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As anyone who follows me on
Facebook or Instagram knows, our family recently got a new puppy. And while I
knew that in many ways, having a new dog in the house would be kind of like
having another new baby—the sleepless nights, cleaning up various messes—there was one thing I wasn't prepared for.
Just like when I had my babies, I walk around the neighborhood every
day, sometimes morning, noon and night. And I quickly learned that random
strangers often have similar reactions to a floppy puppy as they do to a baby
in a stroller.
With her big brown eyes, slender
body and red brindle coat (her fur looks like Tiger stripes), Amber attracts a
lot of attention. Toddlers run up to "pat the doggy" and tough-looking men give
me the silent nod of approval.
The conversation usually goes like
"Thanks, we just adopted her."
"What is she?"
"We don't exactly know, but we
think she's part Whippet or Italian Greyhound, mixed with something else. She
came from the animal shelter."
At that point, the conversation can
go one of two ways…
"Thank you for saving a life," they
gush, as if I were the Angelina Jolie of the canine kingdom.
"Mixed-breeds are so much healthier than
The conversations seemed vaguely
familiar, and after it happened a few times I realized why. When my boys were
little, I'd be pushing them in the double stroller, just trying to get to the
nearest Peet's coffee, when the comments would come out of left field.
"Wow … one is dark and one is so fair!"
"Is your husband Mexican?"
"Are they part Hawaiian?"
"Do you think they'll look more
like you or their father?"
"You're so tiny, they must get
their size from your husband!"
My kids are racially ambiguous. My
dog doesn't neatly fit the profile of one breed. Once again, my life is getting
complicated, as if raising a family weren't complicated already.
For multiracial families, the constant stream of questions can get tiring.
I hesitated to talk about the
comparisons between the way people talk about mixed-race kids and mixed-breed
dogs. After all, the language surrounding multiracial people has for so long
borrowed from the vocabulary of animal husbandry: mutts, purebreds, half-breeds.
Then there's the whole idea of hybrid vigor—the theory that greater DNA
variation reduces genetic flaws (think Tay Sachs, sickle cell anemia) and
produces hardier offspring. Or the idea that mixed-breed dogs have unstable
temperaments. On the other end of the spectrum, there's the notion that
multiracial people, with their mothers and fathers of different colors, will
bring Dalai Lama-like peace and harmony to the world. It's kind of a tall order
for a toddler sitting in a stroller.
I have to admit—I'm curious, too. As
I looked up various dog breed sites searching for clues as to Amber's lineage,
I found nasty comments about people trying to "pass off" their mutts as purebreds
and other sites listing the various litmus tests (broad chest, short hair,
square jaw, etc.) which determine a dog to be legally considered a pit bull,
and perhaps subject to special laws governing the breed. It reeks of the
one-drop rule and the brown bag tests of the Jim Crow era.
Of course, whether Labrador Retriever
or Akita, all breeds of dog were created by humans to serve a purpose, be it
fetching ducks, guarding the manor or simply looking cute. It's fun to have
little Shih Tzus and giant Mastiffs and everything in between. So it doesn't
bother me too much when people try to play the guessing game with my dog. Since
Amber was found as a stray puppy near the county fairgrounds, I imagine the
scenario: Her father was a show Whippet who escaped and mated with a stray
female. Maybe when she grows up she will choose to self-identify as a member of
the sight hound family. Or maybe she won't. (Just a little race and ethnicity
We may never know Amber's full
backstory. At the end of the day, she is our dog and we are her family. She
plays fetch with the boys and we have to train her to stay off the beds and not
bark at strangers, just like any other dog owners. And that's where it reminds
me of raising kids. For multiracial families, the constant stream of questions
can get tiring. Sometimes we want to have those conversations, and other times
we just want to get to band practice on time, finish the homework and enjoy
our lives together … just like any other family.