Mongrel. Cur. Mutt. The words don't conjure a pretty image.
If any pet is in need of an image makeover, it's the mixed-breed dog. And that's too bad, according to some dog lovers, who say when it comes to the best of man's best friend, it's hard to top the lovable pound pooch.
"They're wonderful family pets," said Patricia Stringer, vice president of the Peninsula Animal League, a pet advocacy group that raises money for spay and neuter operations for people who can't afford them.
"There are some wonderful cross-bred dogs at the pound that will live long lives and be very happy. They want to be loved so badly. And they want to please you."
Good temperament, longevity and good health. Although there are exceptions, these are characteristics much more common in mixed-breed dogs than in purebreds, according to Stringer. It's one of the messages that the Peninsula Animal League is trying to push. Purebred "designer dogs" have their place, but Stringer said it is more likely to be in the show ring than in the living room.
Laura Favretto agrees. The Nikiski resident, who said she was "born and raised with cats and dogs" and now operates an informal clearinghouse of sorts for unwanted dogs, also is sold on the merits of the mongrel.
"We've had a lot better luck with the mutts than the purebreds," said Favretto, who estimates she has taken in and placed more than 400 dogs in the last four years. "Some don't turn out looking too good, but they can be the sweetest, most mild-mannered things."
Both Favretto and Stringer fingered health and temperament problems as unfavorable characteristics of many purebreds. Stringer listed genetic disorders from hip dysplasia, to cataracts, loose kneecaps and heart disease as among the many ailments common in pure breeds.
"I think purebreds, in general, are more susceptible to medical problems and being high strung," said Stringer, who is trained in animal behavior. "It's because of interbreeding and the genetics of breeding. The more you take out of a genetic pool, the more problems you produce. You end up with bad tempers and a lot of medical problems.
"That's why mixed-breeds live longer. I've got no proof, but I sincerely believe that's why. They don't have to go through all these traumas."
Favretto also pointed out the perils of puppy genetics.
"Purebreds seem to be inbred more," she said. "That has an effect on their nervous systems. They're more hyper and just not better family dogs."
Melanie Kipp, a certified veterinarian tech and author of two books on dog behavior, also singled out health issues as a significant point of departure between mixed breeds and their more genetically pure brethren.
"The biggest difference is that purebreds tend to have more health problems," said Kipp, a purebred lover in her own right, who is active in finding homes for German Shepherds.
And as a teacher of dog obedience classes, she said, she sees other favorable traits in cross-bred dogs.
"I don't find them not intelligent at all," Kipp said. "But I will say some of the most difficult dogs I've worked with have been purebreds."
But Leslie Batchelder, Kenai Kennel Club member and purebred aficionado, said that does not necessarily have to be the case. Health and temperament troubles can be avoided, she said, if a responsible breeder is sought out.
"The whole thing is educating the public," she said. "You have to find a good breeder."
Undesirable traits are easy to avoid in purebreds, Batchelder said, because potential dog owners are able to know what they are getting.
"When a responsible person goes to get a dog, (they) should do breed research to find a dog that suits (their) needs," she said.
After that, thinning gene pools and cross-breeding good traits away can only be avoided by spaying and neutering.
"There is a lack of responsibility," Batchelder said. "Spay and neuter is the only way to go."
Which is something both sides of the argument can agree on. In addition to the hundreds of previously unwanted dogs spared a less noble fate than the one provided by Favretto, last year alone animal shelters in Kenai, Soldotna and Homer combined to destroy 1,707 unwanted pets.
"People don't have an excuse not to have (spaying and neutering) done," Favretto said. "There's too many strays already. It adds to a population that we don't need to add to."
In the meantime, Favretto and Stringer will continue to sing the praises of the mixed-breed -- and so will many happy dog owners.
"A lot of people come back and say 'that was was the smartest dog, she learns quick,'" said Favretto, of the dogs she has found homes for. "I've just had better experience with mixed-breed dogs."
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