2015-02-13 / Front Page

Is Maine ready for official dog?

Arundel resident pushes ‘official’ status for beloved black Labs
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

Stacey Gile of Arundel is shown relaxing this past summer in Rockland Harbor with her black Labs Amos and Jack. Gile is leading an effort to have the Labrador retriever declared the official state dog of Maine. (Courtesy photo) Stacey Gile of Arundel is shown relaxing this past summer in Rockland Harbor with her black Labs Amos and Jack. Gile is leading an effort to have the Labrador retriever declared the official state dog of Maine. (Courtesy photo) ARUNDEL — On Wednesday, Room 214 at the Cross State Office Building in Augusta was overflowing with school children, pet outfitters and animal lovers of all types, there to testify before the legislature’s State and Local Government Committee on a bill that aims to make the Labrador retriever Maine’s “official state dog.”

But, like all innovations, the idea began with just one person.

Stacy Gile of Arundel moved to Maine in 1995 and discovered almost immediately that the Pine Tree State was also a place for pet lovers.

“At the time, we decided it made good sense, if we were getting a new house, to get a new puppy at the same time,” she recalled, Monday. “We proceeded to march into Kennebunk Savings Bank with puppy in tow, because it was August and we couldn’t leave him in the car. I realized right then that Maine is a pretty pet-friendly place when they didn’t even bat an eye when here came two people to sign their loan papers with a dog under their arm.”

Flash forward 20 years to last summer and Gile, now on her second set of black Labs, was reading an article on Yahoo news about state dogs. Starting with Maryland in 1964, and continuing through Alaska in 2010, 11 state Legislatures have proclaimed official dog breeds. Maryland’s is the Chesapeake Bay retriever, developed in the 19th century to hunt waterfowl and recognized by the American Kennel Club since 1918. Alaska’s is the appropriately named Alaskan malamute, bred for hauling sleds and other heavy freight. The AKC recognized the breed in 1935.

Most of the 11 official dogs have a close connection to their designating state. New Hampshire’s dog, the Chinook, was developed there during the early 20th century, while Massachusetts’ dog is, naturally enough, the Boston terrier. But not all states are the birthplace of the breed to which they’ve bequeathed special recognition. Pennsylvania, for example, honors the Great Dane.

Gile noticed right away that no other state had yet claimed the Labrador retriever, and quickly set about calling dibs by researching how receptive her state representative might be.

She first approached state Rep. Alan Casavant. However, because he was about to term out, Casavant referred Gile to state Sen. David Dutremble (DBiddeford) to introduce the legislation. Dutremble, who represents District 4 (which includes Arundel, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and part of Biddeford) agreed to sponsor the bill, known officially as LD 107. According to the state legislature’s online bill tracking function, the bill does not have any co-sponsors.

“I know some people may say it’s a waste of time, or there are better things to be discussed,” Dutremble said, adding, “While that may be true, I take all of my constituent requests seriously.

“I was approached by Stacy, who was very interested about making the Lab the official state dog,” Dutremble said. “Our discussion led to the fact there are several other items and animals that the state recognizes, so why not a dog?”

Gile said she was cognizant from her first email to Dutremble that she might be distracting from other, more pressing legislation.

“I’m very respectful of that. I understand, I’m not making world peace here,” she said, with a laugh.

However, Gile believes naming the Lab as the state dog is more than just a feel-good frivolity for dog-lovers. It could become a boost for tourism, she said.

“Even in recessionary times people are spending on their pets,” Gile said. “AAA says that 51 percent of pet owners want to travel with their pets. And what do we want to do in Maine? We want to attract tourists. So, if are billed as a state which is really pet-friendly, that has a state dog that is the very friendly Labrador retriever, people might say, ‘Hey, I’d like to do and visit there with my dog.’

“No one thing is the magic bullet to improve the economy in Maine, but I think there is an upside there, and I don’t see that there’s a downside,” Gile said. “Nothing is going to get worse because we do this.”

But why the Labrador retriever, apart from the fact that it’s Gile’s favorite breed?

Originating in Newfoundland, the modern Labrador was developed in England in the 19th century and recognized by the AKC in 1903, soon after the first of the yellow variety was born in 1899. Chocolate labs came along in the 1930s.

“It’s a logical fit for Maine,” said Gile. “Labs were originally used to help fishermen retrieve nets, fish, and sometimes even the fishermen themselves. With our state’s strong fishing and hunting heritage, the lab is a natural symbol for our state.

“Plus, many businesses, large and small, feature labs in their logos or advertising. You can’t go to any beach in the state without meeting one or two. My research with town clerks across the state is showing them to be the most licensed dogs in most towns. So really, they already are the state dog. Why not make it official?”

So far, there appears to be a fair amount of support for Gile’s idea. In addition to the many schoolchildren, dog-owners and businesses who testified Wednesday, more than 3,000 people “liked” a recent WCSH story on her proposal fewer than 12 hours after it aired.

“It’s been amazing to me, we were right behind the Super Bowl coverage, said Gile, noting that national websites and other publications, like USA Today, have since picked up the story.

On Jan. 10, Gile created a Facebook page to support her campaign titled, “Labs – The State Dog of Maine.” As of Tuesday morning, the page had 2,680 “likes” of its own.

Gile, who works in the ethics and compliance office at UNUM, is no fairweather dog lover. She has volunteered at the Animal Welfare Society in West Kennebunk for the last five years, and previously served on the Board of Directors for NEARR (Northeast All Retriever Rescue), where she and her husband, Dewey, fostered dogs available for adoption.

The only reason she did not propose rescue dogs as the state dog, she said, is because Colorado has already laid claim to rescue animals of all types as its state pet.

Still, she said, the Labrador retriever says Maine as much as lobster and lighthouses.

“This is such a state that loves its dogs, all dogs, but especially the Lab,” she said. “I feel like the Lab is a great symbol of the state, like the lobster, or the moose. You see them everywhere; there are a lot of businesses that use its image. You see them on boats, and camps and in the L.L. Bean catalog.”

With the legislative committee hearing passed, Gile is urging all Lab lovers to contact their individual representatives and to write letters to the editor in their local newspapers, in hopes of garnering the favorable committee report that could push through passage of the bill.

But the humble Labrador is not the only seeker of state recognition this legislative session.

Another bill (LD 137) seeks to make the Friendship sloop — a style of gaff-rigged, single-mast sailboat that originated as a working boat in Friendship, Maine — the official state maritime symbol. That bill is sponsored by Rep. Chuck Kruger (D - Thomaston) and has nine co-sponsors.

Meanwhile, LD 110, if adopted, would proclaim maple syrup to be the “official state sweetener.” It’s sponsored by Rep. Russell Black (R - Wilton) and also can boast nine co-sponsors.

Naming an official state sweetener may seem as frivolous to some as declaring a state dog but, as Gile notes, “Everything matters to somebody.”

Still, she expects her “official-status” bill will enjoy the most public support. After all, she said, “This one seems to have some legs to it.”

Maine’s icons

Should Maine designate the Labrador retriever the “official state dog?” Does the state need to single out any canine breed for “official” status? It certainly would not be the first animal, foodstuff, or inanimate object to be recognized by the Maine Legislature as an emblem of the state, which has granted the “official” honorific at an increasing pace in recent years. Below is a list of other “official” items, along with the year that status was granted.

1820 — State Seal: A shield bearing the image of a pine tree and a moose, surrounded by a farmer with scythe and a sailor with an anchor, under the north star and the word “Dirigo,” and above the name “Maine.” (Present depiction fixed in 1919)

1820 — State Motto: “Dirigo” (Latin for “I lead”).

1895 — State Flower: White pine cone and tassel.

1909 — State Flag: Featuring the state seal on a blue field (supplanted an earlier flag adopted in 1901, which featured a pine tree in the center of a yellow field with a blue northern star in the upper-left corner)

1927 — State Bird: Black-capped chickadee.

1935 — State Slogan: “Vacationland.” (Appears on license plates)

1937 — State Song: “State of Maine Song,” by Roger Vinton Snow.

1939 — State Ensign: The Merchant and Marine Flag of Maine, featuring a pine tree and anchor with the words “Dirigo” above and “Maine” below.

1945 — State Tree: Eastern white pine (supplanting the white pine, named in 1895).

1969 — State Fish: Landlocked salmon.

1971 — State Gemstone: Tourmaline.

1975 — State Insect: Honeybee.

1976 — State Fossil: Pertica Quadrifaria.

1979 — State Animal: Moose.

1985 — State Cat: Maine coon cat.

1986 — State Vessel: The arctic exploration schooner “Bowdoin.”

1991 — State Berry: Wild blueberry.

1999 — State Herb: Wintergreen.

1999 — State Soil: Chesuncook soil series.

2005 — State Beverage: Moxie.

2011 — State Dessert: Blueberry pie.

2011 — State Treat: Whoopie pie.

Uncertain — State Nickname: The Pine Tree State.

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