Face it: Humans Love Labels
Did you see this news brief? A shelter in the San Francisco Bay Area is conducting some small studies regarding breed identification and adoption rates. Like many shelters, they are often overrun with dogs of a certain type: Chihuahua-mixes. Wondering whether potential adopters might be biased against Chihuahuas, or might be biased toward a dog who had other desirable breeds “in the mix,” they ran DNA tests on a dozen small dogs in their shelter, and advertised the results with the description of those dogs. And voila! The dogs who were promoted with the DNA test results got adopted more quickly than a control group of 12 other small, brown dogs in the shelter – TWICE as fast, in fact.
As a volunteer in my local shelter, I’ve heard it countless times: “We don’t want a Chihuahua. Too yappy.” But when you show them a sweet, funny, friendly small dog who knows a few cute tricks, and you emphasize the “mix” in “Chihuahua-mix,” they often soften.
The Peninsula Humane Society is calling this DNA test program “Who’s Your Daddy?” and calling out the dogs who have been DNA-tested with a banner over their photos on their website (see here: http://peninsulahumanesociety.org/adopt/dog.html). Staff members have been having some fun with the results, making up cute names for the “breed” of the mixed dogs, including “Mini Shihuahua” (for a Miniature Pinscher/Shih Tzu/Chihuahua DNA test result), “English Chaniel” (English Cocker Spaniel/Chihuahua), and “Frichese” (Bichon Frise/Maltese/Chihuahua). “Free cheese”? That’s just funny, clever marketing.
As the owner of a mixed-breed dog who was DNA-tested and found to display genes from the German Shepherd, Chow Chow, Border Collie, Poodle, Basenji, and I can’t remember what else, I don’t put a lot of stock in the mixed-breed ID tests. But I know people who are super proud of their mixed-breed shelter dogs and tell everyone who asks that the dogs are definitely a certain mix, because the shelter they adopted the dogs from told them so . . . The main thing is, they adopted a dog from the shelter and they love it; who CARES what they say the breed is? Every time I hear one of these dubious pronouncements, I smile and nod and say nice things about the breeds mentioned. “Oh, that’s awesome! I can see that!”
Kudos to the Peninsula Humane Society for experimenting with anything that works to create greater enthusiasm for a population of dogs that are over-represented and underappreciated in shelters everywhere.
(Full disclosure: proud owner of a Chihuahua-mix, the mighty Tito.)