Remember when the only kind of dog you had was a “purebred”? That’s my memory of childhood.
“What kind of dog is that?” was a favorite question of mine.
Now I hate when people ask me that about my little black fox/blue Chihuahua/rat-seeking puffball.
“She’s just my dog” is what I want to say, but I usually smile, stop the snark and simply tell them she’s a rescue dog — the best breed of all.
Childhood Notions of “Dog”
I grew up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood, but everyone seemed to have a “breed” of dog.
A dog wasn’t a status symbol as they can be today on the streets of New York. Nobody on my block back then even knew what status was, but they all seemed to have a “kind” of dog.
By the time I was 7, I knew the woman down the block had a Cocker Spaniel or a Poodle or a Wire Fox Terrier — but nobody seemed to have a mutt.
The dogs who guarded the local tire shop? Or the junk yard? Those were “mutts” and “mongrels.”
We used to bring my grandmother’s difficult and high-strung French Poodle, Pepe, to the local vet in Queens. We sat for hours. There were no appointments back then at the vet’s. You took a seat and were yelled at by the receptionist to keep your dog quiet and shut up yourself.
Anyway, as a little kid, I kept myself entertained by walking up to all the dogs and asking, “What kind are you?” The receptionist then yelled at me and told me to get back to my seat.
As I took my seat by my grandmother’s dog, I was as agitated as he was, waiting for hours. Pepe hated me. I just wanted him to love me, but I was probably a pain in the butt for him.
I got out of my seat because Pepe wanted to bite me, and I tried to pet all the beautiful dogs again until that receptionist yelled at me again.
All Dogs, All Fabulous
Fast-forward 50 years — give or take — and I’ve now spent my life as a veterinarian. My entire worldview on dogs and purebreds has shifted, but I still want to pet all the dogs.
When I visit dogs in shelters, after treating them with love and kindness, I have to close that door of their run. I say, “Love you, buddy, and be back soon.”
Their eyes stare back at me behind the metal fencing.
“Why me?” they seem to ask. “Why am I here and not home with you? Can you take me home? Now? Please?”
So my heart breaks. I want to take them home. All of them. That’s why I can never buy a dog again.
Dog Breed Snobbery or Allegiance
People can get into a trap about keeping one breed of dog.
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This is an emotional and romantic attachment, and I get it.
- Many people have adored and lost a purebred dog, and they want the same experience when they get their next puppy.
- Some people had a dog in childhood and want to relive that experience when they get their first dog in adulthood.
- Others can have a romantic notion of having always wanted a particular dog — a Bernese Mountain Dog, Maltese or Papillon — and I get that, too.
Dispelling the Myth of Breed “Ownership”
Mesmerized by the beauty of dogs from an early age, I begged my mom to take me to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show when I was little, even though she would have rather taken me to the movies or Radio City Music Hall.
She took me to Westminster once. I thought it was grand. She thought it was a little smelly and dirty.
The fascination with dogs and animals never left me.
In high school, I got on the subway one day in February and instead of getting off at my home stop, I kept on the E train and went straight to Madison Square Garden to watch the Irish Setters in the ring at Westminster.
I got in big trouble for that when I got home late.
As a grown-up and a veterinarian (whoever is a grown-up, really?), I found that my eyes and my mind were opened to my patients. I fell in love with so many dogs and lost my dog breed snobbery.
Don’t get me wrong. When a client comes in with an 8-week-old Beagle puppy, my heart melts.
But it melts for a shepherd/Lab mix puppy, too.
It melts even faster when a client brings me a rescue from Puerto Rico, or Greece, or Tennessee.
Me and Mutts
It’s been about 30 years since I adopted my 1st rescue.
There have been about 8–9 rescues since then who lived long and happy lives with me and my family. We usually had at least 2 dogs at once.
With every dog who has blessed my life, I thought I couldn’t live without that kind of dog when they died. Every death was devastating, of course.
- There were hounds.
- There were rescued puppy mill Cockers ready for the euthanasia solution. (I always had a bias against Cockers until a pair of them came into my life.)
- There was a massive Border Collie — the most magnificent dog on the face of the earth.
And now there is this crazed little creature I have who looks like a Tasmanian devil-blue dog out of New Orleans artist George Rodrigue’s painting.
She came with the name Cocoa, and so she is either Coco, Coco Chanel, Cocoa Bean, Cocoa Beach or Coco Insane.
But there you have it. She’s my 18-pound Cocoa — once again, the greatest dog on the face of the earth.
I never wanted a little dog. I have a slight dislike of Chihuahuas and cattle dogs. Dog breed snobbery, I guess. But you know what Cocoa’s DNA came back as? Chihuahua-cattle dog mix.
So I’ve got a dog who — aesthetically, size-wise, color-wise, everything-wise — would never have appealed to me in a million years. And yet Cocoa has my heart and soul.
When she dies, hopefully not for 14–15 years, she will not be replaceable. Who could replace a rat-seeking, blue-tongued wolf-pup Chihuahua-cattle-dog from Tennessee? I haven’t heard of any breeder with this type of puppy ready for sale.
So there you have it. Here I was, a person who always dreamed of having a Golden Retriever or a Standard Poodle, but I got the rejects instead — the most fabulous and amazing rejects in the world.
They are truly irreplaceable.