Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hail to the Chief Puppy

The First Family is in the final stages of making one of the most important decisions of their lives; what kind of dog to get. Unlike most families who decide to get a new dog, the Obama’s have the media breathing down their necks and the American public offering more advice than a nosy mother-in-law. Dogs are like humans, each possessing characteristics that are appealing to some and appalling to others. Finding the right breed is like finding the right friend, that person who is the peanut butter to your jelly, the gin to your tonic, the rock to your roll.

The Obama Family (well, their staffers more than likely) researched what they were looking for in a family pet and narrowed their choices on what breed would join the long history of White House pets; the Labradoodle and Portuguese Water Dog. The Labradoodle is what is often referred to as a “designer dog.” Dog purists look down their noses at designer dogs, scoffing at those who own half-breeds, as if their mix makes them second-class to their purebred animals. What these purists forget is even “pure” breeds were designed at one point in history for a given purpose. Only a handful of what historians would consider ancestral breeds exist; most of the 157 American Kennel Club recognized breeds or the 170 Westminster Kennel Club breeds and varieties are modern crossbreds created to form new “standard” breeds. Newfoundlands, aka Newfies, were created by adding Mastiff to the St. John’s Dog for greater size and strength. German Shepherds were created in 1889 crossbreeding different shepherding canines for better strength, agility, loyalty, and intelligence. Bernese Mountain Dogs are a cross of several Swiss dogs and some Newfie thrown in for better temperament and increased size. Dachshunds are a cross between German, French, and English hounds and terriers, originally bred for hunting badgers. Border Collies are a mix of droving and gathering breeds, including the Cumberland Sheepdog, bred for farming and herding. Almost every dog breed came about through human intervention to create a breed for herding, hunting, guarding, killing vermin, pulling sleds, or whatever need arose to create a new type of dog. So in actuality almost every dog breed recognized is a “designer dog.”

The rising popularity of the “oodle” varieties, those breeds crossed with poodles, is a sign of the changing needs and desire of today’s dog owner. Not many people in the market for a new dog are using them to hunt, herd, or pull them across the finish line at the Iditarod. Due to the rise of allergies and respiratory issues an increasing number of people are looking for breeds that do not shed, or shed lightly. While there is never a guarantee that a dog will be a non-shedder, cross-breeding poodles can preserve the characteristics of certain breeds while creating a lower-shedding (and highly intelligent) version for today’s pet needs.

Would be pet owners have varying needs on size, energy level, playfulness, level of affection, demeanor with children, intelligence, or weather tolerance which is why it is necessary to do research on a breed before choosing a new family pet. If more people understood the background of a dog and chose an animal that better suited their lifestyle there would be fewer adult dogs in shelters from owners who discover the dog they chose was too big/shed too much/barked all the time/required so much exercise/needed advanced training/required grooming/was bad with children/etc. It is cruel to get a dog and not understand or embrace its true nature and origin, providing them with the level of upkeep they need. It is even worse to just give an animal back because it didn’t “fit” anymore.

The whole concept of a dog “not fitting” is completely foreign to my family whose long line of shelter mutts came with a whole host of issues that would send too many families to the return counter. They grew to exponential sizes, shed enough hair daily to produce a new dog, chewed through couches, broke through windows, required insulin, had cancerous tumors removed, lost bladder control, and triggered more than a few asthma attacks. It is important to choose a dog that is right for your family and lifestyle, it is even more important to remember that the dog is a lifetime commitment; returning a dog is tantamount to dumping a family member. Anyone who thinks otherwise should consider getting a fish.

Many experts fear that the Obama Family choosing the designer Labrador or a less popular dog like the Portuguese Water Dog could result in a growth of puppy mills filling the sudden orders from an American population enamored with the First Puppy. Whatever dog they choose it is going to catapult the popularity of the chosen breed (or mix of breeds if a mutt is selected) and will increase the number of people looking to get rich quick by mass producing puppies. I empathize with the First Family; I truly believe that searching shelters to rescue an animal is the first course of action in finding true puppy love but it does not always work out. My husband and I searched far and wide for months trying to find a pound puppy to suit our needs. Unfortunately our difficult set of criteria led us to a breeder. It was too hard to find a low shedding dog who would not trigger my respiratory issues, would remain small enough to fly in cabin to NY to visit my family, would have enough strength and agility to run a few miles with me around the lake, and who would provide a personality and training challenge for two humans who knew their four-legged children would be their only children. After much research we landed upon the Schnoodle, a cross between a Miniature Schnauzer and Miniature Poodle (note: poodle crosses are now abundant in shelters due to an increase in puppy mill raids). Would I recommend a Schnoodle to everyone? Absolutely not! Our two Schnoodles bring us endless love and laughs, but they are highly protective of their home and bark at everything that moves outside, need at least an hour of decent exercise everyday or they don’t sleep at night, require a trip to the beauty pawlour every 8 to 10 weeks, chase anything with four legs (with the intent to kill), are so smart they figure out unique ways to get in trouble, are terrified of loud noises, voraciously chew, demand attention, see bodies of water and must swim in them, and have a few unique health issues like cystic pimples. And you know what? None of these traits came as a surprise to us because they are all well documented for their breeds. We knew what we were getting in to, and you can too with proper research and a variety of dog selector tests and quizzes available online.

Selfishly I hope the First Family chooses a Labradoodle. Portuguese Water Dogs are also beautiful, low-to-no shedding animals deserving of more publicity in the United States. A search on for a Portuguese Water Dog yielded just a handful, and one is currently on hold for the President and his family in a campaign to promote shelter dog adoptions. She’s cute, and she happens to be in Minnesota, but as a proud owner of two Schnoodles I would love to see a poodle mix in the White House. My hope is choosing a poodle mix will help legitimize the “oodle” breeds and bring about better breeding practices and guidelines for these gifts to the animal loving asthmatic. Whatever type of dog ends up living in the White House it will bring the First Family unconditional love, something that is rare and needed in the dog eat dog world that is national politics.


drew said...

I find it interesting that it's such a big deal about what breed of dog it's going to be but if they were getting a cat nobody would really give a crap what type of cat they would choose unless it was one of those weird bald thing or some such freaks of nature.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Kristen tells a good story about a friend of hers who is into cats trying to figure out what breed she wanted to get. Kristen had no idea they came in breeds, thought it was just black, white, orange, mixed, bald.