Mutts: A Timeless Treasure
By ANA MENENDEZ, Freelancer
Some people may seek out “designer dogs” or a breed that is the latest trend, but the one type of dog that always seems to be in fashion is the timeless mutt.
According to the Merriam-Webster website, although the term mutt is currently used to refer to a dog that is not a purebred, the word has been used in the United States since the early 1900s. At that time, the word was used as a derogatory word used to describe a person and was another word for “fool.” Before then, people also used the word “muttonhead” as another insult for “fool,” which was then shortened to “mutt.”
Mutt. Hybrid. Heinz 57. No matter what label you put on these dogs, people stand by their mixed-breed pups. Even owners who have had purebred dogs hold their mutts in high regard.
“I love my fur-daughter and cannot imagine my life without her,” says Mary Heun, previous purebred owner and current mutt enthusiast.
Heun, of Milwaukee, has had her mutt Frankie for about two years. Previously, the family had Cody, a purebred Golden Retriever. After Cody passed away at the age of 12, one of Heun’s daughters saw Frankie’s picture on the Woof Gang Rescue website.
It was love at first sight. After filling out an application and undergoing a home visit, the family was able to bring Frankie home roughly three days later. Since then, Heun’s daughter Sarah has been the one training Frankie, and Sarah is the one that Frankie listens to and obeys the most.
Heun says Frankie has started to calm down from her puppy-like behaviors and is starting to snuggle more. “She follows me around 24/7 unless she is looking out the front windows protecting the neighborhood,” she quips.
Heun notes the difference in cost for purchasing a purebred dog and adopting from the rescue was about $600. Although the cost was higher for a purebred, Heun says she is happy with her decision to adopt Frankie for other reasons.
“It’s the right thing to do,” she says. “You’re saving a dog’s life when you adopt from a rescue.”
While the Heun family chose to adopt from a rescue group, others seeking to adopt a mutt can check out their local humane society.
According to Angela Speed, vice president of communications for the Wisconsin Humane Society, of the approximate 10,000 animal adoptions from their three locations, about half of those are dogs. Although the shelter no longer keeps track of breed specifications for their dogs, Speed says the majority of the dogs that come to the shelter are indeed mixed breeds.
The WHS stopped posting breed specifications on July 14, 2016, as a pilot test.
“What we found out is that less than one percent of a dog’s genes determines what they look like.” Speed says.
Many times, volunteers and staff would be guessing at a dog’s breed just upon its looks. By guessing breed based on looks, it was putting expectations about personality and behavior based on those labels.
However, losing the breed specifications allows “every dog to be an individual,” Speed says.
The program has been very well-received and although they still have clients who would like them to guess at the breed, it allows the WHS staff to have conversations with potential adopters about looking at what dog is best-suited for them.
Adopting an animal from WHS ranges from $25-$349, but the average adoption cost is $140. When a dog is adopted from WHS, the cost includes primary vaccines, microchip, spay/neuter, a certificate for a free vet exam, a bag of food, and a collar.
“It’s a great deal,” Speed says. “Everyone should be able to enjoy and experience the joy and the love a dog brings into their life… We always encourage people to rescue. There are certainly wonderful breeders in our area, but there are thousands of homeless animals that we care for.”
When considering a mutt or purebred, it is important to note that some purebred dogs might have certain health issues associated with their breed.
Dionne Harrell, owner of Cherished Companion Mobile Vet Service, has been a vet for nearly two decades. She also works part-time out of Norwood Animal Clinic in Milwaukee. In her work, she sees a variety of purebred and mixed-breed dogs.
Harrell says even with good breeders, purebred dogs tend to experience some health issues. For example, Pugs have more eye conditions and issues with the folds of the skin. However, when a Pug is mixed with a Beagle, many of those issues are not as common.
“A majority of the time, you knock out the bad of a breed [with a mixed-breed dog],” she says. “With the mixture of a ‘Heinz 57,’ you get the good of both breeds is what I’ve seen.”
When certain breeds become trendy, some people are quick to purchase a dog that may not be well-suited for them. Often, many of these dogs are then surrendered.
Harrell recommends those considering a purebred dog to do their research first. “Make sure you look at the breed, your lifestyle and the activity level of the breed,” Harrell says.
Although mutts may not always be the fanciest or trendiest, they will always be in fashion.
“The cool thing about a mixed breed dog is that your dog isn’t going to look like any other dog,” Speed says. “They are definitely going to be an individual.”
Did you know?
Mutts are so nice, they get celebrated twice? Created in 2005, National Mutt Day is celebrated on both July 31 and December 2.
Laika: A stray dog found on the streets of Moscow. In 1957, she became the first animal to orbit the Earth. Although she did not survive the flight, she is credited with helping advance human spaceflight.
Higgins: Found by animal trainer Frank Inn at the Burbank Animal Shelter when he was just a puppy. He is best known for being the original “Benji” and the dog on “Petticoat Junction.” Higgins enjoyed a 14-year career in show business in the ’60s and ’70s. He died just a few weeks shy of his 18th birthday.
Faith: Born with her two hind legs and one deformed front leg that later needed to be amputated. Although advised to euthanize the dog, her owner Jude Stringfellow was able to teach Faith how to walk on her hind legs. Faith visited more than 2,000 wounded veterans in hospitals and inspired others with disabilities.