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A Winning Mix

SUNDAY, MARCH 30, 2008

The American Kennel Club recently announced that the Labrador retriever was America’s most popular dog.


The most popular dog in America is, hands down, the mutt.

Nobody actually knows how many there are, since you can’t exactly look it up in a National Mutt Registry. But with an estimated 72 million dogs in the United States, there are probably more mutts than all of the labs, boxers and yorkies combined – which is fitting, since a lot of mutts are labs, boxers and yorkies, combined.

Yet the mutt doesn’t get much respect. People still bandy that word “mongrel” about. This prejudice persists even though a good ol’ mixed-breed dog represents every bit as much pure canine quality as the average purebred dog – often more.

To research this issue further, I took my mutt Jack (part border collie, part who-the-hell-knows?) to the dog park at Stateline and put the question to some fellow dog owners: Why choose a mutt?

“Well, see that poodle over there?” said Francis Johnson of Mead, fixing his gaze on an elegant purebred poodle, haughtily sniffing a nearby tree. “People want real money for that dog.”

Then he cast a benevolent eye on his own dog, Marty, a St. Bernard-mixed-with- something-mixed-with-God- knows-what.

“I paid $68 for Marty, and that included all of the shots and everything,” he said.

So, yeah, mutts are cheap.

But Johnson’s real reason for wanting a mutt is simply that mutts need him more.

“Hell, I wouldn’t get any other kind,” he said. “I always get a pound dog and I always get a big one, because they have a little more trouble finding a home.”

The vast majority of dogs at SpokAnimal’s dog shelter are mixed-breed dogs. And when we say mixed, sometimes they’re really mixed. You haven’t seen a mutt until you’ve seen, for instance, a pit bull mixed with a dachshund. Their collection runs the entire mutt gamut.

“We get some purebred dogs, but not a whole lot,” said Laura Thulean, SpokAnimal’s director of operations. “I think mutts in general are much better. I own two of them myself and I don’t know what I’d do without them.”

In fact, there are sound scientific reasons for getting a mutt. Mutts, being a cross between at least two breeds and often dozens, have a more diversified genetic background. They are less likely to inherit bad genetic traits.

“A lot of times, they tend to be healthier because they get that hybrid vigor,” said Christine Perry-Siems, a veterinarian at the Lincoln Heights Veterinary Clinic.

Or to put it another way: If mutts are the cheerful Cockneys of the dog world, purebreds are the British royal family. Just slightly inbred.

So, in many cases, mutts are healthier than purebreds and not as neurotic (you lapdogs know who I’m talking about). Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that purebred dogs are not excellent creatures. Even purebred dogs are superior to, for instance, the average human. It’s just that mutts are sometimes even better.

Still, mutts don’t get to preen in the Westminster Kennel Club Show. They don’t have judges fawning over their superior “topline” or their outstanding “hindquarter angulation.” They don’t have fancy pedigrees. They simply have middle-of-the road characteristics and sweet dispositions.

Well, not always. Mutts do have certain disadvantages, the main one being: When you’re falling head over heels in love with a puppy at the animal shelter, you never really know exactly what you’re falling in love with. Will it end up looking like a basset hound? Or a wolfhound?

“When I go get one, it’s like, you’re married – you’re stuck with ‘em,” said Johnson.

Also, some mutts come with behavioral issues associated with bad treatment by their original owners.

“Sometimes, though, those dogs tend to be the most appreciative, loyal and grateful,” said Perry-Siems.

She also pointed out one other advantage of the whatever-dog.

“No other dog looks like your dog,” she said.

Despite all of these sterling mutt traits, many mutt-owners are shockingly coy when someone asks them the simple question: “What kind of dog is that?”

They tend to answer with lots of hyphens, as in, “A shih-tzu-cocker-dingo- hairless-sheepdog mix.”

Well, let me make this simple. Does your answer begin with any of the following?

•”I think …”

•”It’s a cross between …”

•”It kinda looks like …”

•”Our vet guessed that …”

Then, face it, what you have is a mutt. Don’t be ashamed. Embrace your mutt. You’ll get a nice sloppy lick in return.

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