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SOUTH JORDAN — Gus the golden retriever wagged his tail as frenzied elementary school children lined up to shake his paw.
Gus, along with handler Maureen Kilgour, visited Daybreak Elementary School on Friday to put fourth-graders face to face with the dog breed that may become the domestic animal of Utah — all thanks to them.
Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, is sponsoring a bill that Daybreak Elementary teacher Alli Despain’s fourth-grade class created last year. The bill proposes to designate the golden retriever as the official state domestic animal.
Despain said her class was inspired to draft the legislation when they realized the bill created by Monroe Elementary fourth-graders to make the quaking aspen the state tree in place of the Colorado blue spruce was passed last year.
“We looked and saw there wasn’t a Utah domestic animal yet, so we thought it would be pretty easy to get one implemented,” Despain said. “So I honestly Googled ‘how to write a bill,’ printed off the template for the kids, and I had them all research it.”
From their research, the fourth-graders first discovered the dog was the most common domestic animal in Utah, and the golden retriever was the most common domestically owned dog in Utah, Despain said. After researching the breed’s characteristics, the class decided the golden retriever would be a fitting state domestic animal.
“They’re family-oriented dogs, and Utah seems to be a family-oriented state,” she said.
Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, is co-sponsoring the bill, which she said was driven by her love for the golden retriever. She and her late husband, Ed, had owned four golden retrievers over the years.
"I think the characteristics of (golden retrievers) are the spirit of Utah," Mayne said. "They're loyal, they're trustworthy, they're kind and they're fun — all the kinds of things Utahns love."
Kilgour's golden retriever has a friendly demeanor that landed him a job with Therapy Animals of Utah. Gus visits the mentally ill every week in Provo, his handler said.
“Golden retrievers are bred to be with people,” Kilgour said. “They’re a very loyal family dog, and they interact well with kids.”
Deborah Carr, Therapy Animals of Utah executive director, said a judge at an American Kennel Club dog show once told her something about golden retrievers she would never forget.
“I asked him, ‘If you could pick any dog in the world as the family dog, what dog would you choose?'” Carr said. “And he said golden retrievers.”
Despain said she’s proud of her class for drafting the bill, and she’s thrilled that they could learn about the legislative process in such a hands-on way.
“I think it’s amazing that it was pretty much all them,” she said. “I was just the facilitator, and they were the creators.”
Mayne said involving children in the legislative process is important for their growth and understanding of laws.
"We’ve had several pieces of legislation since my tenure that have come from classrooms, and it shows (children) that legislation does work," she said. "I think it's a really good civics lesson."
Ben Olsen, 10, worked on the bill as one of Despain’s students, and he said he's surprised by what has become of their work.
“I didn’t think that a bunch of fourth-graders would be able to change (something about the state),” he said. “If we do get the state domestic animal to be the golden retriever, I think it would be a really big accomplishment for all of us.”
Ben said learning about Legislature has inspired him.
“If I can do big things in fourth grade, I’ll be able to do a lot bigger things when I’m older,” he said.