Backed by sound motivations to become a pet parent and having examined our life circumstance and future plans, the next step in adoption readiness is to ask:
What breed/mix might be a good fit for me and/or my family?
This is especially important if the pet is a dog.
Okay, I can see some hackles raising out there at the mere suggestion that one should consider a particular breed/mix over another. Kinda smacks of pet racism and I can understand cringing at that idea. Most of us don’t make broad generalizations about how other people behave based on their stature, cranial features or skin color.
But, however much we’d like to think that pets are like people in more ways that they are not, we can rely somewhat on breed characteristics to make an informed decision - a reasonable predictor - about what dog “type” may be a good fit for an individual or family.
Over the course of centuries, humans have created an astounding array of dogs through selective breeding. The main intention being to create an animal that fulfills a distinct purpose. This was accomplished by cross breeding or genetic tinkering designed to express certain traits while inhibiting others. There are currently more than 400 known dog breeds in the world.
Unfortunately, the driving force to create new dog breeds - or create souped-up versions of existing ones - has not always been benevolent. After conquering Britain in 43 A.D., the Roman Empire adopted their vanquished people’s passion for mastiffs and bred only the largest and most vicious specimens to create super fighting dogs for bloodsport.
My wife’s and my beloved Boston terrier, Lilly, was "manufactured" by crossing the now extinct white English terrier with the old English toy bulldog. Again, the intention was to create a scrappy street-fighter (ironically, the result, was a squat and dapper pup that was much more of a lover than a fighter).
However we may feel about humans meddling in the natural order of things, the reality is that we now have a host of animal companion types to choose from and infinite combinations therein. While it is impossible to predict what traits an individual dog will express, there is a high probability that he or she will express some hallmark traits of their breed(s).
So, generally speaking, if you want a hearty hiking companion or someone with whom to do the iditarod, a husky or shepherd mix might make a good team member. Don’t expect a basset hound to spot you in the home gym or you could wind up with a 200-pound barbell crushing your windpipe. As we learned from the sitcom Frasier, a Jack Russell terrier may be a cuddly companion - for all of 30 seconds. If couch surfing is your speed, it may be better to hang with a snuggly pug or Cavalier King Charles spaniel.
For tips, read the excellent article How to Successfully Adopt a Rescue Dog by the Dog Breed Info Center. You can check out breed rescues or meet-up groups and speak with pet owners experienced with that breed. Pet sit or volunteer at a shelter or rescue. If you’re still not sure, you can foster a breed-specific furry companion to see what daily life would be like with one in your home.
True, there are real-life stories about people and pets who randomly “find each other” on the street or in the wild and instantly forge a lifelong bond. In her memoir, Dreaming In Libro, feminist activist and author, Louise Bernikow, writes about colliding with a homeless, brawny boxer in a New York City park and how that random encounter rewrote how she loved. But such chance encounters are rare. The everyday reality of adopting pets - be it from steely shelters or warm rescue groups - is more sober and deliberate. That doesn’t make it any less special.
Considering an animal’s breed may outwardly appear cold and calculating. But factoring it into a decision that affects the lives of all concerned is a responsible, compassionate act. It ranks right up there with an honest “gut check.”