Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Doggy DNA

Remember the Disney movie, Lady and the Tramp? Lady is a classy dame of distinguished Cocker spaniel pedigree who comes from a nice home. She meets the handsome Tramp, an independent vagabond of mixed-schnauzer-and-something-else parentage who cherishes his free-roaming lifestyle. Their differences, from appearance to background to overall life philosophy, make them the unlikeliest of couples. Still, they ultimately fall in love and live happily ever after. But not before Tramp is judged harshly by everyone - including Lady - as being no more than a trouble-making mutt.

The point of the story, of course, is to teach us humans that we should never judge a book by its cover. Sure, Tramp was scruffy and had built himself a reputation as an irresponsible drifter. But beneath his rough exterior and his colourful past, he hid a noble and pure heart. And in the love that bloomed between he and Lady, we learned that worthiness is not based on lineage or appearances, but on what lies within.

Pass the tissue, please.

When I saw Lady and the Tramp at the tender age of four or five, I didn't notice the other interesting social dynamic at play. Go back and watch it now, and I bet that you will notice it too. Lady and her friends, who all live in nice homes on nice streets with nice families, are purebred. Tramp and his street pals, on the other hand, are mutts, seemingly unsuitable as family pets. There is a clear Disney divide between "purebred" and "mixed-breed" on prominent display within the storyline.

So I guess I can blame Walt Disney himself for what I will not-so-affectionately call "Lady and the Tramp syndrome."

We all know sufferers of this affliction. Dog owners who take a my-dog-is-better-than-yours-because-he-is-purebred-and-yours-is-just-a-mutt attitude. In extreme cases, they won't even let their dogs socialize with lowly mixed-breeds, for fear that they might, oh, I don't know, catch mixed-breed cooties or something. Their precious purebred dogs are condemned to a life of limited interaction with puppy pals (unless, of course, they know other purebreds). It would, after all, be too risky to hang out in dog parks where all those irresponsible humans bring their pound rescues to run around wild and crazy. No self-respecting dog of pure lineage should have to put up with that!

Have I mentioned before that the Beast is a mutt?

So you can guess how I feel about these people. I'd like to punch them. Especially the snotty couple who live a few doors down from me.

This husband and wife moved in about two years ago, bringing with them two terribly adorable Boston terrier puppies. Being an avid fan of all dogs, I always wanted to meet this tiny pair. But every time their people brought them out for walks, they would hurry on by without so much as a nod in our direction. I figured that they were just shy, but after two years, I still haven't met one member of this reclusive foursome. 

I hoped that once we had a dog of our own, they might be more open to chatting with us. But nope, it's actually worse now. Before they would simply ignore us when they walked by, but now, whenever they see the Beast, they go out of their way to avoid him. They purposely cross the street when they see us coming towards them. They refuse to say hi when we greet them as we walk past their house. If they are in their yard with their dogs and we walk by with the Beast, they shuffle their precious babies either into the house or into the car to guard them from him. Either they are convinced that the Beast wants to devour their dogs (which is odd because aside from an occasional greeting in the form of a bark, he generally pays them little attention), or they simply do not think he is good enough to hang with their designer duo.

The episode that drove me over the proverbial edge occurred about one month ago. The Beast and I were coming back from a particularly great jog, and decided to end with a 1k walk through Chinatown, one of his favourite spots because of all the neat sights and smells. We spotted my neighbour and her pups about one block ahead of us. I thought to myself that this was my chance to wipe the slate clean, introduce myself to her and introduce the Beast to two new friends. After all, once she met the Beast, she would realize that he is actually quite handsome, charming, and downright irresistible. But just as we were about 10 steps away, she heard the rattle of his collar, turned, and spotted us. My mouth was open as I was about to say, "Hi, do you mind if we join you on the walk back to our street?" when she darted down a a deserted, garbage-ridden back alley with her dogs to get away from us.

If it wasn't so pathetic, it might actually be a little comical. I decided that there was no use worrying about it. I should just forget about this weird family of degenerate snobs.

Except, I see them every single day, snubbing me and the Beast, and it drives me crazy! And since this is my blog, I'm allowed to obsess about it as much as I want.

The simple truth is that dogs don't care whether or not they come from a long line of award winning show dogs or whether they are little "oopses" who came into this world as a result of illicit relations between doggy-neighbours who slipped through the fence when their humans weren't looking. They see and rank each other based on order in a pack, positions that they determine based on their levels of submissiveness or dominance. All the heralded parentage and breeder's papers in the world don't matter one bit.

So why the hell should we care?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a breed preference or wanting to have a purebred dog. I wanted an Aussie shepherd after all, and I am not ashamed of that. But in the end, I didn't get a pure one. While I fretted a little in the beginning because I imagined that his uber-intelligent border collie side would overwhelm me, it doesn't actually matter who his parents were or that neither one of his breeds are immediately recognizable. In fact, I think it's kind of neat that he's such a genetic enigma; it makes him mysterious. And I'm thrilled that his inter-breed background, according to the vet, makes him genetically more robust than his purebred counterparts, which increases his life expectation by more than a few years.

Yep, my Beast is far from "pure". But he has a playful soul, an inquisitive mind, and a good heart. That is how he should be judged.

As for the so-called perfect pair of purebred Boston terriers who live on my street... Well, at last sighting, they were viciously fighting with one another while Mrs. snotty-neighbour tried to walk them past the dog park. Meanwhile, the Beast and some of his gorgeous friends, mixed and purebred alike, were playing nicely with one another, having a lovely time, while their humans looked on with pride.

I'll take my "Tramp" any day.