Identity Crisis

This week somebody forwarded me a link to an episode of the Today Show in which host Meredith Vieira and others discussed DNA testing of mixed breed dogs to determine their breed origin. To do this, a cheek swab is taken from the dog and sent to MetaMorphix Inc. in Davis, California. The teaser was Meredith questioning what her own dog, Jasper, had hidden in his genes. Although she was told that he was an Aussie-Poo with papers to prove it, she had her doubts about this and sent a cheek swab off to the lab.

The middle of the show had the Today team visiting a shelter to take cheek swabs from a number of mixed breed dogs to determine their parentage. One dog that looked pretty like a Husky was supposedly a Doberman/Chow cross. I could not see this for the life of me. Another dog, a tricolor hound look-alike, was supposedly derived from a Golden retriever and German shepherd. I couldn’t figure out where his coloring came from, never mind his facial features. A final mixed breed dog that looked a bit like a Chow was supposedly derived from Rottweiler and Greyhound stock. I was becoming incredulous.

Then the moment we’d all been waiting for arrived as Jasper’s parentage was revealed. He looked like a cross between a Yorkie, a Schnauzer, and a Poodle. But, no, he was apparently derived from Sheltie, Collie, and …wait for it, Borzoi stock. Note: Jasper only weighed about twenty pounds.

Now I really had my doubts about the testing.

Later that day, I saw a mixed-breed dog in the clinic for treatment of a behavior problem. I said to the owner, “This dog looks exactly like Meredith’s dog on the Today Show. I see Yorkie, I see schnauzer, and I see poodle.” “You’re right,” the owner said, “that is exactly what he is.”

I learned three things from this turn of events. The first, I seem to be a reasonably good assessor of the origins mixed-breed dogs. Second, the results of testing at the lab in Davis are, well, dubious. Thirdly, if Jasper ever needs a stage double I think I have found one.

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