In praise of the loveable mutt

By AL SWANSON, United Press International   |   April 10, 2011 at 4:30 AM   |   Comments

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A headline in the Toronto Sun sports section called last week's NCAA final "a mutt ugly" game between the UConn Huskies and the Butler Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs shot a miserable 18.8 percent (12-for-64) in a game dominated by defense and the Huskies won 53-41, despite shooting less than 35 percent (19-for-55). The game may have been a butt-ugly throwback for today's college basketball fans but maligning the faithful mutt in a headline struck me as uncalled for.

My first dog was a mutt, and he may have been smarter than any of the pedigreed dogs I've owned since. We never knew exactly what Henry's lineage was, but thinking back, the long muzzle and bristled dark furry coat indicated a possible mix of German shepherd and Chow chow.

Henry seemed to live outside and when he got out an open gate one morning my brother and I were distraught. A neighborhood search turned up no trace of him and hours later we were resigned to never seeing Henry again.

We were sitting in the kitchen when we heard barking, first faint, then getting louder and louder. We knew that bark and we ran outside and saw Henry trotting backwards in the street, barking furiously at a bay horse pulling a wagon.

Henry backed all the way into the yard -- still barking -- and we shut the gate. He had never seen a horse before and seemed perplexed by what must have been the biggest "dog" he had ever encountered.

Our family still laughs about "the day Henry came home backwards."

That brings us to the first-ever mutt census.

The National Mutt Census was the idea of Mars Veterinary in Rockland, Md., which surveyed more than 16,000 owners of mixed-breeds on the Internet. There are an estimated 38 million mixed-breed dogs in the United States -- presumably including the big money designer hybrids like Cockadoodles, Labradoodles, Goldendoodles, Puggles and Yorkiepoos. Mixed-breeds now account for more than half of all dogs in the United States.

Mars Veterinary collected and analyzed genetic material from more than 36,000 mixed-breed dogs.

The census found the 10 most popular mutts were mixes of German shepherd, Labrador retriever, Chow chow, Boxer, Rottweiler, Poodle, American Staffordshire Terrier (sometimes mistaken for the pit bull), Golden retriever, Cocker spaniel and Siberian husky.

There are more than 185 recognized pure breeds.

The Labrador is the most popular American Kennel Club-recognized breed, followed by the German shepherd.

"The results of this poll provide a vivid snapshot of past and present trends in mutts," Angela Hughes, Veterinary Genetics Research Manager at Mars Veterinary, told NBC's "Today." "The DNA of America's mix-bred dogs tells a story of which breeds were popular in past decades. If a breed was trendy in the past, but has fallen from popularity, it may still represent a large portion of the current mixed-breed population."

Mutts rule!

In other animal news:

A survey by AdGenesis indicates pet owners have changed buying habits for their pets as much as they have for themselves because of the lingering effects of the recession. AdGenesis found 57 percent of pet owners spend $50 or less a month on their pets, with about one-third spending $25 to $49 per month.

"We also found that people are using more table food for their pets; the doggie-bag is now really for the dog," said AdGenesis Chief Marketing Officer Michael Kelley.

"We have job growth, but salaries have dropped. I think we're probably heading into a permanent cycle where the spending on pets will be habitually less. That could change as the economy improves and as home values improve."

Residents of New York City's Lower East Side say mounted police officers should be subject to the same poo rules as dog owners and have to clean up after the animals. Bar employees tell the New York Post no one cleans up the farm-like mess police horses leave behind.

"It's the same as dog poop -- it's smelly," said one resident. "I asked the cops, and they said it was biodegradable. It's unfair that people have to pick up after their dogs, but the cops don't have to pick it up."

A similar controversy surfaced in Chicago, where the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection decided to require drivers of horse-drawn carriages on the posh Gold Coast to wash the street of horse urine, whenever and wherever a horse decides to go, with a diluted deodorizing, non-toxic liquid. The carriage horses already wear diapers to catch their droppings.

"Can you imagine a horse around Michigan and Chicago on a busy Saturday night?" Dan Sampson, director of Historical Nobel Horse asked the Chicago Sun-Times. "The driver has to stop traffic no matter what and spray this material or get off and put this material down. Imagine what a traffic jam that's gonna cause and what a safety hazard it will be. Horses are not like automobiles. You just don't put 'em in neutral."

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