In 2020, I adopted a little white dog who had been rescued from the streets in Bulgaria, a county where stray dogs are still commonplace and “management” solutions tend to be lethal. I know I am biased, but my dog is especially cute. I am regularly stopped by strangers who want to meet Mishka, know more about her, or even take pictures. One of the first questions people ask is “He or she?” The second is ususally, “What breed?”
Neither answer tends to satisfy. Firstly, Mishka is intersex. Second, Mishka is just a dog.
When I clarify that Mishka was adopted as a street dog and likely has no pedigree, this invites folks to start guessing. Part Chihuahua? Jack Russell? My coworker who adopted from the same rescue shelled out nearly $100 for a canine DNA test to solve the mystery of her own dog’s origins.
The narrative itself is problematic. There is an assumption that Mishka and other mutts are abominations of some pure past. The reality is that Mishka and most other street dogs lack any sort of pedigree. They probably come from a long line of regular old dogs, what we would now call “mutts.” This begs the question: must dogs be linked to “pure” relatives in order to be recognized as legitimate? I suspect the answer is yes, otherwise the questions and guesses would not be so frequent. Why can’t a dog just be a dog?
What we seem to forget is that most dog breeds are recent creations. They are products of cruel and speciesist animal testing. By way of an example, dogs would be purposefully bred to be all white. But whiteness often corresponds with deafness. Puppies resulting from failed experiments would then be drowned or bashed to death.
Puppies who survived the experiments (in so far as being lucky enough to be born with the desired genetics) were not absconded. “Perfect specimens” are characteristically harmed by painful genetic manipulations that impact breathing, skeletal, and cardiovascular health. Pugs and Bulldogs have respiratory problems, for instance, while Chihuahuas often have dental issues as their jaws are too small for all the teeth dogs are typically coded for. Imperfect specimens, meanwhile, such as “mixed” dogs and “mutts,” are liable to be dumped into rescues and/or destroyed.
This is not a system we should be celebrating or normalizing with curious, seemingly innocuous questions. Asking a dog’s breed is a microaggression. It is the canine equivalent to asking people of color, “Where are you from?” or “Can I see your papers?” Breedism is a holdover from the era of eugenics and continues to have fatal consequences. We should resist the ableist, racist and colonialist desire to push individuals into categories. Let dogs be dogs.
Readers can learn more about the racial politics of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.
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