Dogs of Savannah

In this article, we discuss and examine the deep rooted relationship between dogs and their owners, and the impact that dogs have on the city of Savannah. We did ethnographic field work on several dog owners throughout the city and found a lot of similarities between them.

Dogs and humans have been friends for about 15,000 years, probably the longest relationship in history. Scientists believe that the relationship began when wolves were attracted to human camps to scavenge the leftover meat. They then began following groups of humans around for hopes of more food. This also worked towards the human advantage by gaining protection from outside prey. Overtime, their demeanor became more docile and overall appearance changed. Thus, evolved the domesticated dog we know and love. Dogs are widely considered to be the very first domesticated animal and due to human intervention and cross breeding, the species now consists of over 339 breeds.

The world was a very different place 15,000 years ago when dogs were first domesticated, and as our surroundings have changed so have the reasons for which we keep dogs around. There is evidence that around that time people were burying dogs, even buried alongside them, which could be viewed as a sign of affection. Dogs were seen as an integral and important part of the family unit, as they helped in hunting. A recent study suggests two instances of domestication, one in Asia and the other in the Middle East and Europe with about a 1,000 to 2,000 year difference. This hypothesis is significant because it suggests that an external environmental driver forced the usually aggressive and wild wolves to create a relationship with humans for survival.

Multiple Japanese universities conducted a study in 2015 which showed that when humans and dogs look into each other’s eyes, oxytocin (a hormone which plays a role in social bonding, mating, and child nurturing) releases into both brains. Evidence of such a bond can not only be seen biologically as the study suggests, but also within the political and religious realms of various cultures. It could be argued that most humans no longer need as much protection as they did before, but the companionship and the strong emotional bond is still there. In her The Companion Species Manifesto, Donna Haraway considers “dogs as the most significant example of companion species, the cyborg being but a toddler in our world of inter-species relations.”

It’s no surprise the state of Georgia loves dogs. The University of Georgia’s mascot is a bulldog and hearing “Go Dogs!” is a normal occurrence. Streets of Savannah are filled with dogs on leashes walking their humans through squares and into stores. The urban fabric of Savannah lends itself to be dog-friendly (we like to think James Oglethorpe had dogs in mind). Seemingly small things, like doggie bowls and treats outside businesses, events like “The Doggie Carnival” and dog-specific waste bins in squares, make Savannah a true dog haven.

“I was told, if you move to Savannah you have to have a dog.” — Lydia’s Human

For our field work, we went to Forsyth park, a very popular place for dogs and dog lovers alike. There were many people out with their furry friends doing activities such as playing fetch, going for a walk, or just laying out and relaxing in the sun. We spent time with the pups and asked each owner several questions to try and understand the relationship they had with their dog(s). We found that many of the answers were similar, and almost all the owners seemed to have a very strong kinship with their dog.

Lambchop & Riley giving each other a little kiss.

The first pair we spoke to was a very sturdy French Bulldog named Lambchop and his human. The bond was new, with Lambchop being only a year old, but it was clear they were very attached. He gets to travel everywhere in Savannah, unlike his brother who stays at home. He was dubbed a ‘million dollar dog’ due to the expensive surgeries that he has needed in the past, but that didn’t seem to bother his human, who loves spending time with him. From his wrinkly face to his loud snorts, it’s not hard to see how someone could fall in love with Lambchop. Judging by the kisses he gave his owner every few seconds, it seems that the feeling is mutual.

Riley just scratching her ear.

Lambchop came to the park to play with his friends, Riley the Dalmatian and her human. Riley had known her human for only five days, but seemed to really enjoy playing with her. She has quickly learned in the first few days of her new home that people in Savannah love playing with cute dogs. Riley began the interview with tons of puppy energy, but quickly tired herself out and laid down for a nap at her human’s feet, signaling the end of our interview.

Calli smiling for the camera.
Kovah moments before attacking us with her love.

Cali and Kovah were by far the most photogenic pair we encountered. We found both of the American Bullies posing for pictures on the stage in the park, with their human. Cali is five months old and Kovah is only three months, but the trio seem to have a very strong bond already. Cali is called the ‘miracle baby’ because she was the only dog in the litter, which can get lonely for a young puppy. That’s why Kovah was brought into the family, to provide friendship for Cali and their owner alike. They now travel to lots of places around Savannah, and still bring their human happiness even after throwing up in her new car within a week of buying it.

Chewy begging us to play.

Another dog we met was a Mini Goldendoodle named Chewy, who was a celebrity look alike with his golden brown coat resembling Chewbacca from Star Wars. He was another teenager, being only 8 months old. He was dubbed “not very well trained,” but hopefully that will change with exposure to the city. Since Chewy goes everywhere with his owner with his favorite green ball in cheek, he’ll be a real city dog. He loves belly rubs, and when he was dropped off at a doggy daycare overnight the staff told his human that he refused to play with the other dogs, but was more than happy to accept belly rubs. His playful spirit is infectious, and when he offers you his slimy green ball it is almost impossible not to grab it and play along.

Watson giving us a sniff.
Lucy is obviously tired of our questions.

Watson and Lucy had two different humans, yet the two pups are very tight. Lucy is a 3 year old Chocolate Lab — Boykin mix and Watson is a 2 and a half year old Treeing Walker Coonhound. Much like almost all the other dogs we met, both of these pups go everywhere with their owners and get to see lots of Savannah. But unlike many other dogs, the pair also gets to spend half their time in South Carolina on their flower farm called Browns and Hounds (Lucy and Watson being the hounds). Lucy loves to play ball, and Watson’s favorite pastime is herding cows, and chasing deer and rabbits. However don’t let their hard work fool you, these aren’t just working dogs and they still get to cuddle up in the bed with their humans at night.

Percy knew just what to do with the camera.
Lydia and Human playing.

Percy Warner the two year old Welsh Terrier and Lydia the Goldendoodle were prize winning canines, Lydia was proudly wearing the first place ribbon that she had just won at the annual Doggie Carnival doggie derby. She was celebrating by trying to get every human near the fountain to play ball with her. Both dogs were not originally from Savannah, but the owners were told many times how dog friendly the city of Savannah was before moving down.

Captain standing at attention.

Captain was lucky enough to be rescued by his human, and taken down to Savannah with her when she got a new job. She had some concerns with finding an apartment that was dog friendly, but in the end she said there were tons of places to choose from. When we spoke to them, Captain was taking a well deserved break from his jog by lying in the grass and rolling around. He also goes almost everywhere with his owner, including the school that she teaches at, but not downtown since he is too friendly around people. He was supposed to function as a “man magnet” but he prefers women and the only man he has shown any feelings towards was married and had one eye. Despite having different taste in men, Captain clearly still brings lots of happiness to his loving human.

Throughout all of our interviews, there was one common answer that stood out. Almost every owner we spoke to admitted to taking their pup everywhere with them. Many even offered examples of dog friendly places that they frequent together, such as stores, beaches, monuments, and even an elementary school. No one gave this a second thought, when in many other parts of the world this would be viewed as extremely strange behavior. People in this city seem to have a very strong bond with their dogs, and the city itself has many amenities and ordinances that make it easy and fun for dogs to live here. Cities like Savannah are proof to our ingrained companionship. Humans and dogs have been best-friends for tens of thousands of years. We’ve stood by each other through thick and thin and thus, our unique evolutionary bond runs deep. Who knows where we as a species would be without the true companionship and unconditional love dogs give us. Dogs are a true gift.

For a more indepth understanding of any of the topics discussed above, follow the references below!

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