Send a signal: Adopt a mutt

Animal-loving Americans swooned on Election Night as President-elect Barack Obama, during his victory speech, promised his daughters a new puppy. I am hoping our next president brings change to our nation's doghouses as well as the White House.

Americans spend more than $40 billion a year on their pets. But for dogs and cats, as for people, the wealth isn't spread evenly. The handsome golden retriever is destined to lead a comfortable and charmed life. The adorable Lhasa apso will have people fighting to provide her with comfort, care and opportunity. But the underappreciated mutt tends not to fare so well.

County and state governments spend around $2 billion a year to care for and euthanize homeless dogs and cats. It is a sad fact that our animal-loving nation kills 8 million to 10 million healthy but homeless dogs and cats each year. The majority of dogs destroyed are mixed-breed, and for many, departure from our world is not a peaceful experience.

Besides being the compassionate choice, there are real advantages to adopting a mixed-breed shelter dog. Mixed breeds have fewer genetic disorders because it's less likely that both parents carry the same detrimental recessive alleles. That's right: Mutts have better genes.

A mutt's companionship, meanwhile, is as good as or better than that of a purebred. Mixed-breed dogs scored an average of 85 percent when evaluated by the American Temperament Testing Society, whose dog-personality test measures friendliness, stability, aggressiveness, shyness, and protectiveness toward human companions. Mutts blow most breeds out of the water on these measures.

So mixed-breed dogs are pretty on the inside, and they also tend to lead longer, healthier lives. And a happy, healthy dog makes pet ownership a more enjoyable and less-expensive experience for pet owners.

The Obamas' adopting a single shelter dog wouldn't solve the problem of pet overpopulation in this country, but dog-loving Americans can. We can skip buying gifts for our pets this holiday season and donate that money to a community animal shelter that has a spay/neuter program. More such support, along with increased government funding for humane animal-control programs, would quickly reduce euthanasia rates, alleviate animal suffering, and provide a humane and sustainable solution to pet overpopulation in this country.

By bringing a rescue dog to the White House, the Obamas could set an example for all Americans and throw the country's animal shelters a bone. Improving the plight of homeless dogs and cats is certainly not on the top of Obama's daunting list, but one small compassionate act would demonstrate that, when given an opportunity to protect the most vulnerable, we should seize it.


E-mail Kelly Overton at animalpath@aol.com.