Mixed with what? Reflections on breed loyalty and discriminationAMY MILLER: Familiarity with a specific breed is a great way to remain educated on what to expect from an individual dog.
By: Amy Miller, for the Budgeteer
He looked like a miniature version of a Rottweiler.
After Damon was adopted, his family wondered what mix of breeds made up its new dog, so to satisfy their curiosity they decided to purchase a DNA test from Animal Allies Humane Society. In just a few weeks, they had their answer: mixed with various other breeds, Damon was predominately a Pembroke Welsh Corgi and Doberman cross.
When reading the detailed descriptions of each of the two specified breeds, his family nodded in recognition. They had discovered where some of Damon’s physical and behavioral traits came from and that information helped them to understand him a bit better.
When a stray dog comes into Animal Allies, shelter staff do their best to assess its breed based on physical and behavioral characteristics. Animal professionals have an extensive bank of knowledge to help guide their decisions, but, unless the parents are present, the process boils down to an educated guess.
But that educated guess is an important one. When looking for a new dog, adopters are often searching for a specific breed and they rely, in part on the shelter’s analysis.
A recent study by the ASPCA found that “saving a life” was not, in fact, the most common reason people chose to adopt. When asked why they picked a particular dog, almost 25 percent cited “appearance” as the most important factor in choosing their new family member.
Not so surprising, when you consider breed loyalty.
Dog owners often feel a special connection to a particular breed. On one hand, this is very helpful for adopters. Those who know a breed well are familiar with its traits, leaving less room for breed-associated surprises once the new family member comes home. On the other hand, faithfulness to one breed can hinder a person’s chance to meet a really great individual.
Replace that faithfulness with extreme negativity focused on a breed, and it becomes breed discrimination.
Breed discrimination is judging a dog based solely on its physical characteristics. Although often associated with pit bulls, this discrimination extends to many breeds and focuses on dogs that are deemed vicious because of their breed, instead of assessing the individual dog. Sadly, this generalization neglects the real problem of irresponsible, even abusive, dog owners.
While one can use knowledge of breeds as a guide to understand a dog’s character, it is also important to assess the individual. Unfortunately, “undesired” breeds are often passed over in a shelter simply because of their breed description. Even a dog who shares slight physical characteristics with these “undesired” breeds — in coloring, size, or jaw shape — has a harder time getting adopted because of the public’s perception of that breed.
DNA tests, such the one used for Damon, are becoming more popular among animal welfare organizations to determine the accuracy of their breed classifications. For strays mislabeled as pit bulls, this testing can help them find homes more quickly, or, in the case of Breed Specific Legislation (which bans breeds in a particular area) even save their lives.
It is impossible to determine an individual dog’s personality based on physical characteristics alone.
Although there are dangerous dogs, they can be regulated individually, regardless of breed or outward appearance.
Familiarity with a specific breed is a great way to remain educated on what to expect from an individual dog. But although it is magical to fall in love at first sight, don’t let your sight narrow so much that you miss the chance to meet someone new. Visit the shelter and see for yourself: Purebred or not, most dogs are simply 100 percent fun-loving canine.
And that’s good enough for me.
Amy Miller is the marketing and communications manager for Animal Allies Humane Society. She lives in Duluth with her husband and three adopted pets: dogs Maverick and Goose, and a cat named Buddy Love.