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How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?

The current rage in the pet industry is the mixed breed puppy with papers

A Controversial Report

by Robert Jay Russell, Ph.D. & Laurie Spalding

Perhaps 500 pure breeds of the domestic dog are thought to exist worldwide. Almost all have been created and developed to fill a role in human life. Some breeds were bred for human companionship, others for sport, herding, hunting, and guarding. In recent years, the canine show fancy has stressed the developme nt of "big hair" and "the look" over temperament and performance in many breeds.

People have long-admired and desired a pure bred dog because a buyer has a good reason to expect that the puppy they choose will resemble its parents and that it comes complete with both a historic lineage (a pedigree) and a breed history (where it came from; what its originators had hoped the creature to be; what the breed had accomplished).

The purebred dog has enjoyed a renaissance of appreciation in this c entury, both in Europe and in North, Middle, and South America. But, there are some signs that the public's love affair with the purebred dog may be waning.

AKC Critiques

First of all, the American Kennel Club, once considered an American shrine akin to General Motors, is under attack. Newspapers and weeklies like Time magazine, Newsweek, and the Atlantic Monthly have carried exposes that clearly show the AKC to be a very troubled corporation indeed. AKC employees have stated that much of the corporation's pedigree system is bogus; others have demonstrated how AKC Pedigrees are used to bolster a multi-million dollar trade in puppymill dogs. For their part, the AKC has said publicly that it will not guarantee that its pedigrees are accurate or that even the breed of the dog on an AKC Pedigree is true. Worse, perhaps: multiple veterinary studies have revealed an estimated one-in-four AKC-credentialed purebred dogs suffers from a major genetic health defect. That's not one-in-four breeds; that's one in four dogs. Little wonder, then, that the public trust in the AKC's ability to manage purebreds has been eroded steadily and, we think, deservedly.

Next, we have watched as a vigorous animal right's movement developing over the past decade has attacked purebred dogs. Some of the "AR" groups, as they are known, have made valid points that animal shelters are clogged with millions of unwanted purebred dogs -- AKC creatures that the great American registry at Madison Avenue has aba ndoned in its ever-frenetic drive to register more dogs and to promote more dog shows. Clearly, AR groups often have a valid point: "why breed more purebred dogs when so many are put to death each year in shelters?" Today, extreme AR-sponsored state's leg islation threatens to make breeding purebred dogs difficult-to-impossible in many areas.

Purebreds as Politically Incorrect

The result of all the negative attention directed toward purebred dogs is that slowly but surely, a new public per- ception of "the purebred as a bad thing" is taking root. It isn't a huge movement yet (thank heavens), but all the warning signs have been etched on the wall. It could grow enormously. Indeed, if today you tell some people that you breed or promote a purebred dog, you might evoke a very negative reaction--not far removed from the reaction you might get if you said that you smoke Marlboros. In short, purebred dogs may someday be politically incorrect.

The Latest Fad

If at least in some circles purebreds are not PC, what is? New books--best sellers in the pet trade books genre--call the mixed breed "The Great American Mutt." The mixed breed is becoming an American icon as popular as a Benjy dog. Of course mutts, like purebreds, certainly deserve love and attention. The latest pet trade trend goes well beyond praising a mutt.

The latest money-making trend is the promotion of mixed breeds with official-looking "registration papers" and catchy-sounding names. The "registrations" come from a burgeoning industry of registry services, each willing to issue documents at the drop of a few ten dollar bills. Best known of these is the US Kennel Club that advertises that they register "rare breeds, hybrids, even pet class." Other "clubs" have appeared that will produce official-looking "Championship" papers if you send them a photo or video of any dog.

British veterinarian Bruce Fogel's highly-praised and widely-available book about all breeds--"The Encyclopedia of the Dog" ( Dorling Kindersley Publishing, NY, NY, 1995) contains a section devoted to the "Random-Bred" dog. Various dogs are posed with Peterson Field Guide-like descriptive arrows denoting "Wiry beard gives look of dignity," and "Lop ears such as these are common in most European random-bred dogs" (p. 290-291). While this gives an air of planned legitimacy to unplanned puppies, the book's section on "Domestic Dogs" goes even farther. Here, Fogel presents various recently created hybrids like the "Labradoodle" (Labrador-Poodle mix 1989), the "Cockerpoo" (USA mix, 1960s), the "Bull Boxer" (Boxer-Pit Bull, 1990s), the "Bichon/Yorkie" (1980s). These cross-breds are featured in the same way, and adjacent to, recognized rare breeds and other purebreds like the Dalmation and the Poodle. In Fogel's book, the latest Labradoodle and the ancient Pug are cut from the same purebred cloth. The combinations of hybrids that are possible become enormous. Any of hundreds of purebred dogs could be bred with another creating, say, a "Coton Coonhound" or maybe a "Beagle Borzoi" which in turn could make a "Cotcooneaglezoi," etc., etc.

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