A lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me – Barack Obama
I have a dilemma. Not a bad one, and one entirely of my own making, but a dilemma nevertheless. This is a dilemma of too much choice.
The time has come for a new arrival to the hallowed halls of DrewLlew Manor. I’m talking fur baby here, and canine at that. I’m a dog person through and through. It’s not that I would ever harm a cat – I certainly would not go off the road to hit one – but why share your life with a creature that believes you are inferior, and may very well one day eat your face. You may have read my theories on the origin of cats, and if you have, you would likely share my healthy suspicion of these feline malcontents.
We’ve had two dogs for most of our wedded life. Last September we had to say goodbye to Milo after 12½ years. We’d had him longer than our youngest daughter, and he was so much more than just a dog to us. But with him gone we are down to just one – the adorable Kizzie. And she is getting up there in years too (she’s 10 in November). We don’t want to be dogless, so this summer is the right time to get a new pup. Kizzie is still very active and will be a great help in training, and we will have the transition we need when it is finally time to hold her paw and let her go over the Rainbow Bridge to be with Milo once more. It has taken a few months for us to consider a new dog on its own merits, and not as a replacement for Milo, but the time is now right.
So just get a puppy – right? Ah, but there’s the challenge. Do we go rescue or purebred? In abstract terms it’s an easy question. We’ve been long-time supporters of animal rescue charities, and my Dearly Beloved has volunteered and worked for our SPCA for some years. During that time we’ve fostered many an animal. Too frequently, these have been ferocious felines, but occasionally, like the sweetness of a sugar cube offsetting the bitterness of the medicine, a dog has shared our home. We’ve had large and small, young and old. So for all the moral and practical reasons, it should be a rescue, yes?
Well maybe. Everyone wants a puppy and there’s a waiting list in most shelters. So rescue pups are never homeless for long, once in the safety of the animal rescue network. So there’s never really been a need to consider adopting one of these temporary house guests. And I’ve always had a passion for gun dogs.
Milo and Kizzie are black labradors (DB’s choice) and so this puppy was to be my choice. I’ve been a long-time admirer of the German Short-haired Pointer, and a couple of years ago I became aware of a local breeder producing some wonderful dogs. And guess what? He has a litter about to be born.
So go for purebred then?
When it comes right down to it, the case for a pure bred as a family pet is pretty shallow in many respects. You have the benefit of the in-bred behavioural traits, for sure. But I’m not entirely certain we can be absolute on the whole nature-nurture issue with a pure bred. Every one of the animal ‘talent shows’ I’ve seen around the world have featured rescue dogs; many of the agility clubs star rescues of all shapes and sizes; mutts are generally the happiest, waggiest tails in the park. And many a time I’ve seen aggressive Labradors out for a walk, with owners barely able to control this snarling, snapping beast as it tries to wrench away from their grip and tear into another dog. And don’t let’s get started on the whole ‘breed specific legislation’ demonising dogs simply on their looks.
So I guess we can, to some extent, rule out the benefits of known temperament as a plus point for the pure bred. So maybe it’s genetic purity that’s the benefit? Well, as many a Royal Family has seen through the generations, there are many problems as a direct result of keeping it in the family. Whilst it is true that the genetic heritage of pure breds is well documented, and that any reputable breeder will screen for known genetic malfunctions, there is still a greater tendency for genetic abnormality in a pure bred purely as a result of that selective breeding. Dalmatian deafness, anyone? The short lifespan of the most majestic Great Dane. Boxer, pugs, bulldogs – all with breathing issues.
Known genetic issues with purebreds include a higher risk of cancer and tumors; eye and heart disease; joint and bone disorders; skin, immune system and neurological diseases; and even epilepsy. Of course, not every pure bred will suffer in this way – it’s just that there’s a much higher risk of defects in a purebred. Like using weighted dice in the genetic crap shoot of life. But don’t let the genetics get out of hand. As with us humans, even where there is a genetic disposition, there’s likely a million and one other factors that will eventually lead to that early bath.
William Wegman photography
So, if we accept that temperament is in large part a result of upbringing, and genetics are a game the purebreds play with a marked deck, what’s left in their favour? This is going to sound incredibly shallow [deep breath] – but in my book, it’s all about looks. Yep, I know. Shallow, insecure male over here. Show me a pretty face and a shapely body and I see no further. Fortunately, my DB looks deeper. She tells me she sees the beauty within. Time to take a step back here and consider myself – did she mean me when she said that?
So to summarise, the case for the rescue.
• He’s a rescue, he had a bad start and he deserves a break
• We’ve been long time supporters of rescue charities
• Any decent dog person can estimate adult size in a puppy
• In six months, we would love him whatever he was
• DB thinks this is the morally correct path
• Money is not the issue, but lifetime costs are potentially lower
And the case for purebred:
• I like a pretty face
• You kinda know what you’re getting (but kinda don’t)
• well there’s – but no
• What the heck, it’s my turn, dammit
So, there you are. The horns of this particular dilemma are sticking rather painfully in my butt. I know what’s best, what’s right, what’s morally correct. I know DB will be supportive whatever path we choose, and I know I’m not SO in love with any particular purebred to be that dogmatic (ha, made a dog pun).
Truth be told, in a year or two the breed makes no difference because personality will take over. I’ll always wonder though, what might have been?
A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself. –Josh Billings
So what do you think? Let me know with your comments on the pros and cons here.