Billie Jean, Breeds, former foster dogs, writing

Mutts are Survivors and Here’s Why

It’s been a quiet two weeks with Billie Jean here and me busy with book stuff, but I couldn’t let another week go by without a blog post for Another Good Dog. I’ve been writing this blog for 5 and a half years! That’s quite a habit. I promise I’ll give you the scoop on Billie J, plus an update on Daisy B, but first indulge me my musing about mutts….

I’ve been re-reading Barbara Kingsolver essays. Partly because I love the way she thinks and how casually she can make an ordinary phrase resonate in my heart; and partly because I want to be a better writer and the best way to do that, I find, is to read writers who are much better than you are. Not just better than you are, but also writers who write the way you wish you could write.

I underline and repeat to myself and make notes, and later copy out those words into one of the many blank journals I use for this purpose.

In the mornings, I read sections of three or four different books, before turning to my own journal hoping if I do this seamlessly I’ll write in the same style of the books I’ve just read. Many times I write about the subjects I’ve been reading about, so obviously there is a serious danger of plagiarism and I don’t share that journal with anyone. Like a hangover (a good one), though, their talent and style will color my work until the next hit.

This morning’s Kingsolver essay was on the science behind evolution and survival of the fittest. She was writing in regards to the plant world and GMO’s and the danger they pose to our survival (even as they profess to be the answer to solving the world’s hunger problems).

As is my way, and perhaps because I had a precious dog snuggled at my side, I applied her thoughts to the dog world. I thought about how it applied to the assertion that mutts are healthier than purebred dogs.

Plants are engineered to be super resistant to drought or a particular bug or cold or whatever, which seems like a good thing. But eventually because the earth has such a deep bench when it comes to what it can hurl at any farmer, even the factory farms, a new bug or a new disease (virus?) or natural catastrophe is always ready to wreak unprecedented havoc. The new strain of super plant doesn’t have the gene diversity it once had and what then? If we’ve bred out all the diversity there’s no chance that some random gene will stand up against it and survive to seed the next season. All that miracle rice could be wiped out by one blight, pest, virus, freak storm, or a few weeks of record temperatures, and with it, an entire small country of lives.

When dogs are bred selectively to have more smushed faces to be even cuter or smaller stature so they fit in a purse or gigantic so they wow the show world or some other quality that serves no purpose but the whims of humans, the fittest is not surviving. So the collective health of a species, instead of getting stronger and healthier, gets weaker and more prone to all manner of health issues.

Mutts, on the other hand, are not generally bred selectively, instead loose, unsterilized dogs breed willy-nilly. As I’ve witnessed too many times now, not every puppy in a litter makes it. Only the stronger ones that can withstand hookworms or bad nutrition or prenatal or postnatal neglect in one form or another, make it to adulthood. Any physical weakness is selectively bred out by natural consequences. So the dogs that turn up in our shelters are a blend of breeds, the fittest surviving.

Our desperate need to label them compels us to have a DNA test done and once done, yes, yes, we can see that particular breed hidden in there. But what Kingsolver (and Darwin), and I, would say is that these mutts that are thrown away because they’re no particular breed, are actually healthier and stronger and more likely to live long, happy lives than a dog that costs thousands and looks exactly like the dog who won at Westminster last year.

Am I promoting the breeding of mutts? Absolutely not. Southern shelters are full to bursting with available dogs and the last thing anyone needs is another litter of puppies to find homes for, nevermind the poor mama dog who too often is left physically depleted and even less adoptable.

Am I condemning the breeding of purebred dogs? Absolutely not. I love watching Westminster, like everyone else. I find it fascinating when you can trace a breed back for centuries. I’m just pointing out that centuries ago, these dogs were bred for specific strengths –endurance, the ability to crawl through a tunnel, retrieve fallen prey, pull a sled, etc. As a breed they grew stronger and healthier because, like today’s strays, life wasn’t so easy and they wouldn’t be fed if they didn’t serve a purpose.

Breeding for aesthetics is dangerous. Just like GMO farming. Yes, it seems like a worthwhile pursuit on the surface, but beneath the surface cataclysmic vulnerabilities grow with each subsequent ‘improvement.’

I think smart, responsible breeders have the power to save any particular breed. If they applied the survival of the fittest model to decisions about which dogs to spay and neuter and which to continue to breed, they could affect change within a few generations. But by continuing to breed for color or number of wrinkles or more hypoallergenic-ness, all qualities that are likely recessive in many breeds, they weaken the bloodline even if they clean up at Westminster.

Now, before you begin arguing with me, I’ll admit right up front that I’m no scientist. It was probably my worst subject in school. But this isn’t complicated science, this is basic common sense.

Recently, I discovered the Instagram account of a purebred Vizsla puppy named Brit. He caught my eye because he looked so much like my Fanny Wiggles. On the first vet exam for Fanny back in Tennessee, she was labeled Vizsla, even though when the rescue brought her north they labeled her a pitbull mix (pitbull appearance trumps any vet’s optimistic guess).

Scanning through Brit’s account (which I fervently follow now), I saw Fanny’s expression, her nose, her coat and eye color, her habit of leaving her hindend on the couch for several minutes in the process of climbing down off of it. Her ears are shorter and her legs are shorter, but otherwise Brit could easily pass as her big brother. This discovery has me looking up the cost of DNA analysis. But then I stop myself because I’m so proud of her pitbull status. What if she’s really a Vizsla and has no ‘pit’ in her at all?

I was still weighing the possibilities when I opened up the Kingsolver anthology this morning. Does her breed matter? At this point, probably not. It’s just a novelty. Something to say when people comment on Fanny at the dog park. I don’t know what inherent physical weaknesses Vizsla’s have, but surely they have a few as they are a popular breed bred for their beautiful rich color and strong, intense build.

Lucky for me, though, it’s unlikely she is purebred. And she survived what was quite definitely a tough childhood in western Tennessee, plus a few weeks at the dog pound. So whatever she is, she’s a survivor.

Speaking of survivors….Daisy B is doing really well in her adopted home.

I’m pretty sure I mentioned in a post a few months back that she was finally adopted. The adopters even had her DNA analyzed. Here are the results:

  • 25% Lab
  • 21% Pit
  • 15% German Shepherd
  • 13% Chow
  • 12% Australian Shepherd
  • and a few other traces (Rottweiler, Weimaraner…)

See? What a fabulous selection of breeds and Daisy has survived so much that undoubtedbly she got the best of each breed’s genes.

Billie Jean? The breed guess is cattle dog and a few others. Whatever she is, she certainly got the smart-gene, and the coordinated-gene, and the devoted-to-you-gene, and the gorgeous-gene.

We are still looking for the perfect home for Billie Jean. I think the perfect home will be one in which she can be the star of the show. She does not ‘play’ with Fanny so much as boss her and correct her when she gets to rowdy. She seems to do better with Gracie who is indifferent to other dogs.

The perfect home will be one in which she gets lots of physical and mental exercise. I would love for her to land with adopters who want to try agility with her, or at the least will take her for hikes or runs or lots of outdoor playtime (not at a dog park where there are too many other dogs for her to deal with). She is solid on the sit, down, and stay commands and could likely learn a lot more if I had the time to teach her.

The perfect Billie Jean adopter is looking for a best, best, best friend who will stick by her/his side all day long. Her devotion knows no bounds and she is happiest lying beside me while I write or walking beside me for miles.

The perfect home is one in which she will not be left alone or crated for long hours. While she is not a destructive dog and she is completely house and crate-trained, she will suffer of boredom and loneliness without her person. Even though I leave her with peanut butter filled kongs when I go out without her for an hour or two, she never touches them. Instead, she waits patiently, eyes on the door, her world stopped until I return. That’s the kind of devoted this dog is.

So she deserves a person who will love her back on that kind of level. We will wait until that person finds her. This is quite seriously a once-in-a-lifetime kind of dog. If that’s the kind of dog you’re looking for, then by all means, apply NOW. (Unless you have a cat – then don’t bother, Billie Jean is allergic to cats.)

Thanks for reading!

Cara

If you’d like regular updates of all my foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips from OPH training, be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.

For information on me, my writing, and books, visit CaraWrites.com where you can also find more information on my new book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One  Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, (Pegasus Books, July 2020) or on the book’s very own Facebook page and Instagram account.

And if you’d like to know where all these dogs come from and how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted dogs in our shelters, visit WhoWillLetTheDogsOut.org. You can also hear stories of our shelter visits on our brand new podcast! Please comment, subscribe, and share wherever you get your podcasts!

Our family fosters through the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes, a network of foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and south-central PA.

If you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs. It’s available anywhere books are sold.

I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at carasueachterberg@gmail.com.

Many of the pictures on my blog are taken by photographer Nancy Slattery. If you’d like to connect with Nancy to take gorgeous pictures of your pup (or your family), contact: nancyslat@gmail.com.

10 thoughts on “Mutts are Survivors and Here’s Why”

  1. I agree with you 100% about breeding dogs for the way they look. Doing that over the years has resulted in breeds that can only give birth by caesarian (sp) and other who never breathe properly. At the same time, I’m very impressed by livestock guardian dogs who are bred to do a very difficult job — guarding livestock on the open range. The more I learn about the different breeds and the different farm/range jobs they do and their natural division of labor, the more I’m amazed. Truly, the only time I’ve been tempted to sit on Facebook for hours has been since I joined the Livestock Guardian Dog Group.

    Still, what touches me most is dog’s desire to be a friend to man. To me that means we humans must be friends to dogs. To me that means not over-breeding, not breeding working dogs who will never have a job, adopting companion dogs rather than going to breeders. I’m pretty fierce on all of those points. I have two working dogs. Both were abandoned and picked up by animal control. I got them both from a shelter. I was looking at them last night thinking that the three of us really belong together. I think we were all made to do ONE thing VERY well but none of us ever got the opportunity and we never will.

    These two are the 27th and 28th dogs I’ve “owned” and really, all those other amazing creatures prepared me to live with these two. A livestock guardian dog is never anyone’s “pet,” and an Australian shepherd? Loyal, affectionate, determined and DRIVEN. Both of my dogs were bred by someone locally. I’ve had several purebred dogs in my life, all relinquished to a shelter, abandoned or adopted to me as adult dogs by their previous owner. That says a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s incredible to watch a true working dog work. They continue to be bred to do a job. That’s the difference between a working dog and a ‘show’ dog. Kind of like everything right – quality matters and superficial stuff is easy to ‘fake’. When you are ‘buying’ your dog because of appearances first and health/abilities second, it’s a mistake and eventually you realize that and then the easiest thing for too many people is to dump the dog at a shelter and start over.

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  2. I think breeding for aesthetics is wrong, and in its most extreme form (such as English bulldogs and King Charles spaniels) gets creepy. Mutts can be healthier, but it really does depend. I’ve known a number of mixed breeds who suffer from health issues, or worse, behavioral issues.
    Fanny could be Vizla — aren’t they hunting dogs? Maybe one got loose and romanced a pretty pittie. Or reverse: a Pibble Romeo compromised a prize bitch.
    We have some very good-looking mixed breeds at our local dog park. One is a beautiful fluffy white 35 lb girl that you would swear has spaniel in her (short snout, folded ears) Turns out she is 40% Siberian husky (definitely her personality; fun-loving, independent). Another looks like a fox; flame red, pointed snout, golden eye, plumy tail. She is 30% chow, 20% German shepherd, 10% husky, rest too mixed to separate. A newcomer is a sleek-coated girl in striking shadings of silver and black. I thought she was some exotic European breed, but it turns out her mom was a husky mix, and they didn’t know what dad was. Another looks very much like a black lab, but has a Rhodesian Ridgeback line of fur down her back.
    I’ve thought about getting Mr. B’s DNA done, although I’m sure he would rather have me spend the money on bully sticks. We call him a Wire-haired Tree-Climbing Squirrel Terrier. His profile looks very pitbull (not blocky like a Staffie, but that big-nosed shape I see in our shelter dogs) but it’s obscured by his hair. I think his wiry coat is how he gets a pass on his pit bull looks — people are charmed by his scruffy face. He’s a good boy, and I wouldn’t mind telling people, “Oh, he’s 50% pit,” so they might change their minds a little bit about pitties.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! That’s the reason I kind of want to do the DNA, just so I can tell people she’s a pit when they say how beautiful she is. Reading the research, it’s pretty common for even first generation mutts to look nothing like the breeds they came from. I love the idea of making up my own breed for her like you did for Mr. B. Maybe I will. People love the scruffies – they can be any shape/size and have a line of adopters.

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  3. For the record, we had our 25 lb mutt tested when we got him 4 years ago from OPH. Honestly I can’t recommend it enough, one of the better customer service experiences I’ve had. Our dash has a 50/50 staffy/red bone coon hound mother and…..wait for it……a 100% pure bred south American Chihuahua dad! Yeah we aren’t really sure what that looked like either!! He is basically a ginger chihuahua on steroids, fast, athletic, utterly indifferent to pleasing anyone but himself, adorable enough to stop traffic and beloved by all who know him, the least neurotic and most hilariously over self confident dog in history, and oh, dumb as a box of rocks. Basically, Derek Zoolander from the movie come to life in dog form. We used wisdom panel and highly recommend them, they patiently walked us through their testing method and explained everything when we were trying to wrap our heads around his extremely unlikely heritage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How cool is that – South American Chihuahua! Love hearing stories like this. I’ve read that some of the tests (I think Embark) can actually tell you if there are dogs related to yours that have been tested – so you can find relatives! Which is really crazy. thanks for adopting your boy – I love the idea of a Derek Zoolander come to life!

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  4. As you noted, mutts are survivors and deserve to find as loving and caring home as purebreds. Luckily there are adoptable pets from both rescues and shelters. As always thanks for shedding a light on the plight of so many dogs who often are in shelters because of their mixed breed status.

    Liked by 1 person

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