What kind of dog is that?

Our family has had mixed breed “mutts”, exclusively, since 2000, when we got our Hobie from a friend of a friend who was hiding him in an apartment where pets were not allowed.

The origins of Hobie’s predecessor, Timba, are suspect as well.  We were told she was a purebred black Labrador retriever… but we never received any papers, and countless people told me she looked like she had something else mixed in.  If that’s the case, then we’ve had mutts since the early 1980s!

Back in the early part of the 21st century, when we got Hobie and Hector, the majority of rescue organizations were devoted exclusively to specific breeds.  The current incarnation of “rescue” as we now know it was only just beginning.  Shelters were always in existence, and almost always had mixed breed dogs available, but animal shelters as the non-profit business entity that we recognize today were also up and coming at the time.

We adopted both of our dogs, (Hobie, and a year later, Hector) under similar circumstances.  A friend couldn’t keep the dog, and we took him.  We also got all of our cats that way.  No money exchanged hands, no fees, no paperwork, no home visits, references or background checks.  Just go get the dog (or cat) and bring it home, maybe give the previous owner a gift of thanks or a few bucks.  Paying money for a dog was what “those people over there” (owners of purebred dogs) did.  Out here in the farm country of Massachusetts, you just went by word of mouth and a little bit of luck, and got the greatest dog ever, each time.

We’ve always described our dogs as “mutts”, “Heinz 57”, “we don’t know” or, my personal favorite, “He’s a one-of-a-kind-dog”.

Recently, I was out on a bike ride on the Cape Cod Rail Trail.  Stopped at a traffic light, a crowd of people gathered on the corner waiting for the light to change.  I looked to my left, and there was an extraordinary-looking dog:  white with black speckles all throughout his coat, not like a dalmatian, more like the smaller speckles you see on a pointer or similar hunting dog.  He had standing-up pointy ears, longer fur than a pointer, a bushy tail, and a black muzzle.  A nice couple was walking him.  I casually remarked, “Nice dog.  What kind of dog is that?”  The man answered quickly, the standard old “We don’t know”.  But the woman said something I had vaguely remembered hearing before, but had never encountered directly, myself.  She said, almost proudly (but did I detect a twinge of shame, if that’s even at all possible?) “He’s a rescue.”  I swear, I even saw her bow her head a little bit, expecting perhaps an assault on the virtues of owning a purebred dog, accompanied by a frown and finger wag, arms akimbo.

As the walk signal changed, I smiled proudly and shouted something like, “We have a couple of rescues at home, ourselves!” and we all began to cross the busy intersection.  At that exact moment, my water bottle fell from its holder on my bike, in the middle of busy Route 6.  I parked the bike, retrieved the bottle, and had to wait for a whole other change of traffic lights.  The couple with the dog was long gone.

The woman’s use of the phrase, “He’s a rescue” has stuck in my mind ever since.  Her quick, almost imperceptible switch from proudness at having saved a life (probably), with a little bit of shame thrown in puzzled me greatly.  But, more importantly, why SAY he’s a rescue, when the question was about his breed mix, not about how he came to be with you?!  I would have expected to hear “We think he’s a pointer/border collie mix, but we’re not sure.”  Or, “I think there might be a little beagle in there, don’t you?”  But “He’s a rescue” just struck me as odd.  Maybe she thought I was being nosey and wanted to shut me up, not realizing she had just been standing on the same street corner as the world’s biggest dog lover (me).  Maybe she doesn’t like chatting with strangers.  Who knows?

It wasn’t the first time I had heard this connotation when describing a dog’s breed mixture (or lack thereof!).  It has become a recitation, an acceptable answer, in this age of dog rescue.  It’s almost as if a lesson plan went around, and I didn’t get the memo… “Pssst, if anyone asks you what kind of dog that is, just say ‘rescue’.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud (and not one single bit ashamed!) that I rescued my two puppies, Charlie Brown and Cooper, through a reputable agency with all the bells and whistles and background checks. I’m pleased that we had them neutered (a requirement before they could even come home).  I’ve made some great connections in my doggie network as a result of taking that action.  My life has been enriched (and made stressful, too, ha ha) as a result of adopting these two lovable mutts.  But I doubt I would describe them, if asked, as “rescues.”  I might say “They are hound/collie mixes, and I got them from a rescue organization.”

When it’s all said and done, if you own a mutt, I still think the best answer to the question, “What kind of dog is that?” is:

“He’s a one-of-a-kind dog.”

ShenanigansK.S. Mueller is a travel executive living in Massachusetts who writes essays about dogs, cats and other topics in her spare time. Check out her web sites: ksmueller.comk2k9.com; and fibroworks.com. Follow K.S.Mueller on Facebook and Twitter.

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