Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Because we're those dog owners . . .

Darcy at 4 months
Several months ago, we adopted a little black rescue puppy that we were told was half Newfoundland. I checked out the breed and found that they were smart, intensely loyal, and couch potatoes--a good mix for us. So we brought him home and named him Mr. Darcy, after the hero of Pride and Prejudice. After all, he was destined to grow to be tall, dark, and handsome.

Newfie's are huge--big-boned, deep-chested, and heavy-coated. They weigh 130-160 pounds when full grown. Naturally, we expected our puppy to grow to be enormous.  

But things don't always turn out as you expect. Over the past months, he has grown to be a nice, medium-sized dog--much smaller than full-blood Newfies. And he's no couch potato. Yes--he's still young, but he loves to play, and he especially loves to play with other dogs. 

Flat-Coated Retriever
As he grew, Darcy developed some other traits not usually found in Newfies, including a heavily-feathered tail that he carried high, a much thinner body, and a more finely-sculpted head. When we took him to our local pet store, we were told he looked like a small version of a Flat-Coated Retriever. We looked that breed up, and decided that he did bear a resemblance, even though Flat-Coats usually grow to be 55-80 pounds. That's closer, but still larger than our Darcy who tips the scales at under 45 pounds. But then he's a mix. We decided that the shelter that initially took Darcy in was misinformed about his parentage, and that he was a Flat-Coat mix--not a Newfoundland mix.

Darcy at one year
The one thing that Newfies, Flat Coats, and Darcy all have in common is their black coats. Darcy is so black it's hard to get a good photo of him. He's always on the move, but more than that, unless he's outside in daylight, he seems to absorb all the light and his photos look like silhouettes. Here's one of the few photos that allows us to see him well--but he's not even facing us. You can see he has a little white in his tail--but he's a mix. There must also be some kind of white dog in his ancestry expressing itself in his tail.

So we were satisfied with that. Well, almost. Occasionally people would ask if he was a Labrador Retriever, or a Border Collie, or any of a number of other breeds. Answering with "we think he's partly . . ." seemed unsatisfactory--to them, and to us. Then we heard about DNA testing for mixed-breed dogs. 

We joked about it at first. What kind of dog owners would spend good money to check their dog's DNA? Ridiculous!

It turns out, we're that kind of dog owners. In fact, my husband and I each purchased the DNA kit separately to surprise the other. (We returned one. We're not quite that crazy.)

We swabbed Darcy's cheeks and sent the test kit in, betting that our suspicions would be confirmed: he's a Flat-Coated Retriever, and not a Newfoundland. 

The company that does doggie DNA (not to be confused with those that clone dogs--they're really crazy!) has the genetic profile of 185 breeds to which to compare each sample. They tell us it can take up to six weeks, but we started haunting the website after only two weeks to track their progress in identifying what went into making our wonderful Darcy.  

"Sample being processed," they told us on the website. The closer we got to an answer, the more impatient we became. Finally we got the results. It turns out there's no Flat-Coated Retriever in his genes, but he's partly . . . 

Golden Retriever
. . . Golden Retriever?

Each of his parents was one-half Golden Retriever.  That makes Darcy one-half Golden, too. Okay, the contours of his coat resemble a Golden, but really--who'd have guessed our little black dog was half Golden Retriever?

His other half? Well, let's just say those ancestors got around. The lab identified several other breeds, but none of them made up a very large percentage of his DNA. 

They were mostly dogs that are smaller than Goldens, including miniature poodle (he's a Golden Doodle?), Shetland Sheepdog, and Small Munsterlander. That last one was new to me. Turns out they're a pointing and retrieving dog. Darcy has been known to point from time to time, so perhaps that's where he gets it. And he has a smattering of Japanese Spitz. That explains the white in his tail.
Miniature Poodle
Small Munsterlander
Shetland Sheepdog

Japanese Spitz 

So, our Darcy--small, dark and handsome as he is--is also our Golden boy. Does it change anything? Not a bit. But it's kind of nice to know.

Oh, did I mention?  He's 3.3% Newfoundland!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Muppets

The MuppetsI just returned from seeing The Muppets. It's been in theaters for a few weeks, and I'd heard it was great, but I just hadn't gotten around to going. Then my husband noticed that our local theater had it down to one show per day, so we made a point of being there. We really wanted to see this one in the theater instead of on DVD.  And it was great. It poked fun at the Muppet's heyday of the 1980s, but was timely enough to entertain the children in the audience who only knew Muppets from Sesame Street. It reminded me of going to movies with my own kids--to movies that were just plain fun. 
It started me thinking. What do the Muppets teach our kids--and us--about getting along in the world? Sure the Sesame Street Muppets have always taught numbers, letters, colors. and the importance of kindness and fun. But these Muppets--the Muppet Show Muppets--brought back the notion that the world is always better with friends--even if they're a little strange, that the people in your life are more important than wealth, that nearly anything is possible, and that everything looks brighter after a great song and dance sequence. They also remind us that laughter is the third best gift anyone can give (after children and ice cream, of course). Who can argue with that?
I'm so glad I started the new year with The Muppets. There is plenty of time for the serious work we have ahead in 2012. But for a moment, it's nice just to smile and laugh with old friends . . .  and enjoy a great song and dance.