By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Jan 09, 2008 at 2:22 PM

It's a regular exercise around my house to speculate on the breeds that make up my mutt, Playa, the dog we brought back from Mexico in 2003. Any time we bring her to the dog park, someone will inevitably ask what kind of dog she is, since she looks so different than your typical pooch. Until now, we speculated that she is mostly whippet, which is a small greyhound. In fact, we've seen Playa standing next to whippets, and from her bony little feet to wasp-shaped body to her long tail, she's very close in appearance.

Her personality, too, is similar to whippet: shy and skittish, but loving and calm when she gets to know someone. But she also looks and acts a little like all the dogs we met in Mexico, and it's clear that she's many generations removed from a purebred specimen.

So when I took Playa into the vet for some booster shots in November, I found myself intrigued and excited that a company called Mars Veterinary has created a DNA test they dubbed the "Wisdom Panel MX." Their literature claimed it could detect hundreds of breeds from a single blood test, ostensibly to teach owners more about their dogs. In fact, their slogan is "Because different breeds have different needs." I thought this seemed like a great idea, both to learn more about any of Playa's physical specificities that might come in handy down the road -- and truthfully, to satiate my own curiosity.

The test ran about $160, and I figured it was a small price to pay for the answer to this four-year-old question. About three weeks later, the vet informed me of the results, and today I picked up the official paperwork.

Both the vet and I agree that this Mars Veterinary group might as well have picked two breeds out of thin air. Or maybe they tested a different dog.

The test, which allegedly screened for DNA from hundreds of breeds, came back with only two: a "significant amount" of Belgian Malinois and a trace amount of "Bichon Frise."

No greyhound, whippet, labrador, terrier or even Chihuahua. Even the vet seemed puzzled, and called her rep at Mars Veterinary. They stood by their claim.

I'd never heard of a Belgian Malinois, but it's generally a police dog that resembles a German Shepherd. It's a tough and aggressive work dog that, I guess, looks a little like Playa in its hind legs (although, by that classification, every dog looks a little like a Belgian Malinois.)

The Bichon Frise, on the other hand, shares no characteristics with Playa, physically or behaviorally. Other than being a dog, neither the vet nor I could see any similar traits.

And that's it. The vet agreed that the results seemed spotty, at best, and warned that the DNA testing was far from perfected.

That much, we can agree upon.

But Mars Veterinary promised way too much with its not-so-wise "Wisdom Panel." If it weren't for the amusing blog fodder, I'd feel like I flushed my $160 down the drain.

Honestly, the test left me a little bummed out -- and more importantly, it taught me a lesson. I supposed I wanted proof that Playa is a portion whippet, or lab, or anything. The test, even if it's accurate to a certain extent, reaffirms that my dog is one of a kind.

She's the way she is because, even though she was born in "captivity," her parents lived on the tough streets of Isla Mujeres. Because Playa spent her first four months living among dozens of other dogs, all unsocialized with humans and fighting for food. And she's here because we brought her home, from the beach to Milwaukee.

Belgian Malinois, Bichon Frise or hyena, whatever her DNA says she is, Playa is our special dog: one-of-a-kind as a breed and totally special as a member of our family.

 

Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.