close relationships, it’s one that’s not always unquestionably good and one more complicated than it seems. In the Americas as I noted, some people ate dogs and even today dog eating ranges from taboo to delicacy depending on where you are in the world. The Inca beat their dogs to make them howl, believing that dog howls bring rain. In her book, A History of Dogs in the Early Americas, Marion Schwartz highlights the intricate and contradictory relationship between Native Americans and dogs,
“The dog was an ambiguous animal. Native Americans understood that even though dogs resided in the human camp they had a close kinship with coyotes and wolves. Because of these relationships, dogs occupied and operated on several levels: they connected the wild and the tame, and they joined nature and culture. Even though dogs were seen as almost human, they were also known to be carnivores and, as such, were linked not only to wolves, coyotes, and foxes but also to bears and jaguars. On the one hand, dogs were esteemed as companions, hunters, and guards. On the other hand, they were associated with promiscuity and filth. Among some groups, eating dogs was strictly taboo, whereas other groups ate them with great relish. Some cultures relied on dogs for transportation and hauling. Others found them to be of no use at all. Dogs played key roles in the myths of some people; in other myths, dogs were scarcely mentioned. In addition, the numbers of dogs and their physical appearance varied widely from locality to locality and through time.”
The Atlantic reported in July 2018 on new genetic evidence that despite those legends of Incan dogs carrying messages and Native Mexican dogs barking away spirits, native dog genes are nearly extinct. As we reported recently, dogs that were native to the Americas were wiped out by the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century. Only trace amounts of Native American dog genes can be found in Arctic breeds such as malamutes and huskies. Perhaps European disease wiped out American dogs, perhaps they were killed outright by Europeans or European dogs. One haunting legacy of Native American dogs remains, a contagious cancer, Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumor (CTVT) arrived in the Americas with the first dogs.
The point is, whether they arrived with early Americans or European conquistadors, dogs have long been residents in the Americas, just like everywhere else humans live.
In the US, the Ahwahneechee, a Native American people, were evicted from Yosemite National Park, part of their traditional homeland, in 1969 after a long history of being exploited as performers for tourists. When the Ahwahneechee left, their dogs went with them. Today, dogs are largely excluded from Yosemite for anyone who truly wants to see the park outside of the developed and paved areas. The National Parks website under the heading, ‘Where Pets Are Allowed’, spells out the few exceptions to dog exclusion,
“ *In developed areas
*On fully paved roads, sidewalks, and bicycle paths (except when signed as not allowing pets)
*In all campgrounds except walk-in campgrounds (e.g., Camp 4) and in group campsites”
According to its website, almost 95% of Yosemite is designated as Wilderness. This means, due to the rules of the park, more than 95% of Yosemite is off limits to dogs. That’s over 1,100 square miles of hiking, camping and outdoor pursuit dogs can’t enjoy with their humans in one park alone. Instead dogs are relegated to asphalt instead of dirt trails, car passenger seats instead of their own four paws.
The history of the Seminoles is the history of disparate groups of Native Americans. Fleeing European conquest, natives from Georgia and Alabama made their way to Florida where they joined natives already there and became a new people calling themselves the ‘runaways’ or Seminoles. An old black and white photo on the World Digital Library shows a Seminole family from 1921 near Deep Lake in Big Cypress Swamp, Florida. In the picture a woman stands in profile to the camera, turning her head to the photographer, her baby hangs in fabric from her back and a girl in a dress stands in front of her turning to the right, one of her small arms just a blur. The father stands, face hard to read cigar in his mouth. In front of the man a light colored dog stands on her hind legs, one paw extended, held loosely in one of the man’s hands. The little girl’s blur of an arm seems to be motioning towards the dog also.
Since 1974, the area around Deep Lake has been managed by the National Park Service as part of Big Cypress National Preserve. The Deep Lake area is now largely a dog-free zone. Big Cypress’ website says:
“Activities with pets are very limited at Big Cypress. Pets are not allowed on any hiking trails. Pets may accompany visitors in the campgrounds, picnic areas and at pullouts along the paved scenic drives. Pets may be walked on roads or in parking lots, but must be leashed at all times when outside a vehicle. Pets may not be left unattended.”
The exclusion of dogs from places like Big Cypress and Everglades National Park is a bit hypocritical on the part of the government. When Florida was fighting the Seminole Wars against the Native American group, they used bloodhounds. Thirty Cuban bloodhounds were brought from Cuba with handlers by the US Army to track down Seminoles hiding in rough, inhospitable Florida backcountry. Later more hounds were brought from Cuba by The Navy and the Marine Corps. The Florida Historical Quarterly says,
“Several Indians were captured on scouting parties with the aid of dogs and the Jacksonville Advocate now hopefully referred to the dogs as ‘peace hounds.’ ”
Besides hunting, pulling sleds seems to be one of the most traditional ways dogs have helped humans. National Geographic has reported that there is archaeological evidence of close human association with dogs in Siberia going back at let 8,000 years.
Archaeologist suspect that sled dogs have been with us for a very long time; and that in the arctic, dogs in general were essential for human survival. Denali National Park in Alaska reflects the special place of dogs in northern regions; of 417 National Park sites, only Denali has actual sled dogs. The dogs are kenneled inside the park and are used to patrol the backcountry and move supplies in the winter. Sled dogs seem like a return to tradition inside a national park named ‘great one’ (after the mountain) in the Native Koyukon language. Still, sled dogs aside, it’s not easy to enjoy Denali National Park with your canine companion. From the park website,
“In general, pets are not permitted on park trails, nor off-trail in the wilderness; the exceptions to this rule are the Roadside Trail and the Bike Path, where they may be walked on leash.”
It’s hard to understand the National Park Services’ general no-dog policy. Teddy Roosevelt often went outdoors with dogs and was known as a lover of the animal. John Muir wrote an essay about Stickeen, a dog that bravely accompanied him on a mountain journey across a glacier. Aldo Leopold seemed to enjoy the company of dogs when hunting, if one can judge from his writing. Modern nature writers such as Jack Turner and Ted Kerasote extol the virtues of their dogs and revel in their companionship. Why then are dogs so marginalized by the National Park Service?
I feel it’s a matter of perspective. The National Parks are meant to be static places to enjoy like you would a museum. The longer span of history is one of humans entering into a dynamic relationship with non-human nature. Dogs are part of the interplay; dogs are both part of the human and non-human world. Part of the goal of National Parks is to exclude the non-human elements that don’t directly contribute to human recreation and preservation of the land. In the short-sighted one-dimensional view of National Parks, dogs aren’t part of the equation. Dogs are part of humanity’s relationship with the land. National Parks pretend that they are preserving a human free world with only temporary human visitation, despite centuries of a working relationship between humans and the land now protected.
Sadly in keeping parks as static as possible, we preserve a fantasy, not a place where humans become part of the land but instead a lost Eden always outside our grasp. Our dogs also lose a part of their heritage, the part where human and canine fought, hunted and protected each other in a wild, wild world.
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