Saturday, April 01, 2006

Sweet Pea

This is our dog, Sweet Pea. She will be one year old later this month. Isn't she a beauty? Now you can see why the Doc and I drag ourselves out of bed every morning, sometimes before dawn, to take her for a walk. I mean, how could you say no to such a face? Actually it's more the whining and the barking that get us up, but I digress.

People comment all the time about how pretty she is and ask what breed she is. Most of them think she is a Lab puppy because of her size and coloring, but, in fact, she is a 100% purebred Aleutian Wheathound.

If you have not heard of the Aleutian Wheathound, don't feel bad. It is not a breed recognized by the AKC or any other kennel clubs and is quite rare outside its ancestral home, the Aleutian Islands. The Wheathound gets its name not from its tawny fur, but from its role in the Islands' agricultural industry. Aleutian farmers rely on the Wheathound to patrol their fields, protecting the crop from vermin until it is ready for harvest. The Wheathound is not especially tall, about 22 inches at the shoulder, but neither is the wheat, due to the nearly constant fog and heavy rainfall that makes for one of the shortest growing seasons in the Northern Pacific Ocean region. Before modern farming instruments came to the Aleutian Islands, farmers knew it was time to harvest when the crop grew high enough to almost completely obscure their dog, leaving only the white tip of its tail showing.

American agricultural entrepreneurs have sought to bring the Wheathound to the United States, hoping that its unique ability to protect fields would reduce the application of pesticides and promote safer ecological practices, but they have been frustrated in their attempts because the Wheathound will eat only fresh saltwater fish, a dietary preference developed over centuries of living on the Islands. This peculiarity makes it impractical for large agricultural states in the American Midwest, which of course have no access to oceans.

The dog actually catches its own fish during the low tides, standing in the surf and flipping them out of the water into its mouth, much like a grizzly bear in a salmon run. We have tried to feed Sweet Pea canned and frozen fish, but she just turns up her pretty nose, forcing us to head to Baltimore's harbor for her daily meals.

The Wheathound's only natural enemy is the sea otter because of territorial battles over fishing areas. At one time, Russian fur trappers sought to train the Wheathound to hunt the sea otter, but the dogs proved unwilling to battle their enemies for more than their contested food source.

We acquired Sweet Pea when a college friend of ours was called up by the Foreign Service. He had served in the office of the American Consulate in the Aleutian Islands for 15 years until deactivating to reserve status and returning to the U.S. last May. Sweet Pea was a gift from the Aleutian government, who appreciated his intervention in the National Defense System, a controversial ballistic missile base that the U.S. is implementing in the northern Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, there was a coup in Gambia last summer and our friend's fluency in the Mandinka, Fula and Wolof dialects made it impossible for him to say no when the government asked him to intercede. In Gambia, dog is a delicacy, so he thought Sweet Pea's presence might compromise his negotiating strength, and, again, there would be no access to the ocean for Sweet Pea's food.

We have been quite delighted to have her, especially the boys, of course. I never get tired of telling people her story and am currently petitioning the American Kennel Club for breed recognition so that someday we can cheer for Sweet Pea's relatives in the Westminster Dog Show. She is already Best in Show in our eyes, but if you would like to help, please write to the address below:



jon said...

You crack me up.

Abris said...

Very funny. Onion-caliber material. However, I think you took the gag too far with the spelling of your dog's name. E.C. Segar is rolling over in his spinach-can-shaped grave. Unless you own an Enunciation Wheathound, it should be "Swee'Pea" not "Sweet Pea." I'll gladly pay you Tuesday if you get rid of that extraneous and stuffy "t" today.

Bill Fitzgerald said...

Thanks for the kind words, gentlemen. The name Sweet Pea came with the dog; she was so dubbed by her "foster mother" from the rescue organization where we got her, and it seemed to fit.