Dogs “pass driving test” in New Zealand (and notes on the value of mutts)

Dog newsReports indicate that the famous driving dogs of New Zealand passed their driving test on live TV, although I watched the long-form footage of that event and found it a little underwhelming. Much more fun is some edited stuff, perhaps from another day, embedded below, of my favorite of the three mutts, Porter, going through his paces. He is beyond cool.

Although this whole thing has grown into a massive worldwide internet and TV sensation, it’s worth remembering the small idea behind it. The local SPCA wanted to attract some publicity to promote the idea that your average mutt from the pound is a worthy creature, full of potential and deserving of a good home.

I’d always kind of thought everybody knew this—that mutts are great, and the pound or shelter is a great place to get a dog for very little money—but about eight years ago when we got our mutt Billie at the city pound, and began taking her around to socialize in her New York City neighborhood, I quickly found out that the great majority of people do not think first of going to the shelter to get a dog. Most people, it seems, have very clear ideas of what breed they want, and many are willing to pay quite high amounts to get it. And then, in recent years, we’ve had the phenomenon of “designer mutts,” where one established breed is deliberately mixed with another to achieve a desired result, such as a Cockapoo (Cocker-Spaniel and Poodle) or a Puggle (Pug and Beagle).

I’m not going to be morally-preachy about it: people ought to get the kind of dog they want, and take good care of it. That’s the bottom line. But just as the SPCA in New Zealand was trying to do, it’s good to talk up some of the advantages of mutts (though occasionally shelter dogs are not mutts: pure-bred pooches get abandoned too).

(1) Mutts, like Porter in the video above, are cool because they are unique. People are always stopping on the street to ask what kind of dog our Billie is. After years of igniting back and forth conversations about possible mixes, I’ve come up with the perfect answer: She is one of a kind. And she is, and so is any true mutt.

(2) Mutts are unpredictable, and that makes them a joy. You can’t look up in a book what your dog’s personality traits and tendencies might be. You can only watch and wait as they unfold. (Of-course I know pure-breds also have unique and individual personalities, but a mutt is naturally more of a wild-card.)

(3) Mutts are devoid of any sword-of-Damocles trait or threat that hangs over most pure-bred dogs. Most established breeds have known weaknesses or tendencies towards specific health problems. With a mutt, there are two arguable advantages: (a) You don’t know what weaknesses there may be, so you don’t live in dread of them and (b) You can hope that in whatever genetic mixing that has gone on, any dangerous recessive genes from one particular breed have been overwritten. Some people seriously argue that mutts are healthier by nature. I don’t know if that’s true. I only thank God that our mutt is about to turn nine-years-old and is as healthy and full of vigor as when she was a one-year-old.

In closing, some people say that it’s great to get your dog from the shelter because they are forever grateful to you. That’s an odd one. Does the dog actually know how close it was to losing its life? Or does it realize that it was rejected and that you have deliberately selected it? Maybe, sometimes. But all dogs are inherently grateful for love, for attention, for the care that you give them. In the end, it’s you, the owner, who knows that the dog you got from the pound or shelter might otherwise have gone on to a cruel fate. And knowing that, and loving your mutt, you will have cause to shake your head every single day and wonder at how such a wonderful creature of God could be so disposable in our world. And you will congratulate yourself for catching such a gem before it was tossed in the trash.