October 2002 | Volume 53, Issue 5
Overrated People—and by people here I mean veterinarians and poodle owners—keep telling me, Get a poodle. Not the little toy ones named Bijou or Etienne, but the large standard ones, who all seem to be named something like Robert. These poodles, I am told, are smart, cordial, healthy, and brave. I believe it. When I meet these poodles, I like them. But I have been unable, so far, to find a very gratifying petting surface on a poodle. Where a poodle is fluffy I can’t get any traction, and where it’s close-cropped it’s like petting a nubby carpet. I prefer a dog that is somewhere between a chicken and a baseball to the touch.
The most over exposed breed, in recent years, is the Jack Russell. Now I love a Jack Russell. Sixty-four ounces, or so, of concentrated dog. You would have to soak one for several generations in molasses or eggnog to plump it out into a Lab. Which is also a nice breed of dog, if you like a big smile on a dog, which I do, certainly, but a Lab is so onthe-nose. I like an edgier dog, which heaven knows a Jack Russell is. When I say Jack Russells are overexposed, I mean on television and in movies. Jack Russells are irresistible, in photographs or on the screen. But to live with one is like living with a movie star who seems able to handle quite a lot of cocaine. You become Jack’s sidekick, if, and this is a big if, you can keep up.
It comes down to this: Every breed of dog has its pros and cons. So why not mix and match?
The most overrated dog is any purebred dog. Your purebred dog is an exception, but aren’t a lot of the others sort of generic? You get a Cairn terrier pup, you know it’s going to be a Cairn terrier. And let me say quickly that I have met some extremely engaging Cairn terriers. But say you had a baby. Would you want to know already what it’s going to look like when it grows up? “How about a Scottie child?” “I don’t know, they’re so chunky.” See what I mean?
And of course, when a breed gets highly popular, it tends to become inbred and overbred. You have to get one from the right source, who I guess is somebody who weeds out the flawed ones, and who wants to be a party to that?
Underrated The most underrated dog is the hardy hybrid. Conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all dogs are created different. Offspring of a pug, say, who’s had the gumption to go find romance with an open-minded bichon frisé. That’s not illegal is it? In America ? Or a poodle-beagle mix. You don’t have to call it a poogle or a beadle, just call it Buster.
Even richer mixtures are available. My own practice has always been to visit the animal shelter and check out the polymorph puppies snoozing and tumbling there. Half the pleasure will be in wondering how in the world it’s going to turn out. Gerard Manley Hopkins put it best, in “Pied Beauty” (I once had a dog named Pie who must have had as many different roots as the English language):
Glory be to God for dappled things— For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)