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In praise of the Mutt

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Many people buy a dog as a status symbol and so go for a certain breed to mirror their own lifestyle. Still more have a particular attachment to the specific look and behavior of pure breeds. However, for personality, joie de vivre, unadulterated love and many other positive traits, can anything beat a good old fashioned mutt?

Mutt! There is something in the word that the snob will naturally be disinclined to countenance. It just doesn’t fit in with what many potential owners would like to project about themselves when it comes to a canine best friend. The polite description, of course, is mixed-breed but it is amazing how many people consider it a form of doggy miscegeny and would never consider one as a pet. Just look at the names we have for these dogs – mongrel, bitzer, random-bred, tyke. It doesn’t really reflect positively, does it? Yet mixed-breed dogs can often make the best pets in the world ever. So, let’s take an affectionate look at the mutt.

The writer could be accused of using this space as simply an excuse for posting up a series of impossibly cute photographs of mixed-breed mutts – and that is something that is difficult (OK, impossible) to deny. However, many mutts end up in animal rescue centers and if this can convince one person that a rescue dog is just as good as a pedigree that costs a thousand dollars, then it is a job well done.

Many shelters are full of 57s as they are sometimes called and this is one of the more endearing names for a mutt. The slogan of the JH Heinz Company, boasted fifty seven varieties. When a dog is so called it is a jocular reference to the fact that its component breeds may be far too many to ever possibly trace.

Words are tricky things and so it is with the term mixed-breed. Most people assume that mutts are a product of the pairing of two specimens of defined breeds. These by definition are known as pure and they have been, predominantly, created by the meddling fingers of humanity to enhance specific characteristics of a certain dog. Mutts do not necessarily have to be a product of a mix of two pure-breed specimens. When two pure breeds are intentionally mated then that is known as a crossbreed.

The humble mutt is the product of two dogs of unknown breed – even though they can sometimes be fairly accurately guessed. Dogs will do it like they do it on the lDiscovery Channel with anything else that remotely resembles another dog. Often they get it right, though it must be said that sometimes the human leg is used as an occasional stand in. It is only when there is a massive disparity in size that interbreeding is impossible. That means the mutt comes in a huge variety of shapes, color and size and often they can defy physical classification.

In the Bahamas, mutts are generally called Pot Cakes, in reference to the leftovers which they are fed. The Brazilians are somewhat more forthright and they call them vira-lata which literally means trash-can tipper (and if you just went aaw, then you are quite possibly the converted being preached at already). This of course is a reference to the fact that these dogs are more often than not ownerless and because they have to fend for themselves have to resort to feeding off the detritus that mounts up on the streets of urban areas.

Bitzer is a term that is often used and does in fact sound like a proper dog breed! However, it stands for bits of this and bits of that. The denizens of Newfoundland will call a smaller mutt a cracky which is almost a ten on the cute scale in terms of names. The Americans – as well as having possibly the worst names – also have the most politically correct ones too. Some dog clubs that will accept mutts refer to them generally as All American. If it were not for our ‘interference’ the dog as a whole would have fulfilled the melting pot ideal long ago. Perhaps the funniest name for a mutt comes from South Africa where they are generally referred to as pavement specials.

The melting pot effect generally settles in to a norm after several generations. It has to be said, though, that adorable as many mixes are, some have the appearance that only a mother could love ! Broadly speaking mutts produced from many generations of other mutts are usually black to light brown and weigh in at about forty pounds. In terms of height they are usually between forty and sixty centimeters. And they have masses and masses of bounce.

Much has been said about the health advantages that mutts have over many pure-breeds and this too is generally true. Hybrid vigor is a theory that holds that dogs which have a varying ancestry will be healthier than those who are consistently bred pure. Why? When purebred dogs reproduce with each other they will carry a lot of the same alleles (which are discreet versions of the same genes). Some of these alleles will mean that the resulting offspring may have defects, particularly when the parents are closely related (as they occasionally are in pure-breeds). Inbreeding means that genetic health problems are far more likely to be exposed than in the 57s.

Put simply – the mutt has – to put it kindly – some rather haphazard parentage and this means greater genetic diversity. As there is less chance that the parents will carry the same recessive allele then genetic disorders are considerably less likely to become an issue among mutt society. Please note though that this is in praise of the mutt and that does not automatically make it a critique of the pure-breed.

If two unhealthy mutts mate there is no guarantee that the puppies will be healthier. In fact genetic law has it in for them and it is more than likely that the offspring will inherit the worst traits of both parents. Generally though, studies have consistently found mutts to be healthier and more long-lived than their pure-breed contemporaries.

Plus, of course, if you adopt or buy a puppy mutt then you may not get simply a larger version of the puppy when it matures! With purebreds, however, the adult appearance of the dog is predictable. The ‘fact’ that mutts are more intelligent than pure breeds is also something of a myth. Both types of dog have the ability to produce Einstein canines or indeed slow learners. There is no absolute scientific evidence to suggest that mutts are generally more intelligent than pures – but of course the debate will continue among owners for many years to come.

Most mutt owners take delight in the unique appearance of their own animal. You know absolutely what you are going to get with a pure breed but with mutts it is something of a lottery. Mutt lovers will insist that their dogs are, by the simple fact that each is different, preferable to a pure.

Choice of dog is, of course, up to the individual. However, if you are considering the acquisition of a NBCF (New Best Canine Friend) then stop for a second before you stretch the plastic even further than it is already. The great advantage that the mutt has – and always will – over the pure is that they are cheap, quite often free.


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