The best dogs are the ones you get for a case of beer.
That's what my Edmontonian father always says, and that's how we got our best dog, Gizmo (named after Henry "Gizmo" Williams, the Edmonton Eskimos' wide receiver.)
Gizzie, barrel-chested, stumpy-legged and part Blue Heeler, came to us after my dad heard about a pound dog being fostered by a university student. The student wouldn't take any money for Gizzie, so my dad presented her with a case of beer instead.
Gizzie was fast and smart and cuddly and territorial. The day she died was the only time I've ever seen my mum get drunk, which makes sense because one way to deal with losing a dog is to get pickled, grieve for a month, then go to the Humane Society or the city pound and get another dog.
Which is what we did. My parents' current dog, a sweet and gormless Siberian Husky mix, came from a rez in northern Alberta and ended up, as many do, in the Edmonton pound.
In my experience, the best dogs are free dogs, strays rescued from the pound or from being put down.
I'm going to say something controversial, that may offend even dear friends with beloved pets: It's a shame to pay $500 for a dog from a breeder.
First, there are an estimated 10,000 strays in Manitoba, mostly on reserves, and the city's animal shelters are frequently jammed with smart, resourceful, handsome dogs.
Don't believe me? Go check out the profile of Ribbon, the tall and dainty Lab mix with the totally wonky ears at the city pound, or Bruce, the energetic mutt at the Humane Society, who is actually a female.
The city's animal services agency has dramatically reduced the number of dogs euthanized each year, but hundreds of dogs are still put down at shelters across the province annually. That's a needless sin.
Second, mutts make better dogs. They're smarter, they've got more personality and they live forever. Too many purebreds have had the brains bred right out of them, and too many develop health problems that can make for short and uncomfortable lives.
The Humane Society's bimonthly magazine recently summed up the problems. Bulldogs and pugs suffer from breathing issues. Long dogs like dachshunds and basset hounds often have back ailments. Labrador retrievers, the most coveted breed because of their gentle and playful nature, are prone to roughly 50 inherited conditions. These are costly for owners, painful for dogs and exacerbated by overbreeding.
Third, the relentless focus on designer dogs and status purebreds have created an underground industry that profits from the assembly-line production of dogs when we already have too many. And, the business is so lucrative it's spawned a proliferation of puppy mills.
A few years ago, the Winnipeg Free Press spent a summer investigating puppy mills across southern Manitoba and found breeders fixated on money and immune to regulation. They also kept dozens of dogs in wooden shacks or small crates where the flies and stench of urine was almost crippling.
Manitoba has the toughest animal-care legislation in Canada, but a move to license and inspect all breeders in the province is on hold, and most busts come about because of complaints.
Bill McDonald, CEO of the Winnipeg Humane Society, says there are typically two puppy-mill busts a year, and many of the dogs are so sick and badly socialized they must be put down. A few years ago, following a puppy-mill bust, the Humane Society found itself with almost 50 bulldogs, including some pregnant ones whose pelvises were so small from inbreeding that they couldn't give birth naturally. The pups had to be born via C-sections. After all the dogs were healthy, the Humane Society put them up for adoption and the bulldogs flew out the door, which speaks to our current fixation with trendy dogs.
Those are the horror stories. To be sure, there are many, many excellent breeders who work with care and love. I have many friends who have bought wonderful dogs after carefully ensuring they were dealing with reputable breeders. And, it makes sense to breed dogs for certain desirable traits, like service dogs or ones that shed less so families with bad allergies can have a pet.
There is also a proud tradition of well-bred working dogs -- herders like border collies or hunting dogs like setters and spaniels. But those traditions are on the wane and most people these days don't buy a poodle because it's great at retrieving a just-shot duck from a slough.
Unless you're planning to go to the Westminster dog show, get a rescue dog. Get Bruce and Ribbon.