California Carolina Dogs Logo

“American Dingos at the Downtown Cafe”

By John Cravat
Posted 1/20/2010

It´s not everyday that I walk straight into a Wikipedia article. So it was fortunate that when I was in Vallejo having lunch yesterday, I brought my camera. The downtown area isn´t exactly a rollicking hotbed of excitement, but every once in a while some random act of magic goes down.

I was at Java Jax, my local non-Starbucks option—a funky spot which until 8 years ago was a filling station. Today it still has the same feel: covered carports, roll-up doors, and a former gas pump stand that is now a flower bed. It´s only open until 3pm, and when I asked the owner why he closed up so early, he said “have you seen what goes on down here after 3?” I was on my way out to the bathroom (still in the back, of course) when a woman pulled up in a tiny yellow Dodge, in which four normal-enough-looking dogs were going berserk.

“They´re California Carolina Dogs,” the woman said. Her name is Susan B. Anthony, a silver-haired 40 something with mom jeans and nice talkative, hippy vibe. “They´re the original dogs who were here before the settling of the states.” The car itself looked pretty thrashed, and as I looked inside she added, “Oh, this is my dogs´ car… I have another one for myself.” I smiled and said, “You should change the lettering on the side of the car from Dodge to ’Dogs,’ I think that would go over pretty well.” “Oh, I like that idea…. anyway, what I was saying was that these dogs are products of Natural Selection.” I thought this to be an obvious statement. What animal isn´t a product of Natural Selection? But what I think she meant is that they are still wild animals who haven´t been hyper-bred to look like what their owners want. Rather they´re pure products of their environment and evolution.

Carolina dogs were discovered living perfectly well in the swamps of the South Carolina in the 70´s. They´re really territorial, Susan informed me, but very loyal and friendly if they´re well-trained. “You just have to talk to them, you know, let them know that someone is coming over. You kinda have to clear it with them first.”

Meanwhile the dogs, having not been briefed on our conversation, were losing their collective minds. They reminded me of the dingos I saw on a trip to Australia, a fact which I kept to myself in case Ms. Anthony was sensitive to it. “So,” I asked, “you breed these dogs yourself?” She was hesitant a moment, then said “Well, I have, but not at the moment. There are some issues about that locally. I´ve had some problems with animal control.” “How many of these guys do you have?,” I asked. After a moment she said, “I don´t wanna talk about that.”

With so much interest lately in preserving heirloom varieties of plants, it seems important that there are people out there trying to preserve heirloom animals, such as the Carolina dog. This brings up some interesting questions, like: what is an actual wild variety, and how does it stay truly “wild”? When I asked the owner if anyone has tried to breed these animals with a domesticated dog, she said it wasn´t a good idea, that “it would bring out the negative aspects of the breed. Like if someone bred a pit bull with a Labrador you´d just bring out the aggressive side of both animals.” I suppose it´s not fair to go tampering around with the dog´s DNA either, at least for the sake of a dog: if the outcome is a batch of dogs who are temperamentally unsound, they still must be raised and cared for another 10-15 years. But problems do exist when you´re trying to preserve such an animal´s wildness. Once taken out of the their native habitat, the variety is no longer a part of regular evolution. And because the population is so small, once they´re domesticated they´re essentially being inbred, and the “breed” (now an applicable term), becomes irreversibly contained.

Don Anderson is a longtime local resident, who with a cousin owns several thousand acres of prime Carolina Dog-habitat. He does his part to ensure the survival of the wild dogs in his area. “I sort of protect these dogs,”he said, “we have about three packs operating in this wide area.” [He] raises a litter or so of Carolina Dogs each year, a process that began when a Carolina Dog puppy fell into a spring on his property and became a pet. The animals have long been known in the South as superior tracking and watchdogs, but while Anderson enjoys breeding them he ultimately does so for a higher purpose. “My main drive is that with such a small gene pool, I feel like eventually the dogs could become too inbred—like the New Guinea singing dogs. I´m trying to prevent them from becoming inbred, especially if they become as popular as I believe they will. —National Geographic

One of the reasons why the Carolina dog has remained more or less intact as a primitive animal is that it can live in super harsh conditions like the Southern swamps. Ms. Anthony first traveled to South Carolina to find the parents of her current pack, and she had to actually go out and catch one herself. “I chased her down all afternoon, and eventually trapped her under an old trailer. Once I had her though I took her in the house. Her toenails were an inch long from running around in the soft ground. She just sat there looking at me with wide eyes as I cut them. And I said to her ‘you’re mine.’” She continued to tout the dog´s super-canine abilities, such as their ability to jump from super high places (or fall, for that matter) without any harm.

Here´s a video of them jumping from an 18 foot rock wall in a park up the street. Dog jump video!

Apperently they´ve been found after major floods and landslides, totally happy and unscathed. After talking with her a while, we both settled down to read, while the dogs sat in the car quiet and motionless. Staring. I must say that I don´t give this town enough credit. If you hang out anywhere long enough something fantastic is bound to happen. And then as if to put a cherry on top of the day´s weirdness, a cowboy rode up on a horse.


I cannot believe I missed all this. I have been to Java Jax no fewer than three times, and NEVER did a yellow DO(D)G(E) filled with yellow dogs appear. Nor a cowboy on a horse. The chamber of commerce should schedule these folks. Think what it could do for downtown revitalization!
Comment by Natalia Rosa — January 20, 2010

Yo, I love it! Full of wit while being educational. That video is phenomenal. Did you shoot that? It totally demonstrates just how ridiculously rad these dogs are. Waiting for more!
Comment by Scotch Bulmer — January 26, 2010

Love how the first three are a clown act and the last one as he biffs it hard! LOL!
Comment by Ian — January 26, 2010