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The Complete Guide to MuttsSelection, Care and Celebration from Puppyhood to Senior
By Margaret H. Bonham
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-4973-1
Chapter OneMixing It Up
THE MOST POPULAR DOG IN AMERICA
Meet the mutt. Sometimes maligned and unloved, sometimes exalted. The mutt, or mixed breed, has been around since the beginning of Canis lupus familias, when some wolves threw in their lot with humans.
You may be surprised to learn that the mutt is the most popular dog in the United States. The number of mixed breeds outnumbers any single AKC purebred and outnumbers or comes close to the numbers of all AKC purebred dogs combined. Fifty-one percent of all dog-owning households have at least one mixed breed dog. That makes roughly 20.4 million households with a mutt.
"People who have a mutt can't afford or don't want a purebred," says Karen Derrico, author of Unforgettable Mutts. "People are attracted to mutts because of their hardier reputation and their individualism. When you get a purebred, you know pretty much what you get, but there's a certain mystery to the mutt. You're getting a one-of-a-kind."
Most people would agree. America is the melting pot of various nations and cultures. The mutt can be considered the quintessential American dog.
"What breed is he?" is the most common question mutt owners hear. Many respond, "He's just a mutt." Just a mutt? Some of the most famous dogs were "just" mutts. If you look at literature, dogs like White Fang and Buck (from Call of the Wild) were mixed breeds. In cartoons, the lowly mutt is celebrated: Edgar and Farley in For Better or for Worse, Daisy in Blondie, Dogbert in Dilbert, Pluto in Mickey Mouse, Snert in Hagar the Horrible, Dogzilla in The Buckets, Odie in Garfield and Otto in Beetle Bailey.
Phyllis DeGioia, mutt owner extraordinaire and freelance dog writer and editor, says, "Mutts are special because they are truly one of a kind; you won't be able to find another just like it. Their uniqueness is one of their most attractive qualities. It's the ultimate in rare breeds because, for the most part, you can't reproduce the mix-mostly because you don't know what it is."
Phyllis tells heart-wrenching stories about her own mutts, Fred and Ginger. Phyllis had just lost her beloved dog and told her veterinarian she wanted another dog. She received a phone call the same day.
"Fred was in the hospital when I met him. His legs were covered in vomit. When I sat next to him-a total stranger-he put his head on my knee and looked at me. And that was it. He is now a therapy dog." Fred had swallowed a Super Ball and, rather than pay for the surgery, his owners had given him up to be either euthanized or placed with another family. That family was Phyllis.
"Ginger appealed to me because the people who were giving her away just drove her over and let her out of the car. She jumped out, dragging a red leash, ran up the porch steps where I was sitting, into my lap, and starting licking my face. Done deal in three seconds." Such is the power of the mutt!
Mixed Reviews-What It Means to Bring a Mutt Into Your Life
Bringing a mutt-or any dog-into your life is a decision you should not make lightly. In many cases, a dog is a 10- to 15-year commitment. Will you be able to take care of a pet for all those 15 years? That will include feeding, playing with, exercising and grooming your dog every day. You will have to ensure that he is healthy by taking him to the veterinarian regularly for a health check and vaccinations. You will have to bring him to the veterinarian when he is sick. You will have to clean up after him, provide a stable environment where he can't be hurt or get out and become lost, and you will have to provide for his basic needs: food, water and a place to eliminate.
Surprisingly, many people equate the purchase price of a pet with the actual cost of dog ownership. Nothing could be further from the truth! There's no such thing as a free dog. When you consider the cost of veterinary care, daily food, supplies and the cost of your time, every dog is a very expensive companion indeed.
But there are benefits as well as costs. Bringing a mutt home means having a companion who is happy to see you every day. When the world is against you, your mutt will be there ready for you to pour your soul out to him. If your mutt is big, he can be a deterrent to criminals; if he is small, you may have a shopping companion or a pal you can take wherever you go. If your mutt is athletic, he can share your enthusiasm for sports and even introduce you to exciting sports such as agility or flyball.
We Don't Need No Stinkin' Pedigree
It may surprise you to learn that all dogs have pedigrees. It's true! From the highfalutin winner of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show to the dog you see raiding garbage cans on trash day, every dog has a pedigree.
What is a pedigree, you might ask. A pedigree is a listing of ancestry. That means if your dog had ancestors (a mother, father, grandparents, etc.), he has a pedigree. It may be an unknown pedigree, but every mutt has a pedigree.
So what does a pedigree mean? It depends largely on the dogs in the pedigree. Some dogs have impressive ancestors who won dog show championships or earned obedience, tracking, agility or herding titles. The pedigree establishes that the dog with those particular ancestors might have those same talents. But if this owner is unwilling to work toward those titles, that dog is no more valuable than your mutt. In fact, some mutts, such as Alaskan Huskies, are more valuable than purebred dogs.
Working Mutts-The Alaskan Husky Sled Dog
Which brings us to the subject of performance dogs. A group of mutts, sometimes referred to as a breed, are the Alaskan Huskies, who often compete in sled dog competitions.
What is an Alaskan Husky sled dog? Well, they are pedigreed mutts. They are dogs who come from established bloodlines that can be traced back to kennels that took Native American and Inuit dogs and bred them for racing. Over time, mushers (sled dog drivers) added various breeds into the Alaskan Husky lines. These add-ins included Greyhounds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, Irish Setters, Dalmatians, Borzoi, Salukis, Gordon Setters, German Shorthaired Pointers, Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, English Pointers and even wolf hybrids.
In the Alaskan Husky, there are two distinct types: hounds and huskies. The huskies look typically like Northern breeds, while the hounds tend to be slimmer and racier. Mushers may choose either, depending on their preferences and how they use their dogs.
Alaskan Huskies typically have some very elaborate pedigrees, many going back 10 generations or more. These sled dogs may cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the bloodlines and the person selling the dogs. For example, a dog from an Iditarod-winning kennel may cost thousands of dollars, while a local dog may cost a few hundred or may even be free.
Alaskan Huskies may well be the best canine athletes. They've proven themselves capable of running over 1,000 miles in less than nine days, while eating the equivalent of 25 times an average person's daily diet. They're able to run 100 miles or more a day and enjoy doing it. In sprint races, many Alaskan Huskies are able to run 25 miles per hour or more for six to 12 miles. Most purebreds can't match their speed or versatility.
Obedience, Agility and Other Performance Events
You may be surprised to learn that mixed breed dogs earn titles in competitive events such as obedience, agility, flyball and flying disc. Indeed, in many areas mutts excel in competition over their purebred counterparts. Mutts are among the top dogs in flying disc and flyball, competing against purebreds. Mutts do well in agility trials sponsored by UKC, USDAA and NADAC. They also compete against purebred dogs in obedience trials in UKC and AMBOR events. (Do all those organizations look like alphabet soup to you? Have a look in Appendix A, where I have sorted it all out.)
Founders of New Breeds
Not surprisingly, mutts have become the foundation for new breeds. Indeed, it's hard to determine precisely when a group of dogs collectively becomes a "breed," except when they're recognized by an official kennel club such as the American Kennel Club (AKC) or the United Kennel Club (UKC). Most founders of breeds discover one or two individual dogs who they consider the ideal type for a particular job, and carefully select other dogs within the region who look similiar. Breeds such as the Labrador Retriever, the Alaskan Malamute and the Keeshond were developed in this manner.
In some cases, such as the Chinook and the Alaskan Klee Kai, the founding dog was a particular mutt who caught the eye of a breeder. The breeder then bred other dogs with this single dog to produce offspring who would become the foundation stock for a new breed.
From the Wrong Side of the Tracks-Famous Mixed Breeds
The most famous dogs aren't purebred-they're mutts! With the versatility and intelligence we see in mixed breeds, little wonder that mutts have often taken center stage. Take a look at some of the most famous mixed breeds:
Balto: In 1925, when a diphtheria epidemic threatened the population of Nome, Alaska, mushers raced to bring the vaccine from Anchorage, nearly 1,000 miles away. Gunnar Kaasen's lead dog, Balto, is known for leading his team through a blinding storm and -70°F temperatures. The relay made the long trip in just six days. Balto was not a purebred Husky, as some people think, but rather a mixed breed dog imported from Norway.
Mut: Costarred with Charlie Chaplin in the 1918 film A Dog's Life.
Laika: Laika was the first living Earth creature in space. A mutt of indeterminate origins, Laika sadly paid for her fame with her life. Other mutts followed Laika to fame, and were safely recovered.
Spike: Spike, aka Old Yeller, was a yellow flop-eared pup whom trainer Frank Weatherwax adopted from the Van Nuys Animal Shelter. Most famous for his role in the movie Old Yeller, Spike had sons who also starred in various motion pictures.
Fido: Abraham Lincoln's dog was a midsize mutt and was the first presidential dog ever to have his photo taken.
Chinook: Arthur Walden's famous lead sled dog, who later became the founder of the Chinook breed, was a mixed breed of Inuit Dog, German Shepherd Dog, Saint Bernard or another purebred.
Benji: This lovable mutt has made his way into the hearts of millions in feature films. Benji is ranked as one of the Top 20 Must-See Movies for children by People magazine.
Murray: Starred in the television series Mad About You from 1992 to 1999.
Freeway: Starred in the television series Hart to Hart from 1979 to 1984.
Scruffy: Starred with Hope Lange in the television series The Ghost and Mrs. Muir from 1968 to 1970.
Skip: One of President Theodore Roosevelt's favorite dogs; Teddy found him on a bear hunt.
This list is by no means complete. No doubt, you can think of other famous mutts and mutts who do extraordinary things.
Excerpted from The Complete Guide to Mutts by Margaret H. Bonham Excerpted by permission.
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