The primary reason for the existence of dogs and cats nowadays is that they are companions to humans. They entertain us, make us happier and more relaxed. However, Rhys Blakely, The Times’ science correspondence writes today that there was a time when they were employed in various ways including being bred for wool.
He writes that the first visitors to North America arrived from Eurasia possibly as early as 11,000 years ago. There was a dearth of animals suitable for domestication and people were more dependent upon the dogs that they brought with them to be used in various ways such as pulling sleds, accompanying people on hunting trips, using them as draught animals, and one dog species which was a fluffy, fleecy animal was raised for wool.
Researchers came to this conclusion having examined 170,000 specimens of canine bones found in 210 archaeological sites across the Pacific Northwest from Oregon to Alaska. The bones predate the arrival of the European settlers in the 1600s and were almost all those of domestic dogs. There were two types of bones: those from hunting dogs that were tall and rangy and a smaller variety which were far more numerous. They were spitz-like dogs about knee-high and they were sheared like sheep. The wool was made into yarn and then woven into blankets.
They concluded that their discovery indicates, “roles for dogs including hunting, companionship, and wool production in a region lacking terrestrial agriculture and domestic livestock”. The paper is published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.
Their finding support reports from a trading post in British Columbia dated from the early 19th century in which a tribe of native Indians were described as travelling in canoes filled with “dogs more resembling [lambs] shorn of their wool”.
Carly Ammen, a bio-archaeologist and canine specialist at Exeter University, commenting on the research (although not involved with it) said that dogs were domesticated in North America long before domestic dogs came to the continent from Europe with settlers.
She also says that 2,000 years ago dogs were the only domestic animals north of Mexico. The North America draught animals such as cattle and horses only began to be present on the continent after the Europeans arrived. Therefore dogs were used to fill these roles, such as dogs in the Arctic pulling sleds. It’s the reason why dogs were used for wool production.
FYI – from Wikipedia: “Spitz” (derived from the German word “spitz”, meaning “pointed”) are a type of domestic dog characterized by long, thick, and often white fur, and pointed ears and muzzles. The tail often curls over the dog’s back or droops.