A very special dog, by design

Published May 3, 2007

We have a designer dog. She's not a labradoodle (Labrador retriever and poodle) or a goldendoodle (golden retriever and poodle). She's not a cockapoo (cocker spaniel and poodle) or a pekapoo (Pekingese and poodle). She's not anything doodle or poo. These designer breeds are all the rage for those who can afford them, but around our neighborhood, it's actually chic to take a walk with your puggle (a pug and beagle).

In the park, a woman proudly told me she paid $1,650 for her bagel. That's one expensive bagel, even if it is a basset hound and beagle mix.

I replied, "Wow, our King Daley shepherd only cost $100."

She began to argue, "C'mon, anyone knows Daley shepherds go for at least $750."

I insisted. After all, I wrote the check.

Yet, she continued to debate the subject. She was clearly proud that she paid what she did for her dog, which was admittedly very cute. But then I think our King Daley shepherd is cuter.

We named her Ethel, well, because we simply had to, since our other dog, a miniature Australian shepherd, is named Lucy. Now we have a Lucy and an Ethel.

Ethel is now about 8 months old. Picture a dog with bright blue eyes wearing army fatigues. Her unique, shorthaired coat coloring is grayish blue, brown and black. Google African Wild Dog or watch the endangered wild canines on Animal Planet; she actually looks like this exotic breed. Kim Thornton, a pet writing colleague, who writes a column called "Creature Comforts" for MSNBC, will soon travel to Africa to see the wild dogs, but she e-mailed recently to say that she could save a whole lot of money if she just came to Chicago to see our 19-pound Ethel.

Except, of course, Ethel isn't a wild dog. Ethel is very friendly, and loves everyone, which is a characteristic of her breed. And those sky blue eyes are as expressive as I've ever seen on a dog, or for that matter, a person. Look into her eyes, and you'll know what she's thinking. Her eyes are so sparkly more than one stranger has suggested that she's wearing colored contact lenses.

When Ethel was younger, people flocked around her, demanding (and I do mean demanding) to know, "What is she?"

Once, as we walked down the street past a hair salon, three ladies ran outside to see us - a stylist wearing plastic gloves, a woman with curlers, clips and strips of aluminum foil in her hair and a woman with a picture phone ready to snap our pup's photo. They all wanted to know one thing: "What is she?"

I felt obliged to come up with something fancy, since my previous answers just weren't compelling enough.

It all began at Chicago's Animal Care and Control facility, the city pound, where someone dumped a litter of sneezing, worm-infested puppies. In Chicago, other shelters frequently swoop up animals from the pound, which helps to get more of them adopted. Paws Chicago took Ethel's litter and that's where my wife and I spotted the cute, blue-eyed pup on Paws Chicago's Web site. We adopted her and named her Ethel.

At the time we didn't know we had a King Daley shepherd. The shelter called her an Australian shepherd mix because that's what she looked like, at first. However, as she began to grow, it became clear that she probably wasn't an Aussie mix.

When people asked, "What is she?" I'd answer, "She's a mutt." But I felt demeaned by patronizing responses like "Oh, how sweet." They'd say, "How wonderful" to adopt, but as they rolled their eyes, their body language communicated another message. Clearly, they would be more impressed with a bagel, or some other designer breed.

So I created a designer breed of my own. Since Ethel originally came from the city pound, and our city belongs to King Daley, I established the "breed" - the King Daley shepherd. But because Ethel is spayed, as are all the pups from her litter, she's the last of the King Daleys.

When push comes to shove, simply put, Ethel is a mixed breed dog, but then so are those high-priced designer dogs, like the cockapoos and labradoodles. They're wonderful, as all dogs are - but they're really only mixes. Planned mixes, but mixes nonetheless. And certainly they're not as unique as a King Daley shepherd.

One person e-mailed me, complaining, "I Googled and can't find a King Daley anywhere."

"You'll never find another like mine," I responded. "But visit your local animal shelter, and you can find your own designer dog . . . at a discount price."

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. He will answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to petworld@aol.com.