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Party mix Cocker Spaniel

DNA tests sniff out pooches’ genetic makeup and ‘reveal parties’ celebrate findings

  • A DNA test revealed that Theo is an American Staffordshire terrier and cocker spaniel mix. His genetic identity was celebrated at a DNA reveal party on Sunday.
  • Theo, center, an American Staffordshire terrier and cocker spaniel mix, at his DNA reveal party on Sunday with other canine and human celebrants.

Sunday turned into Dog Day Afternoon, with a touch of “the Maury Povich Show, ” outside the Oslo Coffee Roasters shop on East 75th Street where Mark and JeanMarie Fusco hosted a “DNA reveal” party for their 18-month old-adopted dog, Theo.

The doggie bash drew about a dozen pooches and their guardians. On offer were Mark’s own hand-baked dog biscuits (in four different sizes!), a “Guess Theo’s Ancestry” contest and gift bags. Theo — short for Theodore Oreo Pepperspot — was a gracious host as well, playing with, and licking, any willing participant, canine or human.

“He’s a popular boy and this was an opportunity to bring the local dog community together to celebrate four legs, ” Mark said of his black and white, thick-furred pup.

Andrew Diresta attended with Zoey, adopted last June from In Our Hands Rescue, a city-based nonprofit. Diresta was told Zoey was a black lab-mix and expected a dog that would weigh about 60 pounds, but little Zoey has topped out at barely half that. Partly for that reason, but “more out of curiosity, ” Diresta has purchased Wisdom Panel, the same DNA test used by the Fusco family and will have the results within three weeks of sending in the cheek-swab sample. Diresta said that he, too, may have a “DNA reveal” party. “It’s a ‘thing’, now, ” he laughed.

Wisdom Panel advertises its DNA tests with the slogan, “Dogs can’t talk, but their DNA can.” The company says that its canine genetic tests, which cost under $100, can trace a dog’s breed ancestry back to three generations and reveal answers to a few questions, such as concern drug sensitivities and expected weight range, but not much more.

While simple curiosity might be a main reason for DNA testing a dog, Meena Alagappan and Robert Friedlander had a more practical rationale to do the test on Margo, already about 10 years old when she was rescued two years ago from a hoarding situation in Tennessee. “She had been badly abused and we had no medical history, so we decided to do a DNA test to better understand what health issues she may be predisposed to, based on her breed, ” Alagappan said. For the record, Margo, who weighs about 25 pounds, is a surprise mix of Bernese mountain dog, basset hound and cocker spaniel.

Alagappan and Friedlander also tested then-12-year-old Jackson, which they assumed was a beagle-mix, but turned out to be a full breed. “Even though he was much smaller than most beagles, it does make sense given his medical issues and distinctive howl, ” Alagappan said.

Returning to the party, Sue King and Melissa Ryan brought their two rescued terrier-mixes, Harry and Rosie. When asked if she would consider doing a DNA test, King said, “if someone else paid for it.”

The tension mounted as the guests waited for Theo’s “grandmother” — Mark’s mother, Mary Anne Fusco — to show up before the reveal.

Some guessed during the pre-reveal contest that Theo might be border collie, husky, Dalmatian or Australian cattle dog, so when the moment of truth arrived, and Mark scrolled through the email on his phone and announced “American Staffordshire terrier and cocker spaniel” there were audible gasps and surprise from the crowd. JeanMarie was astounded that Theo was part cocker spaniel. It’s “kind of a shocker, ” she said, “but with so many people always asking us what kind of dog he is, we can now give an official answer.”

For his part, Mark was pleased with the afternoon’s conclusion. “From his appearance, he’s a mystery, ” he said, “and now that veil has been lifted.”

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