Behold the Humble Mutt

Written by admin on . Posted in On Topic OTDT, Opinion and Column.


Who could begrudge Sadie the scottie her hotdog treat for winning Westminster this year? I think her silky coat and expressive eyebrows are spectacular.

But remember Bill Maher’s question: When will we start shooting bankers? In the same vein, I ask you, gentle reader, when will we start shooting dog breeders? Or regulating their quest for gorgeous glowing coats and facial shapes at the expense of a pup’s health and lifespan?

The unpleasant truth: breeders strive, frequently through inbreeding, for “beauty.” Why don’t they care about a dog’s longevity?

I’m not just talking nefarious puppy mills. I’m tired of Westminster snobs and others who don’t care that silver white Maltese puppies need extra teeth pulled, or that middle-aged dachshunds suffer back agony and require wheels supporting their hind legs.

Before I figured out this ugly truth about canine beauty standards, I loved going backstage at the Westminster dog show, where I would question proud owners. But I soon learned that soulful Tibetan spaniels suffer hip problems. And big thoroughbreds like Rocky 1, my late, prancing standard poodle, die young. He was from the same champion line on both sides. I wept when he died at age 9. (Rocky was a genius—rather than wake me he’d nuzzle open my balcony door, pee, and jump back into our bed.)

This disturbing truth about many big poodles hasn’t stopped breeders from creating bigger, awesome “king standards.”

Researching my book This Crazy Thing Called Love, I interviewed hundreds of North Shore Social Register folk. At first, I found little to envy—including huge drafty rooms. I did notice that many of my snobbish sources had odd, even rodential-looking tiny tearing at their Aubusson carpets.

“What kind of dog is that?” I’d ask politely.

The little dogs turned out to be mixed breeds—a surprising pet, I mused, for snobs.

Speaking of snobs, once I was seated at dinner next to the late lawyer/scoundrel and Connecticut wannabe snob Roy Cohn, a parvenu compared to my Long Island sources, who’d entertained the Duchess of Windsor (“I felt so sorry for her—she married that boring little man and then was stuck with him,” said Odette Higgins.)

Roy Cohn discoursed on the wonderfulness of his new litter of King Charles Spaniels. When I told him I was looking for a dog because my big poodle had died, he snapped, “I’d never sell a puppy to just anybody.”

Then I went to the ASPCA and somehow got little Rocky 2, a crazed, 10-month-old mishmash of a dog who looked like the rodential pets of my Long Island socialites. Adopting a dog is scary and sweaty. It’s thrilling, and sure beats buying one. I adored the little guy, and after a few years strangers told me he was a schnoodle—a new name for a mixed poodle and schnauzer.

Little Rocky 2 lived with me for 20 years (“Your longest adult relationship,” said one disgruntled suitor), and as he aged, I began to survey dog owners. It turns out that little dogs live much longer than big dogs and, most important, little mixed breed dogs (suddenly very popular) live the longest. The illnesses that narcissistic breeders ignore in favor of silvery coats and plume tails are diluted by the genes of mixed breeds.

My Long Island snobs knew this. But now we know it—you and I, gentle reader. Long live little mutts!n


Susan Braudy is the author and journalist whose last book,
Family Circle: The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left, was nominated for a Pulitzer by publisher Alfred Knopf.

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