The first Carolina dog that I. Lehr Brisbin took home with him smeared fecal matter all over the back seat of his car. He found her at a pound in Augusta, Georgia in the 1970s, and despite strong discouragement from the pound’s staff (they said she bit everyone who touched her), he managed to wrangle her into a carry crate in his back seat, where “she immediately had a diarrhea attack,” Brisbin recalls. But he was far from discouraged. Brisbin wanted to take her home because he thought there was something strange and special about her. She resembled some wild dogs he’d seen in the woods along the Savannah River. And Brisbin was starting to put together an exciting hypothesis about why there were wild dogs in the South Carolina lowland that looked and acted different from most others.
At the time, I. Lehr Brisbin was a biologist studying wildlife at the Savannah River Ecology Lab, a field research station of the University of Georgia in Aiken, South Carolina. His research often took him into the 300 square mile wilderness of the Savannah River Ecology site. That’s where he first noticed the wild dogs. They had long, pointy snouts, ears that permanently stood up and tails that curled back on themselves. And their behavior, he noticed, was unusual, too. They dug small pits in the ground with their snouts. They hunted in packs and signaled to each other by flashing the white undersides of their tails. They moved as a pack, like wolves. They were more like Australian Dingoes than European-bred dogs brought to America by colonists. Brisbin hypothesized that the wild South Carolina dogs descended from canines that belonged to Native Americans, that the dogs’ ancestors had crossed the land bridge between Asia and North America with humans around 12,000 years ago.