Maine has adopted blueberry pie as the official state dessert and deemed the chickadee the official state bird. Now there is a move to designate the Labrador retriever as the official state dog.

Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford, filed a bill that would make America’s most popular dog breed, known for its love of water and fetching, Maine’s official state canine.

The text of L.D. 107, uncharacteristically short for a legislative proposal, simply states: “The Labrador Retriever is the official state dog.” But the bill is triggering ardent discussions among dog owners and non-owners alike, who are asking questions such as “Do we need a state dog?” and “Is the Labrador retriever up to the job?” and “Is this really how we want our legislators in Augusta to spend their time?”

Maine would not be the first state to designate an official dog. Massachusetts adopted the Boston terrier, the first purebred dog developed in America, as the state dog in 1979. New Hampshire designated the Chinook, a rare breed of sled dog developed in that state in the early 20th century, as its official canine icon in 2009. In 1964 Maryland recognized its Chesapeake Bay retriever, bred to recover waterfowl from the bay region.

Maine would be one of the few states to designate a state dog that has no strong connection to the state. Pennsylvania named the Great Dane, a German breed, its state dog but the state is known for having the largest German-American population in the nation.

Labs, which come in shades of yellow, black and chocolate, were developed in the 19th century in Newfoundland to help fishermen haul in their nets and to retrieve escaped fish.


They were crossed with other retrievers, spaniels and setters to become what has reigned as the most popular American Kennel Club breed for more than two decades. Labs also topped the popularity list of breeds in a Portland Press Herald database of 16,000 dogs registered in nine Cumberland County communities in 2013.

Not many people have strong feelings about the Maine state tree, which is the eastern white pine, or the state fish, which is the landlocked salmon. But when it comes to dog breeds, Mainers have passionate opinions.

Mary Batemen of Wells, board member of the York County Kennel Club of Maine and a longtime breeder of Irish setters, said singling out a particular breed could stir up bad feelings among people who prefer other breeds.

“I don’t know if I would pick a state dog,” said Batemen.

Nancy Daniels of Eddington, vice president of the Federation of Maine Dog Clubs and Responsible Dog Owners, said picking a state dog was the topic of discussion at a recent meeting of the Maine Animal Welfare Advisory Council, which advises the state’s Animal Welfare Program.

She said members seemed to agree that picking a Maine state dog is a bad idea.


“The general consensus was that we should not pick a state dog when we haven’t developed one,” said Daniels.

Holly Gilbert, a Yorkshire terrier breeder from Arundel, said while there is no denying Labs are wonderful dogs, the issue is a waste of time.

“It is stupid. There are so many other issues,” said Gilbert.

A random sampling Sunday on Willard Beach, a popular dog-walking destination in South Portland, drew mixed results.

“A rescue dog should be the state dog. It would show how kind-hearted Mainers are,” said Andrew Parker of South Portland whose mutt, Sally, was rescued from Arkansas three years ago.

Herta Williams of South Portland said it is obvious her dog, Bowser – part basenji, an African hunting breed, and Mexican Chihuahua – would be perfect for the role.


“But an African Mexican probably would not fit as a Maine mascot,” she said.

Kim Ayre said her dog, Olyve, a bull terrier known around town as the mayor of South Portland, is a wonderful breed known for clowning around, but she might pick a Newfoundland instead.

“They are resilient and gentle giants,” she said.

Mike Yellen, who owns a chocolate Lab, Cody, 8, said there is no question a Lab is the perfect choice for state dog. Yellen bought Cody in Japan and moved to Maine with him in mind.

“They really don’t mind Maine winters,” said Yellen.

Yellen then performed a live demonstration, tossing a tennis ball into the frigid ocean as Cody bounded in to retrieve it.

Julie Bernier, Maine’s equivalent of TV personality Cesar Millan, known as the Dog Whisperer, said the Lab is the perfect choice. Bernier has worked with more than 3,000 puppies of all breeds at her Dances with Dogs nursery in South Portland, where she works with puppies in packs.

“Labs are beautiful, stately, wonderful family dogs. They are bred to hunt, to be off in the woods. A Lab exemplifies all that Mainers hold near and dear to their hearts,” said Bernier, who owns two Labs.

Dutremble couldn’t be reached for comment Sunday on his bill. It is scheduled for a public hearing before the Legislature’s Committee on State and Local Government at 1 p.m. Feb. 11 at Room 214 at the Cross Building in Augusta.

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