Dispelling shelter dog myths: Myth #3

Chances are the dog you’re looking for is out there, but don’t judge a book by its cover, as he may be in a different package than what you had in mind.

This is the third in a four-part series to run throughout February, which is also Spay & Neuter Awareness Month.

Shelter dog myth #3: “You aren’t going to find what you are looking for in a shelter.”

When I was in elementary school, our neighbors had a Basset Hound. Our family did not have a dog at the time, but I was fascinated by this floppy-eared, waddling fellow who gave off a wonderful “aroooo!” when I rode my bike by his house. Forget 101 Dalmatians; I was certain that I wanted a Basset Hound when I grew up.

When I was finally in a position to adopt a dog as an adult, I walked through the animal shelter’s adoption kennels and went home with an Australian Cattle Dog — probably as opposite in looks and personality as possible from the easy-going Basset Hound.

Why did I pick the frenzied ball of energy with a terrifying level of smarts? It wasn’t because there weren’t any Basset Hounds — there were, and even a search today of New Mexico shelters on popular adoption websites shows about 160 purebred Bassets and mixes looking for homes — it was because I realized I needed a dog who was a great fit for my high-octane, single, 20-something, lifestyle.

When people visit animal shelters, they may have a very specific purebred in mind, and while purebred dogs can often be found in shelters, and more often in purebreed rescues, I challenge adopters to think about what it is they like about that particular breed. A love for children? A zest for fetch? A laid-back couch potato? The odds are good that the dog you are looking for is out there looking for you, but he just might be in a different package than you had in mind.

The advent of DNA testing for dog breeds has brought this concept a bit further into the mainstream and is helping people realize they really cannot judge a book by its cover.

Perhaps you are looking for a Weimaraner? Gemma at the People’s Anti-Cruelty Association/Albuquerque Animal Rescue, for instance, may not have the sleek gray coat that the breed is known for, but her DNA test showed that she is, in fact, half Weimaraner. Her foster family says, true to her breed, she has been easy-to-train and loves outdoor activities.

Add in the understanding that coat color and size can be relatively unpredictable when you mix breeds of dog, and it reminds us that identifying breeds with visual cues can be completely unreliable. Brindle (striped) coats can occur when breeds combine, even if neither breed is known to come in brindle. Solid tan coats often show up in a similar fashion — dogs that do not traditionally come in tan can have tan offspring when breeds mix — especially when mixing occurs over several generations. (This is why “street dogs” in developing countries are often not of a distinct breed, but are frequently all varying shades of tan.)

A dog who looks like a German Shepherd may not be high-energy and protective. A dog who looks like a Labrador Retriever might not love swimming and tennis balls. Ultimately, how a mixed breed dog looks has little or no bearing on how he acts.

So as you are walking through the kennels at your local animal shelter, consider looking at the dog, instead of the card hanging on her cage that guesses what breed she is. (Even professionals are consistently inaccurate in guessing breed in mutts.) Tell one of the adoption staff what you are looking for in a companion, and be willing to look past the wrapping paper on the package that they bring out to meet you. It might turn out to be the best gift you ever give yourself.

And if you are certain that both the looks and temperament of a particular breed of dog are right for you, look for a breed specific rescue. It might take a bit longer to find a dog with the right personality for your family, but purebred rescues, particularly throughout the southern United States (where pet overpopulation is a bigger challenge), will often be a great resource for adopters to find a pet and learn about their breed.

Before you find your next pet, think about what is most important to you. Looks? Energy level? Size? Smarts? Even if your next best friend isn’t winning Westminster any time soon, that doesn’t mean that they can’t win the hearts of your family.

And if you are looking for a “Weimaraner of a different color,” Gemma is available for adoption.

Other stories in this series:

Dispelling shelter dog myth #1: “Dogs at the shelter are there because something is wrong with them.”

Dispelling shelter dog myth #2: “It’s how they were raised.”

Dispelling shelter dog myth #4: “Animal shelters are too depressing.”