By Stacy E. Smith
Everyone remembers Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 film “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.” Seriously. Who hasn’t seen it on television just about every spring since childhood?
Well, anyone that hasn’t been living under a rock for the past fifty years will surely recognize this scene in the film…
Moses (played by a young, buff, Charlton Heston) kneels in front of a bush that appears to be burning (using very old school special effects—I think it was just plain old cartoon animation). Moses is asked by the bush to remove his sandals citing something about holy ground, some more pleasantries are exchanged between the bush (a.k.a. God) and Moses until eventually curiosity gets the best of him and he asks…
MOSES: What shall I call you?
BUSH (a.k.a.God, not a former U.S. President) in a booming, but soothing other-worldly voice: “I am that I am.”
[A little known factoid - in case anyone is interested - The voice of God in the burning bush scene is that of Charlton Heston, slightly slowed down and deepened. His voice was recorded for the film in the marble chapel at Fairhaven Mausoleum in Santa Ana, CA.]
What the heck is that supposed to mean?
It means the voice, the being, the power, etc. is indescribable in any words known to mankind. The phrases, “Just go with it” or “Take my word for it” could certainly have been inserted in a modern day version. There is just no “knowing” and Moses has to just take it on faith that what he heard and was asked to do would all work out for the best. After all, did it really matter? A bush is speaking and that alone might have been enough for most of us.
That’s sort of how it is with many of us and our pets. On one hand there are people that own purebred, pedigreed dogs. They probably even have special papers that prove lineage back to the beginning of time. They assume that is proof enough and so it should be. Besides, how could you disprove it anyway?
On the other hand there is mixed breed pet ownership. Anyone that owns a mixed breed dog has most likely adopted their pet from a shelter or rescue group or perhaps even found the animal as a stray. There is no way to know the animal’s heritage let alone what breed it is. There is often a best guess made and the book on that subject is closed. Certainly everyone wants to know, but we really can’t expect anyone to know for sure. That’s what I have recently started calling the “I-am-that-I-am” factor. There are no facts to back up the claim that your dog is a Saint Bernard/Border Collie mix or a Yellow Lab mix, but for lack of more information you’re willing to go with that and move on with your life. You love your dog no matter what he/she is. Who cares? The only one that asks you to put it in writing is usually your vet whose paperwork asks the breed of your pet. Often an interested person you meet while out and about might ask and you really need something to say. I mean who wants to answer that question with “I don’t know?” You might even feel like knowing can help explain a dog’s personality or be a help in determining special training or health issues. Other than that it probably makes no difference. And, as I mentioned earlier, you can’t really prove or disprove your theory.
Or can you? What if you could find out what breeds made up your mixed breed dog? Would you?
Guess what? You can find out! Right now – today. Well, the process takes longer than a day, but you can actually begin the process before you finish reading this article (although I’d prefer that you finish since I did go to all the trouble of writing it).
Although there are several companies out there now that perform the test we happened to contact MMI Genomics, Inc. which has a subsidiary called MetaMorphix, Inc. Founded in 1994 the company, among other things, uses DNA technology to improve the global food supply. For example, in livestock they help customers produce higher quality, nutritious meat more efficiently. They eventually wandered into the field of canine genetic testing which allowed breeders to prove the lineage of their litters called the Canine DNA Parentage Test. The Canine DNA Identification Test, DNA PawPrint™ product, produces a unique DNA profile of a dog. Since DNA is passed from parent to offspring, these DNA profiles can be used to verify relationships – it is used to determine parents of dogs. Breeders and owners of dogs use this test to ensure accuracy of breeding records, confirm and guarantee pedigrees and protect breed integrity.
But what if none of that is important to you? What if your dog’s history is unknown and is some sort of mix? These days any dog owner is able to find out what breeds make up their mutt. The test developed by MetaMorphix, Inc. just for that purpose is called the Canine Heritage™ Breed Test. At the outset the company was able to test against 38 breeds and is now able to test for over 100.
Being the owners of all mixed breed dogs we couldn’t wait to try it ourselves. I emailed the company immediately to get the ball rolling.
Here is what we thought we had living with us: Keegan, a Border Collie/Shetland Sheep mix (we were 99.9% sure because we knew who the mother and father were); Clyde, a Saint Bernard/who-knows-what mix (we were told he was mixed with a Border Collie, but knowing a lot about that particular breed we knew that was wrong); Seamus, a Saint Bernard/Border Collie mix and Sedgwick, a Yellow Lab/shepherd mix.
The testing kits arrived at our home and were in plastic tubes with the swab, instructions and return address label rolled up inside. The swab really looked like a bottle brush – bristly, not a cotton swab. All that was necessary was to take the brush and run it along the gum/cheek area of the dog for thirty seconds and place the swab inside the designated receptacle. Along with that there were some short forms to fill out and added to the mailing tube and that was it. The mailman took them away and a few weeks later we had the results.
Now at the time we had the test was performed MetaMorphix, Inc. only had the capability of determining 38 breeds. The results have three designations and are described here by MetaMorphix, Inc.:
Primary – This category is intended to help owners recognize when their pet’s DNA contains a majority of a specific breed (i.e. 50% or greater). If your dog has a strong match to one of our [available] breeds, then it is categorized as primary. Most mixed breed dogs will not usually have a breed in this category unless one or both of their parents are purebred.
Secondary – This category reports breeds that are easily recognizable within your dog. While these breeds may have a strong influence on your pet, each breed listed makes up less than the majority of your dog’s DNA.
In the Mix – This final category identifies breeds that have the least amount of influence on your pet’s composition, however, they still appear, at a low and measurable amount, in your pet’s DNA.
Our original results were as follows: Clyde’s DNA (the Saint Bernard mix) came back with a match only in the “Primary” category (and we were told verbally with an extremely high percentage) of Saint Bernard DNA with no other breed showing in his makeup at all.
Keegan’s DNA (the Border Collie/Shetland Sheepdog mix) came back just as we suspected. His was Border Collie/Shetland Sheepdog with both breeds showing up in the “Secondary” category. Nothing showed up in either of the other categories which made sense since we knew for certain that he is the offspring of a BC and a Sheltie. Interestingly, Collie also showed up as well is due to the fact that the Collie is attributed to the origin of both breeds. According to the company “…the test may identify a breed earlier in your dog’s ancestry. This may cause identification of apparent unlikely breeds for your animal’s composition.” That fact became apparent in the results of the next two dogs. But at this point we were essentially batting 1000 and confident that we knew what was coming for the most part.
Not so fast! Seamus’s DNA (the “Saint Bernard/Border Collie mix”) showed no Saint Bernard whatsoever and all of his DNA matches were listed in the “In the Mix” category meaning that he had only a small percentage of the following: Siberian Husky, Border Collie and Afghan Hound. No kidding. Clearly those BC markings are dominant genes because he’s got ‘em and he only has a small amount of BC in his genetic makeup. But what is his primary DNA makeup? We couldn’t believe that we still didn’t know. We knew where his coloring came from but what gave him his shape and size? Although his personality seemed to go along with the Siberian Husky, nothing in the list seemed to match his stature. He’s thick and stocky like a Saint or a Bernese Mountain Dog, but both were on the Metamorphix list and neither showed up. Maybe a Newfoundland which was not on the original list? But alas, there were no
Next was the biggest shock of all. Sedgwick, our “Yellow Lab mix.” She was another one that we were pretty sure about, but were merely guessing that she might have some sort of shepherd in her or even some Great Pyrenees because of her double dew claws. When I found out her results I was speechless (which doesn’t happen very often) – my jaw dropped – I screeched in disbelief… There was not a hair on her body, no trace whatsoever, not one single molecule that contained the DNA of a Labrador Retriever (yellow or otherwise). Not only that, she had neither “Primary” nor “Secondary” DNA listed at all! The only thing that showed up was a trace of Belgian Tervuren. What? I had never even heard of the breed at the time. (I looked up the breed on AKC.org and what I saw explained some of what we attributed to the “shepherd” possibility in her makeup.)
I couldn’t believe it. Two of our dogs had no “Primary” or even “Secondary” identity and Sedgwick seemed to have no identity whatsoever. I even joked that the constant worried look she had plastered on her face was clearly because she had no idea what she was. That’s an identity crisis if I had ever heard of one. But it seemed to be a classic example of “I am that I am” and exactly how I came up with the title of this article. It doesn’t really matter; she’s our dog and we love
her. But still… Seriously… We were dying of curiosity.
As I spoke to my contact, Theresa Brady at MetaMorphix and she agreed whole heartedly that Sedgwick’s results were unsatisfying and had a great idea. We should retest her in a few months. She told me that soon the company would be able to identify not only the 38 breeds they had listed on their website at the time, but will ultimately have a grand total of 116 breeds to check. With 78 more breeds to check I thought surely we’d have better luck. I was thrilled. So, I decided do the same with Seamus, our BC/Husky/Afghan Hound mix since he had no “Primary” or “Secondary” breed listed either.
Cut to a few months later – the results of the second DNA tests are in. Eureka!
Well, Sedgwick’s second test came back almost as ambiguous as the first. She now had two “In the Mix” designations: Belgian Tervuren plus an “undetermined terrier mix.” Our girl remains a complete mystery.
Seamus’ test was much more specific and explained a lot. Although he still had nothing listed in the “Primary” category, his “Secondary” breeds turned out to be: Great Pyrenees, Border Collie, Siberian Husky and Afghan Hound. That is quite a dog-cocktail. After reading more about the Great Pyrenees breed it definitely explains his personality. Border Collie explains his coloring and all of it together explains his coat; thick, unruly and grows in like sheep’s wool in places.
So, you want to know the how to get your very own Canine Heritage™ Breed Test kit and more importantly how much it will cost you, right?
The test kits can be purchased on-line at www.canineheritage.com. It can also be purchased at Petco. The best part is that the test isn’t too expensive – only about $120. Either way, your results will be mailed back to you in 4 – 6 weeks and you will even get a certificate suitable for framing that can even include a photo of your pet as long as you’re able to supply one via email.
Speaking of supplying photos… If anyone out there has a DNA test done on their mixed breed dog (no matter what company you choose to perform the test), email your dog’s photo to us at email@example.com, along with the dog’s name and breed results and we’ll post it here.