Friday, October 12, 2012 • 1:58pm
Clyde is a dog.
He could easily be a cat or a rabbit or a fish or a bird or a snake or a pig or hamster or any other animal someone might claim as a family pet. But Clyde is a dog.
Clyde belongs to the subspecies Canis Lupus Familiaris, which is basically Latin for man’s best friend. Thanks to this classification, no one would ever mistake Clyde for a cat. But they might, however, mistake him for a Black Labrador Retriever.
That’s why some family friends of ours, after nobly rescuing Clyde from an animal shelter, decided to subject him to a DNA test.
I was amused. “A DNA test?” I asked. “On a dog?” I thought maybe they wanted to fully exonerate him for alleged crimes against mailmen.
They told me they wanted to verify Clyde’s lineage.
Clyde is tail-wagging puppy with a broad head and a shiny black and chocolate coat. He bounds uncontrollably out of his training crate, skids on the linoleum floor, and crashes into the doorway before jumping up my legs and sticking his nose in places which embarrass even me.
Clyde could easily pass as a Black Lab. He could also pass as a Bulldog, a Shepherd, a Beagle, a Dachshund or a junkyard dog.
I don’t know much about canine breeds, but it is pretty clear to me that Clyde is a happy, healthy dog. Beyond that, I can’t really see why it matters to map out his genetic sequence, other than to make sure he isn’t really a cat.
It would be pretty embarrassing if Clyde were a cat.
That is what we have. A cat. A big, furry Maine Coon cat. Through breeding and excessive amounts of food, he is as large as a small dog. He also has bad breath and snores. Sometimes he passes gas. He sleeps a lot.
Our cat belongs to the family Felis silvestris catus, which is Latin for cannot be trained. Despite his appearance, this classification distinguishes him from Clyde and most other canines.
Nevertheless, I recently took him to the veterinarian for a check up in a pet carrier built for toy poodles. The vet peered casually into the carrier and asked what kind of dog it was.
“It’s a cat,” I said. She peered in again to get a closer look. The cat lay curled up sleeping. To look at it in the portable cage, our cat could just have easily been a shag rug. So I didn’t fault the vet for being confused.
“Have you ever run a DNA test on him?” she asked.
Most of us don’t confuse cats from dogs, even when they get wet. But it scares me to think that with all the advances in genetic engineering, there could be some sort of genetic canine-feline hybrids out there.
We expect the pets we keep in our homes to have some clarity. We want our dogs to be dogs and our cats to be cats and our Chia Pets to be Chia Pets. We don’t want 300-pound Persian Sheepdogs coughing up hairballs or hissing Siamese Rottweilers that can’t be trained or Tabby Hounds that sniff out mice.
And what do we feed them? Fancy Feast Kibble?
Personally, I would be very upset if I discovered our cat was part dog. And I am sure Clyde’s owners would be greatly deflated if his DNA sequence indicated he was part cat. Or even a worse nonsensical hybrid: A Labradoodle.
I don’t care if genetic engineers want to merge zebras with kangaroos or harvest human livers in pigs, but I don’t think they should be messing about with cats and dogs. It goes against the natural order of house pets.
On the other hand, it might be nice if dogs used litter boxes and cats fetched newspapers.
But I suppose, in the end, when genetically manufactured pets are possible, we will still appreciate them as they are. We will continue to imbue them with personality traits even if they are not persons. We will continue to put up with animal behavior because, well, they are animals. And above all, we will continue to love them because they are our companions.
Except, of course, goldfish.
Our friends got the DNA report back from CSI: Animal Planet.
It turns out Clyde is part everything except Labrador Retriever. He even has some Huckleberry Hound in him. Just no Black Lab.
“What are you going to do?” I asked when they told me. For all I know there are DNA splicing techniques to turn him into a purebred Black Lab. Or maybe a phosphorescent goat.
“Nothing,” they said. “But at least now we know what he isn’t.”
I thought about this for a minute, and was greatly relieved.
“Yeah, it must be comforting to know Clyde is not a cat,” I said.