How The Malamute Became Alaska’s Official State Dog

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In 2007, a woman named Shirley traveled from North Carolina to Alaska to spend Easter with her family. A dedicated elementary teacher, Shirley often enjoyed talking about her home state to her granddaughter, Paige. Among their many discussions, Shirley happened to mention that North Carolina had a state dog.

“What about Alaska?” asked Paige. “Do we have a state dog?”

The answer was no, but neither of them knew why.

Back at Polaris K-12 School in Anchorage, Paige’s teacher tried to help. She discovered that the willow ptarmigan and the four-spotted dragon fly had been chosen as state symbols by kids like Paige.

That was the moment a kindergartner’s simple question turned into a three-year lesson in state government function for an entire school. The goal: select a state dog for Alaska by following the democratic process from idea to sponsorship to bill and finally, to a final vote in the Senate.

After researching the history of many breeds, the students at Polaris K-12 ultimately decided on the Alaskan Malamute. On February 26, 2009, Paige told the House State Affairs Committee that “one of the reasons [they] picked the Alaskan Malamute is because it’s big like Alaska and because it’s a hard working dog like the people of Alaska.”

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People outside Polaris K-12 weighed in. Craig Medred at the Alaska Dispatch News believed the Malamute was the wrong choice. His vote was for the common sled dog. Others argued that the search for a state dog was a waste of time.

But the students persevered. They filed paperwork, made phone calls, built a website, raised funds, met legislators, and gave media interviews. They even managed to get co-sponsors from both political parties to make their bill bipartisan.

After Representative Berta Gardner introduced House Bill 14 (HB14) which would recognize the Malamute as Alaska’s official state dog, students gave detailed testimony during every step of a process that took them from the House State Affairs to the Senate State Affairs.

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But HB14 languished for almost a year in the final committee, Senate Rules. Two other similar bills (the Iditarod Winner License Plate Bill and the Marmot Day Bill) had been introduced around the same time, but both had already been made into law. Time was running out for the Alaskan Malamute.

On April 2, 2010, students published a plea at the Alaska Dispatch News. “More than 100 kids have worked hard on this bill for over three years,” they wrote. “Please don’t let all that time and work go to waste by forgetting about our bill and just letting it die. HB14 deserves a chance and deserves a hearing on the Senate floor.”

On the day the bill would’ve died, April 18th, 2010, HB14 passed on the Senate floor. A month later, Governor Sean Parnell signed the bill to the cheers of more than 400 students and their parents. “It was a good experience,” said Paige, a third-grader by the time the bill was approved. “It wasn’t easy, but it was fun. I am glad the Malamute is the state dog and my grandma Shirley is very proud of me.”