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Happy Tails: Mixed Breed Joy
February 16, 2010 - Dorian Gossy
We all imagine royalty for our animals. We seem to hope for it ourselves, which may explain why people love genealogy so much. Everyone would love to be related to some prince or dignitary, wouldn’t we?
Sometimes when I look at my dog, Harley, he reminds me of those 18th-century European paintings of important personages and their hunting dogs in rustic poses. Those dogs would lie obediently at the feet of their owners, alert, with their forepaws out in front of them. Sometimes the dogs are brown, and sometimes they are white with black spots, which is much what Harley looks like. And he lies like that, too, sometimes with those long forepaws crossed, as if he didn’t have a care in the aristocratic world.
One time a stranger asked me if Harley was a bird dog, and I said I didn’t know, because I don’t know what a bird dog is. A quick Web search offered a list of dogs considered “bird dogs,” including the German Shorthaired Pointer, which most resembled Harley. Friends have suggested he might be a tall Jack Russell (the markings are right), or a pit bull (Harley does have a heavy chest disproportionate to his size), or a Beagle (when Harley chases something, he does have a beagle-like yip so loud it might cut glass).
No way to know, of course. Not until recently, that is, when I bought a “DNA Breed Identification” kit that claims to ascertain your mixed-breed dog’s heritage with a simple swab of mouth cells you collect at home and send to the lab. Oh, boy, I thought. I’ll be able to explain why Harley has this gray face with a too-small head for his chunky 50-pound body, runs like a cheetah, yips like a coyote, sheds like a autumnal maple, patrols the floor like a vacuum-cleaner, etc., etc. He even “points” like a pointer dog!
Well, gentle readers, my short-haired, big-chested, perky-tailed dog is very likely to have had a Standard Poodle for a parent. A pure-bred one, in fact. The DNA report also found a little bit of Beagle, and even less Pekinese. We don’t know what to make of this at all. It speaks of the mysteries of genetics, of randomness, which in turn seems to invoke the mysteries of life itself, and how much we don’t know, and therefore the preciousness of what we do know. After I did the test someone I work with reminded me that poodles are hounds, too, so even though Harley’s most important ancestor didn’t appear in 18th-century paintings, we know his houndiness is come by honestly.
One time I watched a friend’s dog have puppies, and we marveled at how different each puppy was as he or she emerged, small and damp but fully colored. You could have guessed a different breed for each one. No sense who their doggy papa was, but at least, a future of squirming and growing and showing up in our lives to highjack our hearts, no matter what the genes say.
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