The Dogs That Grew Wool

Posted by Ed 2 mths ago 

Indigenous communities in the Pacific Northwest bred little, fluffy white dogs that provided for them, both materially and spiritually.

There was a time when the Indigenous women of the Pacific Northwest’s coastal regions paddled their canoes to small, rocky islands once a day or so to care for packs of small white-furred dogs. The dogs would greet them, yelping and pawing as they implored their keepers for food.

The women, in turn, would pet the dogs and dispense a stew of fish and marine mammal bits—not scraps, but quality food. Once the dogs (most of them perhaps females, probably in heat) had eaten their fill, the women might linger awhile to sing to them and brush their long white fur. The dogs—and their fur—were the women’s source of wealth, and the women kept watch to ensure that no village cur crept onto the islands to taint the breed.

Once or twice a year, the women arrived as usual with a supply of food, but also brought mussel-shell knives. The dogs knew the routine: settle down and relax so that the women could cut away their white tresses, shearing the dogs as closely as shearers do sheep.

Back in their village longhouses, the women transformed that fur into yarn, spinning it and mixing it with the wool of mountain goats and adding plant fibers and goose down to make the thread strong and warm. They beat the yarn with white diatomaceous earth to deter insects and mildew.
They dyed some of the yarn red with alder bark, tinted it a light yellow with lichen, and produced blue and black threads using minerals or huckleberries.
The rest—an ivory-hued yarn—they set aside. Then the women set up their looms and began to weave, turning out twill-patterned blankets of various sizes, some with elaborate and colorful geometric designs, others with simple stripes. The dogs did more than provide fur.
They were also part of village life: sometimes, a favorite wooly dog would keep a weaver company. 

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