DALLAS — Like many proud pet owners, Peggy Thompson thinks her mutt Tulie is the best dog in the world. That’s why she’s pleased and peeved at the American Kennel Club.
Pleased because last month, the nation’s largest nonprofit dog registry decided it would list dogs such as Tulie — a Basenji and Jack Russell terrier mix — and allow them to compete in agility, obedience and rally events. Peeved because the AKC stopped short of full integration. Mutts will be allowed to compete only against other mutts, and the most-coveted prizes will be preserved for the purebreds. Mixed breeds also will be barred from the most prestigious shows, such as those held at the Westminster Kennel Club in New York. "I’d put this girl right here up against any dog in the world in an agility competition,” Thompson said one recent afternoon at White Rock Lake Dog Park, flashing a "you-don’t-want-any-of-this” grin. Nearby, Tulie leapt like a gazelle after a thrown stick. "She’s smart, too. Those show dogs just go round and round in a ring,” she said. "That girl right there can go get cheese out of my refrigerator. How many dogs do you know who can do that?” Thompson’s pride in her dog begins to explain the frustration felt by many mixed breed owners — who for years have been shut out of AKC competitions and now feel as if they’re only being let in through the back door. To understand the other side of the debate, one must consider the exclusive history of the AKC. Back in the day, all dogs were mutts. But in 1884, a group of 12 sportsmen (read: aristocrats) met in the Kennel Club of Philadelphia and planted the seed of an organization that would set breed standards defining how dogs of each type should look. Over the years — with careful documentation, discriminating breeding and even DNA tests — fanciers refined many canines into purebreds with an established lineage. That work is valuable and should not be compromised, said Lori Hooper, a dog fancier in Dallas with a prize-winning Keeshond — which looks like a wolf with a Don King haircut. She said her concern isn’t with all-American mutts — which everyone adores — but with designer dogs produced by puppy mills.