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A real dog-and-cat fight may be coming in the upcoming Legislature.
Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, is proposing to declare the golden retriever dog breed as the official "state domestic animal." But the retriever is fetching some controversy, as others already suggest instead honoring other breeds, "shelter pets" or cats.
Osmond is pushing the bill on behalf of a fourth-grade class taught by Alli Meyer at South Jordan's Daybreak Elementary, which came up with the idea.
"It's just really a fun project to partner with these kids to teach them about the legislative process," said Osmond, who owns a Havanese poodle, and not a retriever.
Meyer said that as part of class focus on Utah history, her students noticed that fourth-graders at Monroe Elementary in Sevier County this year successfully pushed to make the quaking aspen the new state tree, replacing the Colorado blue spruce, in part because its name included "Colorado."
"We wondered if we could do something similar. We thought of replacing the California seagull as the state bird, but didn't think that would happen since the seagulls helped save the pioneers from crickets," Meyer said.
"We noticed we didn't have a state domestic animal," as Wisconsin does (the dairy cow). She said the students decided to pursue that. (Utah already has an official "state animal," the Rocky Mountain elk.)
"They did some research that shows the dog is the most popular pet in the state. And their research found the golden retriever is the most popular breed in the state," Meyer said, although some question that.
"Utah is also a family-friendly state. And their research showed the golden retriever is a great dog for families," Meyer said.
Stephen Belcher, president of the Companion Golden Retriever Rescue in West Jordan, agrees with that.
"It's a very versatile dog. It's not only a very good sport dog for hunting, it's a good family dog. It's very reliable and has good temperament. It's easy to train, and willing to please. It's a wonderful dog, so we're enthusiastic" about it being the state domestic animal, Belcher said.
But not everyone supports golden retrievers, or even dogs,for the honor.
"Cats rule and dogs drool," jokes Erin Cutchen, president of Utah Cat Fanciers. She says felines should be given as much consideration for any such honor and suggests the British shorthair because many Utahns have British roots.
"But honestly, the Legislature probably has better things to do," she said. She adds cats wouldn't care much if they were honored or not, "and would just want a treat, then stretch and go back to sleep."
Osmond said he realizes that to appease cat lovers, he may need to amend his proposed state domestic animal instead to a state dog. "It's good for the kids to see that there are different opinions and people have feelings about different things," and amendments may be needed, he added.
Four states have state dogs: the Alaskan Malamute in Alaska; the Catahoula leopard dog in Louisiana; the Chesapeake Bay retriever in Maryland; and the American water spaniel in Wisconsin. Two states also have a state cat: the Maine coon cat in Maine, and the calico cat in Maryland.
Even dog lovers show differences on the bill.
For example, while Meyer's students and Belcher say the golden retriever is the most popular breed in the state, others question that and say the Labrador probably is.
Sandy Nelson, of Salt Lake County Animal Services, said Labradors are the breed receiving most licenses from her agency, and are also the breed most often adopted out by its shelter, followed by pit bulls and Chihuahuas.
Dave Johnson, past president of the Bulldog Club of Utah, said even though he loves bulldogs and might like to see them as the state domestic animal, Labradors probably are the most popular breed in the state by far. "I think a case could be made" to honor the Labrador instead of the retriever, he said.
Doug Parry, president of the Utah Shetland Sheepdog Association, says while he also would like to see that breed as a state dog, he and some fellow sheepdog enthusiasts figure that the border collie is actually the most deserving.
"They have probably contributed the most to the state because people have used them for so many years for herding around here," he said. "They have the herding trials every year up at Heber, and the most dominant [breed] is probably the border collie."
State 'shelter pet?'
Francis Battista, co-founder of the Kanab-based Best Friends Animal Society, says while golden retrievers are "lovely animals," he suggests a different alternative as a state domestic animal.
"The 'shelter pet' should be the state domestic animal," he said, adding that would recognize hard work by shelters around the state and by his group to reduce animal euthanasia during the past decade.
"Over 90 percent of the dogs entering shelters are being re-homed. It used to be in the low 50-percent range. The numbers for cats are ballooning as well," he said.
"Utah is well on its way to being a state in which the vast majority of shelter animals any that aren't too sick or dangerous to be re-homed are finding safe havens," he said, and added that trend is worthy of recognition.
Nelson, with Salt Lake County Animal Services seconds that.
"I think that is a fantastic suggestion," and may help prod adoptions from shelters.
Meyer looks forward to the debate and what her students may learn. "This is a good way to build their interest in politics," she said. "Maybe one of them will become a senator someday. … If this passes, it will be something they can always take pride in."
Some official Utah symbols
State firearm • Browning M1911 automatic pistol
State cooking pot • Dutch oven
State vegetable • Spanish sweet onion
State historic vegetable • sugar beet
State fish: Bonneville cutthroat trout
State rock • coal
State mineral • copper
State gem • topaz
State fossil • Allosaurus
State grass • Indian rice grass
State fruit • cherry
State insect • honey bee
State emblem • beehive