One afternoon, in my Montessori classroom a co-worker exclaimed, "Ginny, there's a wiener!"
I followed her gaze through the window and there, running across Davis Avenue, in heavy traffic was a large black dog and a little dachshund puppy. I dropped everything, ran out the door and scooped up the little dog. The larger black dog continued running and disappeared around the corner. That was more than six years ago.
She snuggled into my shoulder, all wrinkled and wriggly. If you have read any of my previous articles, you know that I am a "wiener" lover. (Some people who love dachshunds hate the "wiener" reference; I use it with great affection.)
It was toward the end of the school day. I didn't consider trying to find an owner because she was in too bad of shape to have come from a proper home. I knew I couldn't keep her. I already had two mini-dachshunds and two Rottweilers and I knew five dogs were out of the question.
About that time, my husband stopped by the school, and when he saw me with this little waif wrapped around my neck, he said he knew we were in big trouble. I took her home and planted her in the kitchen with the idea of finding her a home. She was just "puppy" for two days - no way was I going to name her. That was until on the third day when that sweet, determined little thing scaled the 3-foot high baby gate meant to contain her and came bounding over the top. That's when she became Lizard or Lizzy. She climbed over that gate and into our hearts, on the way to her forever home.
When I rescued Lizzy from the streets, she was malnourished, had ring worm and fleas. As her health improved and she began to grow, it became obvious that she was not a purebred dachshund, but a mix. Our vet confirmed that Lizzy was a "weagle," a cross between a wiener and a beagle. Her legs are a bit too long, her head a little too square, and when she puts her nose to the ground, the beagle in her comes surging to the forefront.
My husband and I have always owned purebred dogs. We previously had father and son Irish setters, a golden retriever and an English setter. People are often drawn to certain breeds because of the way they look and/or what we read about them. Some breeds are rare, in fashion, come with high price tags and/or are viewed as status symbols. They may be bred to rescue, hunt, guard, herd or to show. We have our reasons for choosing our pets we do. Dogs should first and foremost be a good fit with the family and its environment.
Since I have been volunteering at the Randolph County Humane Society, I have gained a real appreciation and admiration for the "mutt" or mixed-breed dog. My fellow dog walkers and I have fun imagining what's in the mix. Some of them are elegant, some stunning and some so ugly by known breed standards that they are absolutely adorable. One of my dog-walking friends recently gave me a fun book on the subject, called the "Underdog," by Julia Szabo. It is very entertaining with lots of illustrations of comical, glamorous and unlikely mixes. The message: Pure is a bore. The mutt is one of a kind. I am not writing to disparage purebreds, but to highlight the values of the mixed-breed dog.
Mixed-breed dogs tend to be healthier and live longer than purebred dogs. Due to over-breeding, some pedigreed dogs encounter serious health problems. In order to meet certain breed standards, purebred dogs are bred with others of the same breed, and over time this practice shrinks the gene pool. It is the pairing up of defective genes that perpetuates genetic disease.
Dalmations can suffer deafness; German shepherds, labradors and retrievers may be plagued with hip dysplasia. Brachycephalic dogs such as pugs, bulldogs, boxers, Boston terriers and shih tzus often suffer respiratory problems due to their short snouts, and health issues related to shallow eye sockets. Dachshunds, basset hounds and corgis have spinal problems. Deep, narrowchested dogs such as great danes, dobermans, and German shepherds can suffer bloat; and 60 percent of golden retrievers die of cancer. Not all dogs of the above breeds suffer these problems, and there are many professional breeders of pedigreed dogs who are doing their best to breed carefully and responsibly to minimize these breed deficiencies.
Though all of my dogs were long-lived, our golden suffered from hip dysplasia and our healthy 12- and a half-year-old Irish setter actually died of bloat, due to his deep, narrow chest cavity.
My first two dachshunds suffered periodic spinal problems due to climbing and jumping. I was aware of the breed problems when I brought them home and tried to prevent injury by providing stools and using baby gates, but the truth is, especially in their younger years, they were hard to control. They would propel themselves like little flying squirrels, parachuting off the deck, and totally ignore the stairs. Now I carry my almost 17-year-old up and down the stairs. My almost 12-year-old adopted wieners, who have been with us not quite a year now, are not as adventuresome. Lizzy, on the other hand, has a strong, well proportioned frame, and coupled with the combined temperaments of the two breeds, she is a great little dog. In fact, my husband is so taken with her balanced temperament and her well formed little body, he thinks the weagle should become a designer breed.
Purebred dogs, by definition, must conform to strict standards. The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is conducted every February in New York City to recognize and award the "best" among breed champions. The judges circle each dog, feeling its skeletal frame, gaping into its mouth, lifting its tail, watching it walk, and note minute variations of breed standards. To the lay person, they all look pretty much the same. Mutts, on the other hand, represent the happy accident and no two look alike. This random coupling holds appeal for many.
Szabo, in the "Underdog" concurs: "People who fancy mutts tend to be iconoclasts ... They have no problem being owned by a dog with mysterious markings, mysterious habits and a mysterious past." The mutt is highly sought after in many dog friendly cities across the country. In Austin, Portland, Seattle and Hoboken, mutt masters enjoy the status of owning a one-of-a-kind canine who was rescued from a local humane society. In short, it is in vogue.
This is only good news for the discarded, the neglected and the homeless.
At the shelter, I have walked an unknown number of mixed-breed dogs, and have had my eyes opened to the lively personalities, the noble character and the unique physical presentations of these special canines. They often combine the best traits and characters of two or more breeds, minus the health/extreme temperament issues, making them exceptional companions. Pedigreed dogs are often bred to hunt, to herd, to retrieve and to guard. If you are seeking to fill any of those specified job descriptions, then certainly consider the pedigreed dog. But if you are looking for a family dog, a-middle-of-the-roader, a companion, I recommend that you consider a mixed breed.
Along with confessing my growing bias toward mixed-breed dogs, I also am a big fan of adopting adult and senior dogs. Puppies are adorable; I get it. But since I have begun volunteering at the shelter, I hardly even look at the puppies.
I know that their puppiness will carry the day and they will be adopted; I am not worried about them. It is the adult and senior mixed-breed dogs that I am rooting for and promoting with faith and confidence. An adult dog has revealed itself; by and large you will know what you are getting.
During Forest Festival, our RCHS off-site adoption event at the city park netted 26 canine/feline adoptions-an all-time record. I thought my heart would break numerous times. A special canine friend of mine, Pogo, a boxer/terrier mix, was adopted by a couple who saw in him what I knew he could be. I met Pogo on my first visit to the shelter, almost a year ago. The adoptive family brought him back to the park the next day, for a visit, and to report that all was going well. He had been adopted into a pack of three and was getting along just fine with the other dogs. To see him approaching on the end of that leash, no longer a shelter dog, but with his family, was a bittersweet thrill that I will never forget. Thank goodness for the care, confidence and patience of our RCHS manager Kelly Scheidegger, who allowed him the time to be discovered.
That same day, a gentleman who had adopted Speckles, an Australian Shepherd/hound mix, the day before, came back to return a leash and told me he "wouldn't take $500" for her, that she was great with his cat and already playing with his little Jack Russell terrier named Cricket. He was obviously in love. We received the same happy feedback about Warlock, a schnauzer/lab mix; Millie, a weagle; Shep, a shepherd mix, and the list goes on. These dogs were all adult, mixed breeds.
Roughly 25 percent of the U.S. shelter populations are purebred dogs. They need rescued, too. We have seen many wonderful pedigreed dogs come and go at RCHS. But, I am constantly falling in love with every breed combination imaginable.
If you, or someone you know, are contemplating canine companionship, call me. With the assistance of RCHS staff, I will happily introduce you to our smorgasbord of lively and lovely mixed-breed dogs. As Szabo says, so eloquently, "Why get something off the rack when you can have something that's one of a kind?"
Please spay and neuter your animals and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Neutered dogs have a decreased chance of developing prostate disease, and are less likely to stray from home; spayed females have a reduced risk of developing breast cancer. Most importantly, spaying and neutering reduces the number of neglected, abused and homeless animals. It is the responsible thing to do.