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Want to Adopt a Dog?

Faye DesPres
July 2, 2008

Mutts have fewer health problems and other reasons adopting a pet might be the best solution for you.

I once saw a sign in an animal shelter that read: "Do you love German Shepherds?Labrador Retrievers? Boxers? Get them all, Get a Mutt!" In so many ways, this sentiment proves true. Adopting a mixed-breed dog (or cat) offers the opportunity to enjoy the special qualities of numerous breeds -- and the chance to save a life.

While most shelters understand that some people love pure-bred animals, many volunteers would prefer that people consider adopting one of the thousands of mixes that badly need homes.

"There is a place for responsible breeders, of course, and the type of dog a person wants often depends on what that person has grown up with," said Marguerite Richmond, a veterinary technician and the director of development at the Humane Society for Tacoma & Pierce County in Washington. "Pure breeds are bred to have certain characteristics, and if you want those characteristics, you're going to go for that breed."

About 20 percent of dogs in shelters are actually pure breeds. "We see a lot of Labs, Irish Setters, and there are rescue groups for different breeds," Richmond said. "So if you're patient and you really want a pure-bred dog, you can go to breed rescue groups or to a shelter."

Unfortunately, many pure-bred animals have health problems due to poor breeding practices and extensive in-breeding. It has been estimated that from 10 to 12 percent of Dalmations are deaf, according to the Dalmation Club of America. A number of dog breeds are associated with canine hip dysplasia.

"There a lot of #39backyard breeders' and you can get unhealthy dogs with congenital problems," Richmond said. "I always tell people, if you are going to get a pure-bred dog that is not from a shelter, go to a good, reputable breeder, and expect to pay $1000 or more. Or, come to the Humane Society and find a good dog, because that's really going to make you happier."

Mixed breeds tend to be much healthier than pure-bred animals, Richmond said. "These dogs come from a huge, random gene pool. People will tell you that they have had mixed-breed dogs that tend to live the longest."

The desire for pure-bred cats is less common, but people who prefer them should also be careful. There is a high demand for Scottish Folds, for example, so breeders tend to breed them without consideration for health or temperament. "It can be hard to tell a good breeder from the rest," Richmond explained.

How can you be sure you'll bring home the right pet if it's not specifically bred for the qualities you seek?

"You just have to do a little bit of research," Richmond said. "Go to a shelter. We have staff who are very well trained in animal behavior. The staff is going to be pretty good at evaluating the temperament of a dog, for example, especially adult dogs."

There's one more perk to adopting a mixed-breed animal of any species -- your pet will be unique.

"I have a funny-looking little dog, and I am constantly asked what kind of breed it is," Richmond said. "The fun thing is there are a million pugs or fox terriers. But if you have a little mixed-breed dog, there is no other dog that looks like yours."

Faye Rapoport DesPres writes about pet care issues for Care.com and other publications. She has five cats and a website at ourplacetopaws.com.

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