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Pedigree aside, Labs test positive

March 25, 2007|by LYN WIDMYER

A group of stranded mountain climbers were recently rescued from Mt. Hood. They credited their dog Velvet with helping them survive a bitterly cold night at 7,400 feet. The 4-year-old mixed Labrador transformed herself into a canine comforter, draping her body across the climbers and providing them needed warmth.

Velvet is the poster dog for those traits everyone associates with Labradors: loyalty, courage and intelligence. These characteristics have made Labrador retrievers the most popular dog in America for the past 15 years.

Many of us may not be able to afford a real Labrador retriever, but it doesn't matter. Dogs such as Velvet are proof that mixed Labs can be trusted to have all the same heroic qualities as their full-blooded, $600 counterparts.

Dog pounds, I mean animal shelters, are wise to Americans' love affair with Labs. That's why they claim any dog that is black and short-haired and larger than a toaster oven is "mixed Lab." They know Americans are hoping they are adopting a dog like Velvet of Mt. Hood.

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Not all mixed Labs turn out like Velvet, though. Sometimes they are more like Cyrus of Kensington. While Velvet was heroically helping three men live through a frigid night at 7,000 feet, Cyrus was setting fire to his owners home.

Tempted by the smell of home-baked brownies, Cyrus apparently jumped onto the stovetop where the brownies were sitting in a wax paper cocoon. As he wrestled to set the brownies free, Cyrus somehow managed to twist one of the burner knobs into the on position. When the wax paper covering the brownies caught on fire, the smoke alarm went off. The proud owners of Cyrus were at work. A passing postal worker heard the smoke alarm and called 911. The firefighters arrived in time to prevent the fire from spreading.

Our mixed Lab, Zack of Federal Hill Farm, lives outside, so he would never jump up on the stove for brownies like Cyrus of Kensington. Zack would, however, trample anyone who stood between him and a groundhog. Our yard is always littered with various parts of hapless groundhogs too slow to escape Zack's jaws of death.

Zack has even converted himself into a blanket like Velvet of Mt. Hood. I took a bad spill off my bicycle in our driveway and fell hard to the ground. I was so shocked I cried out and Zack came running. Zack lay across me to protect me from marauding bands of groundhogs.

Having a 75-pound slab of dog on you might be welcome on the snowy slopes of Mt. Hood, but it was not appreciated on a steamy hot driveway in the middle of summer. I figured at least two dozen fleas and a handful of ticks joined me during that episode.

An article by Liza Lee Miller and Cindy Tittle Moore identifies the distinguishing characteristics of a real Labrador retriever. These include an "otter tail," a cleancut and somewhat broad head with hanging ears, a soft downy undercoat and an alert and intelligent expression. I don't know about Velvet and Cyrus, but I can tell you my mixed Lab falls short in all those categories.

Still, Zack is black and his ears do flop over. That's good enough for me to keep telling people Zack's father was a Lab and his mother came from a good neighborhood.

NOTE: Mixed Labs are available for adoption at the Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County, W.Va. The cost of adoption is $120, which covers the price of neutering or spaying, worming, rabies shots and all first-year vaccinations.

Lyn Widmyer is a Charles Town, W.Va., resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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