Location Ocean Beach
Fido is a feisty, excitable “Jack Russell-cross-everything else”, whom I spotted frolicking in the salty sunset. He greeted us enthusiastically as soon as we approached him, and tried to coax us into throwing his DIY kelp rope toy. To my delight, the energy changed as soon as I lifted my camera up to my face – he was a picture of elegance, posing patiently until I got the right shot (see above).
“He’s used to the camera”, laughed his Dad, “Fido’s mum makes him model for her all the time, he’s even got his own Instagram!” Understandable, with a face like that…
‘Mixed breed’, ‘mongrel’, ‘mutt’ – there are many words we could use to describe a dog with no defined pedigree, and unfortunately many of these names have negative connotations. Dogs like Fido should not be disrespected just because they don’t have some sort of human-constructed identity.
In fact, many (and I would include myself here) are advocates for the loveable mutt. There are so many reasons to be on the mixed-breed bandwagon. Firstly – and I really want to reiterate this point – breeding is not natural. It does not rely on the natural forces of evolution, and these days it relies on not much more than human consumer demand. Pedigree dogs do not naturally select their breeding partners and dogs with health problems are not ‘outcompeted’, which means that genetic diversity is extremely limited. Only those with the desirable traits will be bred, and sometimes desirable traits cause severe problems.
For example, dogs that are bred with particularly short legs in proportion to the rest of their bodies, such as Dachshunds, Corgis and Bassett Hounds, actually derive this trait from a genetic mutation which causes dwarfism – often the same mechanism that causes dwarfism in humans. When the dwarf mutation popped up, breeders realised it would create the perfect hunting dog for rabbits – these dwarf dogs were the exact height of a warren, so they were able to run inside the rabbit hole without bending their legs. So dogs with this mutation were selectively bred so that they would pass the mutation on to the next generation: and thus the Dachshund and Basset Hound were born. Welsh Corgis were originally bred as a particular type of herding dog known as a ‘heeler’, which involves the dog nipping at the heels of livestock to get them moving. The dwarf mutation allowed them to be heel-level so they did not need to crouch down.
But because their bodies did not evolve to be that particular size and proportion, dogs with dwarfism can suffer from excruciating joint and back pain, amongst many other health problems. I grew up with a beautiful miniature Dachshund named Claudia, whom we always assumed was too stubborn to sit when she was told, but found out later that she actually had such severe back problems that she couldn’t physically sit, she could only stand up or lie down. Claudia also developed calluses on her belly when she was pregnant because it literally dragged along the floor (it didn’t help that she ate like she was about to go in to hibernation).
This is something we should never forget when we are thinking about buying a doggo of our own. Many characteristic physical traits that certain breeds have were selected for the use of humans and not for their survival in the wild. To make matters worse these defining characteristics are so important for breeders that incest is a serious problem amongst pedigree breeders, which we know at the very least limits genetic diversity, and can cause brain defects in some unlucky offspring.
Unless you’re buying a ‘designer mutt’ like a Labradoodle (Labrador X Poodle), most of the time you can only get them from shelters, and this is enough of a reason to get a mutt than any, because supporting shelter dogs and giving them a new and happy life is so fulfilling!