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Miss December 2010 - Mariah
Story Of A Shaggy Dog

ariah. They call the dog “Mariah.” Her fluffy-shaggy can’t-quite-place-the-breed appearance has also led Carol Small to tag her as a “Benji-dog” and at times, a New Brunswick Marsh Hound, (though a lack of interest in chasing squirrels might put the ‘hound’ label in question.) Mariah’s DNA has been tested to learn what canines figure in her family tree, but she remains, for the most part, a mystery. For that and for being a loving gentlewoman who makes us contemplate what’s in a name and in a breed… Mariah is Miss December 2010.


Mariah has been living in Oriental for 6 years, since the Smalls retired — Ken from the Navy, and Carol from teaching elementary school —and moved here from Tabernacle, New Jersey. Mariah’s adapted well, coming from a fenced-in environment to one where she generally stays in her unfenced yard, with occasional forays around the neighborhood.

While she generally sticks close to home, she also enjoys the freedom of going leash-less for walks or running along after Carol’s bike. Carol says Mariah has zero interest in chasing squirrels or cats, blithely ignoring them and the usual canine impulse to give chase.

Mariah with her people, Ken and Carol Small on the porch of their home, just before Christmas.
Making The Rounds

As much as she likes her walks, Mariah is not above taking car rides when errands have to be run. The cameras at First Citizens Bank have likely captured her image, popping out of the drivers window when Ken goes through the drive-thru lane. In Mariah’s world view, the banks’ cylinders bring more than deposit slips or cash; they bring milkbones.

Mariah on the walkway to her house. Not a fan of sun and heat, she seeks out shady places to sit, even in winter.
Shaggy Dog, Smart Dog

On other errand trips, Mariah has come away with things that other patrons, limited to two legs, do not. Mariah was about six when she arrived in Oriental, and at Village Hardware, manager Paul Fairbank taught the old dog at least one new trick. At the store one day, Carol says, Paul sat down next to Mariah, and said, “‘Let’s have a talk.’” Result: Mariah learned to shake, offering her part of a paw-hand-shake in order to earn a dog treat.

As those who’ve given treats to dogs know, this can set up expectations that lead to bewilderment and disappointment. Carol says that a recent outdoor event, Mariah found Paul and thought that somewhere in the many pockets of his cargo pants, there had to be at least one dog treat with her name on it. “She wouldn’t let him go,” says Carol. “He had to take everything out of his pockets. He had to show they were all empty.”

Mariah has a fancy collar, given by one of her many friends in Oriental.
Shaggy Dog, Smart Dog

With her abundant blond hair, she’s gotten “up close and personal with a Furminator”, the dog comb that de-danders shaggy coats with gusto. Shaggy though she might be, Mariah has often been seen with short hair — she gets a summer cut three times a year. (It’s a comfort thing: she doesn’t like to be hot.) Still, she takes pride in that shagginess and at this spring’s Pet Parade, Mariah and Carol showed up with a sign for a shaggy dog contingent — and with little or no prior coordination — got a number of fellow long-haired travelers to join in.

Mariah leading the pack of shaggy dogs in the 2010 Pet Parade.

Generally, Mariah prefers the company of people over dogs. The exceptions are a select few Town dogs that roam near Hodges Street or the denizens of Pineview where she lives. (There, she’s on a strictly need-to-nose relationship with other neighborhood dogs; no need to smell elsewhere, Carol has observed.)

On longer road trips, Carol says that Mariah “is the easiest dog to travel with.” At rest stops she lets Mariah off without a leash because she knows she’ll come right back. How do you get a dog in to the car when there are so many other smells to investigate? Carol says the three magic words are, “Big Hurry Up”.

Another command stands out. Carol recalls that years ago in New Jersey, Mariah “learned the what ‘Wait.’ meant the hard way.” That lesson involved a dock and a boat not quite close enough. Falling in the water “had real significance for her.”

Mariah in her comfort zone at the edge of the water, not in it.

The Smalls have had half a dozen dogs in over 40 years and Ken says that Mariah is the smartest and most empathetic. He swears that “she understands English” and not just the one and two and three word commands. A few months back he and Carol were working in the kitchen in a space that was tight for two humans. Having the dog there as well made it untenable. Carol says she just kind of sighed, “Mariah, we’re kind of busy here. Would you just get out of the way?” And with that, says Ken, Mariah just picked herself up and went to the other side of the living room.

They Call The Sailor Reluctant

While Mariah likes the terra firma in Oriental, she’s not as wild about the water. She rarely goes swimming. As for the Small’s boat — which sees a lot of use — Mariah is a reluctant sailor. Ken thinks it has to do with her lack of traction. Her arthritis is another factor. She doesn’t sail much. “She’s a real homebody,” says Ken, and is there “out on the docks to greet us” when the Smalls sail back in. (When they go off on trips, she has a host of options for places to stay. “Our friends ask if they can watch her,” says Carol. “We have to trade Mariah around.”)

Mariah, reluctant sailor.

Some might find it odd that a dog named Mariah wouldn’t take to sailing, wouldn’t be a water dog. After all, there’s the song, “They Call The Wind Mariah” which — even though the lyrics are about a western wind thru mountains — many associate with sailing. For that reason, quite a few folks have thought that given how much the Smalls love to sail, they named the dog after the song. But they didn’t.

Mariah is the name she already had in March of 1999 when the Smalls found her in a shelter in Vineland, New Jersey. All the Smalls knew about her background was that she was 10 months old and hadn’t been there even a day and that when the previous owners dropped her off, “the whole family came in crying.” Carol speculates that the family may have been migrant workers whose landlord refused to let them keep the dog. They may have named her, says Carol, after the singer Mariah Carey. (Who reportedly was named after the song.)

And the results are in. The readout after Mariah’s DNA test.
Canine Genome

Also up for speculation is what combination of canines make up Mariah’s DNA. A year ago, the Smalls swabbed some Q-tips inside her mouth and sent them off for analysis. They have a framed copy of what came back from the lab in California. The analysis form had Primary, Secondary and In The Mix spaces to be filled in. In Mariah’s case, the lab came to no conclusions about her primary genome, nor about her secondary one. It offered that “In the mix” there might be a boxer and a Scottish terrier.

Ken Small and Mariah in the yard.

That may be corroborated in a sadder way. Scottish terriers, says Carol, are prone to certain tumours, the kind that Mariah was diagnosed with two years ago. She’s been on medications since. There’ve been some relapses of late, but on Christmas week, Mariah was getting by with her meds. Ken is especially discomfited over the possiblitiy of losing her.

Mariah is the sixth dog the Smalls have had. “As much as I love the other dogs,” Ken said the other day, “they weren’t as smart as Mariah. She’s fabulous.”

Mariah, at right in a painting with, at left, Tawney, the lab she shared the Small’s home with.

Back when the Smalls adopted Mariah in 1999, they did so because they had another dog, a lab, that was getting on in years. This overlapping of dogs is something they’ve done for a long time. (The uninterrupted line of dogs goes back 43 years, says Ken, to Thanksgiving of 1967, the year he and Carol married. ) As a dog got older, the Smalls would adopt a younger dog, whose presence, Carol says, made the “old dog kick up its heels more.” She compares it to humans, noting that those who do something other than just watch TV, age better.

Mariah on the street where she’s lived for the past 6 years. In background is Carol Small with Bonnie, the dog the Smalls adopted this month. (Unlike Mariah, Bonnie does not ignore squirrels. Ken Small says that the squirrels should watch out. “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

Now it is Mariah who is getting older — she’s 12 — and she is ill. But she’s occupied such a big place in the Smalls’ life, that they held off longer than they have in the past on adopting a second dog. Then, just before Christmas, they got a light haired mixed-breed named Bonnie, from a shelter in Onslow County.

Though she doesn’t like sailing, she finds the most appropriate spot on the boat: Mariah in the companionway with Carol Small.

The Smalls never suggested Mariah be Pet of the Month. (Carol took to heart the admonition about “not sucking up to the judges.”) The judges though find in Mariah the heart and soul of what having a dog and being a dog in Oriental is all about, and for that, she is the Pet Of The Month – Miss December 2010.

Mariah’s Bio

Celebrity Pet Resembles Most: Goldie Hawn
Likes: All people and all animals, even bunnies and cats. Treats from all of her friends in Oriental, especially in the stores.
Dislikes: Some puffy little white dogs and diabolical stealth cats.
Likes Most About Oriental: Being a free-range pooch. Running next to the bike on village rambles. Getting treats at Village Hardware and at First Citizens’ Bank.
Likes Least About Oriental: People who might think she is a dog. That sailing thing.
Dislikes: motorcycles
Favorite Beaches: Minuscule Beach – Oriental, Town Beach; Island Beach State Park, NJ; Portsmouth Island, NC all where dogs can run around.
Favorite Stomping Grounds: Her yard and Lou Mac Park.
Favorite Food: All food except the raw onions, mushrooms, raw veggies.
Favorite Waterbowl: The Bean

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