World’s ugliest dog, the evolution of the mutt, and BSL

The Animal Farm Foundation’s poster — click to see the entire image.

This past weekend, Walle, a squatty dog who looks more like a Dr. Seuss character than Man’s Best Friend, won the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest. Walle’s owners called him a mix of Beagle, Basset Hound, and Boxer in press releases, but in addition to calling foul on the contest results (saying Walle wasn’t ugly at all), many commenters were caught saying, “Isn’t that a Pit Bull?”

Walle might be a Beagoxet Hound (or whatever you might call that combination), or he might be a Pit Bull, or he might not be either, but his owners seem to love him regardless of pedigree. However, chatter on the internet questioning what kind of dog Walle really is might come to a quick halt if people realized just how unreliable visual breed identification can be and the dangers of assuming otherwise. Advocacy group Animal Farm Foundation, has posters to gently remind folks of this fact and the visual accompaniment is shocking. All those Pit Bulls aren’t Pit Bulls…at all.

Increasingly, dogs in shelters are taking on similar appearances, in what could be dubbed “the evolution of the mutt.” As purebred lineage becomes more distant in the pasts of our pets with the improvement of spay and neuter education, dogs start to look similar throughout the country. But if the poster above is any indication, do any of us know what our mutts are really made of? And does it matter? Probably not…until someone decides your dog “looks dangerous.”

In Denver, Colo., Walle could be euthanized if turned into a shelter, regardless of his actual genetic makeup or disposition. The city has one of the most deadly and broad-sweeping “Pit Bull” bans in the country and will not accept results of a DNA or temperament test if that dog meets their guidelines on what makes a Pit Bull.

Head circumference, coat, and tail as listed in Denver’s ordinance would doom Walle along with nearly every dog on Animal Farm Foundation’s poster, (although it would ironically not impact “#7,” one of the actual “Pit Bulls”). So, when we ignore laws like Denver’s, we ignore that Walle’s owner would never be able to live there with her dog. We ignore the fact dog bites have not decreased in the city, despite the 24-year ban and that no dog is safe when breed-specific legislation (BSL) comes to the table.

BSL is not just about Pit Bulls, or dogs that someone may think are Pit Bulls. Elephant Butte, N.M., has laws restricting ownership of German Shepherds or “mixes,” Fairfield, Iowa, prohibits ownership of Siberian Huskies, and throughout the country, 27 different types of dogs are banned or restricted.

Rather than being about safety, BSL is about guesswork, fear-mongering, and political posturing. Making safer communities is about educating safer owners, not about banning dogs based on their looks. Let our mutts evolve, because without the joy of mixed-breed dogs in the hands of loving owners, there would be no Walles.

Nina Stively works in animal sheltering in New Mexico and shares her home with three dogs, four cats, three chickens, an assortment of foster animals, and one very patient husband.