Pet Patter

Features - August 20th, 1971

by Dr. Herb Friedman

I received a nice letter from a Maltese breeder who has some helpful hints to pass along to people owning this breed. I thank you, Mrs. Lippman, for your helpful advice and hope that other breeders and individual pet-owners will follow suit. The hints are as follows:

1. Comb the hair out with baby talcum powder which will impart, not only a pleasant aroma but, a whiter hair coat.

2. Tie the hair on top of the head to keep it out of the animal’s eyes.

3. If the animal isn’t used for show, clipping the hair slightly will keep it easier to maintain.

Several pet-owners have written to me stating that the tone of my articles indicate that I advocate owning only first class, purebred, structurally perfect dogs and cats. They chide me that I neglect the common alley cat and the mongrel dog. So, in order both to clarify my position and answer their complaints, I’d like to say a few words on this subject.

Most dogs and cats, particularly pure bred animals, are not structurally perfect. Every breed has one or more weaknesses. Great Danes and Saint Bernards do not enjoy a long life span, while German Shepherds and other similar large breed animals all too frequently have hip or elbow displasia.

Pugs, bulldogs, and other short-nosed breeds may have respiratory problems. Several breeds have become so inbred that they exist primarily as stupid and neurotic animals. Siamese cats in heat are next to impossible to live with and male Siamese can be even worse than their mates.

In short, every breed must be selected carefully by the pet-owner and, even then, people will continue to buy, own, and love animals that are unsound in one way or another. I have stressed that we should try to be selective in choosing a pet, particularly if we ever intend to use that animal for breeding purposes. I recently heard from a pet-owner that she always prefers mixed breed animals to pure-breds because mongrels are both more intelligent and less prone to disease. If she is happy believing, this, then I am happy for her.

However, this idea has no basis in fact. If it were true, everyone would reject pure-bred animals in favor of a mixed breed. I like mongrels and have owned one myself. They make excellent pets, good watchdogs, and are often extremely intelligent. However, they require just as much care as a pure-breed and are prone to exactly the same parasites and diseases.

Furthermore, they may be extremely intelligent but they also may be uniquely stupid. They are only as strong, rugged, and intelligent as their genetic makeup allows.

It is easy to reproduce recognized breed characteristics because the genetic makeup is quite similar from animal to animal in the same breed. Of course, everything cannot be defined genetically— environment, nutrition, petcare, and other factors have much to do with the overall outcome of an individual animal. (However, you at least have some traits that you can reproduce from generation to generation.) This is obviously not true in the case of a mongrel, carrying such a diversity of genetic factors that reproduction of similar type animals is almost impossible.

I have worked on all types and have found good and bad in both categories. I would conclude with the statement that in my opinion, a mongrel animal is much better to own than a poorly bred pure breed because, for the latter, there is little or no rational excuse for its existence.