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Mutts America's Dogs
By Brian Kilcommons Michael Capuzzo
Warner BooksCopyright © 1996 Brian Kilcommons and Michael Capuzzo
All right reserved.
IntroductionA RALLYING BARK FOR MUTTS
Congratulations! And the warmest welcome we know of (wag-wag) to the first book ever about, presumably, YOUR DOG. If you already own one of the most popular dog types in America, such as the Black Dog, White Dog, or Benji-Type Dog, you're already in on the secret, part of the family. If you're thinking of adopting one of the more than one hundred mixed-breed dogs described here, such as the Collie-Shepherd or the Golden Retriever-Lab or any of the distinguished genus types known collectively as America's dogs, this is the book for you.
Mutts are simply the greatest dogs in the world. Most of the beloved pet dogs in America are, in fact, mixed breeds. Most dogs in all the world are mutts. Yet this is the first book devoted entirely to mixed breeds, their selection and training, their magical place in our homes and hearts.
This is the first book that tells deeply human dog stories about mixed breeds only: the Collie-Chow who awakened a boy from a coma with a single, loving lick; Old Yeller; the Pepsi Retriever; the absurdly wonderful Bassetdor, product of an affair between a Basset Hound and a Labrador, who looks like a Lab in a funhouse mirror; the Junkyard Dog that Ralph the junkman has etched on his heart for all time. We hope these are some of the most remarkable dog stories, about ordinary folks and their extraordinary mongrels, you will ever read.
But there are other important reasons for Mutts: America's Dogs. Think of this book as a warning bark, like the chorus the dogs of London sounded when Pongo and Perdita and ninety-nine Dalmatian pups were sentenced to spots on Cruella De Vil's coat. Every year in the United States, more than eight million wonderful mixed-breed dogs are needlessly destroyed. We've betrayed our best friends.
Most of these dogs, given a second chance, would be wonderful family members, as friendly, smart, healthy, and even-tempered as the costliest purebred. (Often, in fact, friendlier, smarter, healthier, and more even-tempered.) So why do tens of thousands of Americans spend $500 and up on dogs who are often more troublesome and less worthy? Because no one knows what to look for in a mixed breed, or how to predict their behavior. People are afraid of "secondhand" dogs. This book replaces fear with knowledge and compassion; we'll tell you all you need to know to fall in love with a mixed breed.
Go to your local animal shelter. Trust that nature, and the miracle of hybrid vigor that created our American democracy, produces better stock than faulty human-controlled breeding, which produced the British royal family.
Take this book under your arm and study the rows of dogs greeting you excitedly (wag-wag, wag-wag, wag-wag!) from their cages. Find one you like. Find one who likes you. Read the description of the mutt type to make sure his traits are suitable for your family. And take him home.
Thus will begin your own wonderful mutt story, which we sincerely hope you'll write and tell us someday, as this would make us very happy. Wag-wag.
A Special Note on Breeds and Breeding
If you choose a mutt, please adopt from one of the thousands of excellent animal shelters in this country and instantly have your dog spayed or neutered. You will save a life, help ease the pet overpopulation crisis, and reduce the demand for breeds that creates so many sloppily bred purebred dogs doomed to short, sickly, unhappy lives.
If your heart's desire is a purebred, such as a Golden Retriever, we encourage you to carefully research the health and temperament problems common to many purebreds; and to adopt a purebred from an animal shelter (plenty of Goldens are there!) or from the incredibly devoted people who run breed rescue societies (you can get their number from your local animal shelter). If you must buy a puppy, screen breeders as if they were your daughter's first boyfriend. Avoid pet shops and their mass-produced puppies altogether.
If you're seeking a Golden Retriever-Shepherd cross, or any of the dogs described in these pages, take heart. The shelter has many to choose from, at bargain prices. Totally verboten would be to breed the mixes described in this book. There are already far more dogs in the world than homes for them, and the absence of meddling gives mutts their special charm. A mutt is a masterpiece of nature. To breed one would be like running off a bunch of prints.
The M-Word: A Short History of Misunderstanding
Mutts, of course, is the generic term covering many popular types of dogs, which historically divide into two general categories: (a) mongrels, mixed breeds, mixes, and other names that appear to be derived from the Esquire Gentleman's Cocktail and Liquor Handbook, and (b) cross-breeds, crosses, half-breeds, hybrids, curs, and other terms that John Wayne could have used in The Sands of Iwo Jima but sound more like racial slurs today.
Yes, there's a built-in bias in our language against mutts. One need look no further than the Random House College Dictionary:
mutt (slang) 1. a dog, esp, a mongrel 2. a stupid person (short for muttonhead; a dolt).
mongrelize to subject to crossbreeding, esp. with a breed or race considered inferior.
cur 1. A mongrel dog, esp. a worthless or unfriendly one. 2. A low despicable person.
We are not making this up. ("Cur" is most effectively paired by our great writers with "homely," as William Styron illustrates poetically in A Tidewater Morning: "I envied their abandoned slovenliness, their sour unmade beds, their roaches, the cracked linoleum on the floor, the homely cur dogs leprous with mange that foraged at will through house and yard.")
We cannot change the history of the language. However, to the owners of beloved mixed-breed dogs, there is no higher, more poignant, richer, sentimental word than Mutt. Mutt owners are happy and flattered to have their dogs called mutts, so long as this construction is not used:
"Oh, he's only a mutt."
Mutts are the original dog, the dog who befriended humankind, the dog from whom all the current breeds were developed. The Irish have a saying, "The world is made of the Irish and people who wish they were." This is literally true of dogs. The dog world is made of mutts and dogs who wish they were. Given their choice, and a little privacy, purebred dogs after several generations would revert to the original dog, which is a forty-pound Brown Dog.
The dogs you'll find in these pages have been at the White House, served in our wars, guided the blind, starred on TV shows, stopped illegal drug smugglers, and won Frisbee contests. All of them are just plain mutts, meaning simply the most wonderful thing in their owners' lives.
And yet the most terrible things are said about mutts every day, unanswered. There are no Westminster Dog Shows to show off the finest mixes, no award winning public relations staff to tout their virtues, no certificates of authenticity, no brandname identification, which is of course the kiss of death in a consumer society. Yes, this is the central problem that dooms Heinz 57-Type dogs. Nobody makes money off them. Nobody has an investment to protect. People just love them.
They're just our dogs.
What the heck kind of dog they really are even their owners often don't know.
Our goal is to help end this confusion. Flip to the pages ahead and you're bound to find your dog, or at least a close facsimile, described for the first time.
But first, telling their story requires setting the record straight on a few matters.
First of all, mutts aren't just common but often uncommonly brave. Any dog lover reading the following stories will come away deciding proudly, "My dog is 100% mutt!"
All Hail Blackie
It was a very good year for heroic hybrids. Bailey, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever-Labrador Retriever mix, saved his owner from a raging bull and was named the 1996 Ken-L Ration Dog Hero of the Year. You can read his remarkable story in the Sporting Mutts chapter. But save some applause for Blackie, a humble mix from Lowell, Massachusetts, who was a runner-up in the Ken-L Ration contest. In December 1995 Blackie alerted his family to a fire in a vacant house across the street. Two weeks later, on Christmas night, a major fire erupted in Blackie's house. He ran from room to room, nuzzling sleeping children and tugging on their hair. He woke up ten people in all, giving everyone time to escape.
Tango Saves the Day
Al Choate, an auto mechanic from Port Townsend, Washington, was attacked by a mad mother cow who punctured one of his lungs and broke some ribs. Tango to the rescue! Tango, a mixed-breed Collie puppy, bit into the cow's cheek and didn't let go until Al had crawled to safety. When Tango won the Ken-L Ration Dog Hero award, Al's wife said, "She's just a wonderful dog, the best friend we'll ever have."
First Mutt in Space
When humankind decides to bravely go where no person has gone before, we send first ... a dog. So it was in 1957, the dawn of the Space Age. Scientists had figured out how to launch human beings into satellite orbit but weren't sure how Earth creatures would endure zero gravity. On November 3 of that year, they sent a mutt to find out.
The first Earthling in space was Laika, a sweet-looking two-year-old Samoyed-Husky mix. She was strapped into a Soviet rocket and monitored by television and wires attached to her body.
Laika flew for six days in space. Alas, science didn't have the capability then to bring the dutiful little mongrel back alive, and she died, a martyr, when her masters shut off her oxygen supply from Earth. But enough was learned so that future space mutts-and astronauts-could come back alive.
Long Live the King
King, a German Shepherd-Husky mix, gnawed through a plywood door to save Howard and Fern Carlson from their burning house in Granite Falls Washington. King's coat was in flames, but he stayed in the inferno until his heroic act was complete. "He was the last to leave," said Fern. "He wouldn't budge before we were outside."
Some dog experts will tell you that a Blue Heeler mix isn't a safe bet around children. Others will say a dog with Dachshund in it isn't a likely candidate for heroism. Still others insist dogs aren't capable of protective feelings for humans; they just act on instinct. No one says such things around Johnny Carlisle Coffey of Cassville, Missouri.
One cold spring day in the Ozark Mountains, ten-year-old Josh Carlisle pulled a baseball cap over his sandy hair, put on a thin red coat, and went to play in his backyard. Twenty minutes later, Josh's mother Johnny, glanced out the window and felt her heart freeze. Her boy was gone.
"Josh!" she called to the silence of the deep woods beyond the family home on the outskirts of Cassville. "Josh!" By seven o'clock that night, in bone-chilling cold, a massive search was on, driven by an extra urgency. Josh has Down's syndrome.
More than seven hundred volunteers from Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia poured into the mountains in pickup trucks and off-road vehicles, planes, helicopters, on horseback and trailing bloodhounds. Nothing.
After two days and nights that plummeted to thirty-four-below wind chill, searchers talked about finding the body. "My mind was telling me there's no way he can be alive," said Johnny. "But my soul kept telling me, 'Don't worry, he's alive. Somewhere.'"
On the second night, Oscar "Junior" Nell of Springfield, Missouri, a fifty-year-old father, turned to his wife, Shirley, and said "I'm going to Cassville to find that little boy. In 1989, their son, Tommy, had been killed in a car accident in Kansas City. "I just have to help," Oscar said.
Late that night, Oscar-wearing a gray cowboy hat and riding a steel gray mare-entered the woods and set up camp next to a small pond. At daybreak on the third day, he climbed on Perfection's Toot Toot-his mare with "a heart of gold," Oscar says-and led a search party of ten others into the woods.
The riders separated to cover more ground. Alone deep in the forests Oscar and Toot followed a clay riverbed. "I couldn't see or hear anybody," Oscar said. But Toot seemed edgy, her ears perked. The horse wanted to go back in the other direction.
When the riverbed ended, Oscar finally heard what was frightening his horse. Barking. Two small dogs began running down the bluff toward Oscar and Toot, then ran back up the bluff. One was a Blue Heeler mix, the other a tiny Dachshund-Beagle mix, who ran around the horse's legs.
Oddly, the dogs were leading him toward a pile of trash on the hill. Something red flashed in the sun. Red! Fifty feet away, Oscar saw the black boots. "Oh my God," he said. "This is him.
"I got up to the place where he was lying, facedown," Oscar told the Kansas City Star. "Very, very lifeless."
"Josh?" he said. No response. The police had instructed him not to touch the body.
"Josh?" Slowly, the little boy raised his head, blinked, and managed a weak smile. Then Oscar asked him if he wanted to go home, Josh said, "Uh, huh."
Oscar put Josh up on the horse and carried him across several miles of rough, mountainous terrain. At the top of the mountain was a house. Oscar called police. As rescuers put Josh in an ambulance to take him to a helicopter, the Dachshund-Beagle raced her little legs at top speed to follow the ambulance. "It was like she was saying, 'I've come this far, and now you're going to leave me,'" said one dog handler. Miraculously, Josh had suffered only frostbitten toes. The two dogs had snuggled against him in the night keeping him warm. Josh, who can't remember or describe his experience, has adopted his rescuers, Baby and Angel.
"There's no other way you can look at this than as God's way of protecting him" Johnny Coffey is fond of saying, and no one disputes her. "These dogs were angels."
The Miraculous Lick
On November 4, 1991, Donny Tomei, an eleven-year-old boy, was hit by a car and suffered a serious head injury. He lapsed into a deep coma.
For two weeks the medical staff at New Haven Hospital in Connecticut tried everything. Donny lay unconscious in a nest of IV tubes, unable to open his eyes or utter a word. Doctors sounded grim: half the people with such serious head injuries die. Many never recover.
Then one day Donny's dog, Rusty, a Chow Chow-Collie puppy Donny had adopted from a shelter, came to visit. Before anyone could react, Rusty raced by the medical staff, leapt onto Donny's chest, and licked him on the face.
Donny Tomei opened his eyes for the first time since the accident and smiled. Then he said, "Bad Rusty." These were the first words the boy had spoken. Dr. Charles Duncan, his neurosurgeon, stammered, "Donny is clearly not in a coma now."
Excerpted from Mutts America's Dogs by Brian Kilcommons Michael Capuzzo Copyright © 1996 by Brian Kilcommons and Michael Capuzzo. Excerpted by permission.
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